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Playhouse Dance stages annual showcase at Byham

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008

Playhouse Dance Company at the Byham offers a perfect showcase for young talent this week by presenting a diverse sampling of dance styles ranging from neo-classical to modernist to jazz.

The group is Point Park University's student dance company, which usually performs at Pittsburgh Playhouse. It's making its annual journey to the Byham Theater, Downtown, for performances today through Saturday.

The program features "Ur-Sonata" by Bill T. Jones, the contemporary duet "Disjointed" by Heidi Latsky, the neo-classical "Telemann Overture, Suite in E minor" by Melissa Barack and the jazz-based "Jolt" by Keisha Lalama-White.

Rosalynde LeBlanc, who danced with the Bill T. Jones Dance Company from 1993 to '99, has staged "Ur-Sonata's" revival by Point Park. It was inspired by a Dadaist poem in German. Dadaism was a consciously anti-art movement born of disillusionment with the values of European society that led to World War I.

The text that appealed to Jones is German sound poetry, "German gibberish completely," LeBlanc says. Sound poetry plays with the sounds of words and syllables, theoretically unconnected to semantic meaning -- although the occasional word with meaning can be very effective.

"Bill was trying to create a Dadaist dance," LeBlanc says. "He did it using the same theme and variations structure (in the poem). He created 15 different (dance) phrases. The piece is calculated technically, very set in these phrases. On top of that, there are absurd and ridiculous things happening. Very playful non-sequitur elements are at the core of it," LeBlanc says.

"Ur-Sonata" poses two special challenges for the dancers. For starters, it's hard for them to count, the way they move in time with each other. "Because 'Ur-Sonata' has no melodic form, we don't learn it to music. We learn it in silence," she says. "Adhering to the rhythm (of the words) creates themes."

Perhaps harder still is the humor and ridiculousness of the piece. "Absurdist elements are not to be disregarded," LeBlanc says. "It's very hard for students to learn how to be funny, and even more impossible with dance."

Point Park's full-time dance instructor Keisha Lalama-White created "Jolt" for Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. She expanded the number of dancers from seven to nine for the revival being seen this week.

She chose percussion music for her piece and says there is something about drums that "for a dancer is very raw and honest. It allows you to go to that place where you can dance from your gut and your soul."

The nine-minute piece takes its title from the first section, which she says is about how music takes over your body -- as in a jolt of energy taking over your body.

After a mystical middle section, the finale is celebratory. "It allows the dancers and audience to understand the joy that happens through movement," she says.

Lalama-White, a native of Center Township in Beaver County, is traveling a lot these days to create commissioned works. She says new scores stimulate her creativity. "I've found it more intriguing for me to evolve something from scratch, musically and in movement through dance."

Additional Information:

Playhouse Dance Company at the Byham

When: 8 p.m. today and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $18-$20

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown

Details: 412-621-4445

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