Pittsburgh Ballet revisits 'Indigo in Motion'
Dancers at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre are relishing the chance to step back into the jazz-inflected grooves of "Indigo in Motion." They know their way around the nightclub now, so to speak.
"Indigo," which premiered in May 2000, pays tribute to Pittsburgh's jazz legends through a trio of contemporary ballets: "... on the spot," "More Than a Song" and "StrayLifeLushHorn."
The Benedum stage was transformed into an after-hours jazz spot as classically trained dancers performed plies and arabesques to a live combo anchored by bassist Ray Brown and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, as well as a big band assembled by guitarist Marty Ashby of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
If the first commandment of jazz is never to play a song the same way, then audiences will discover a different mood for this "Indigo," which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Benedum Center, downtown Pittsburgh. Dancers say they're looking forward to delivering a more relaxed and assured performance.
"New works are always so hectic when you're just getting it onstage," says Pittsburgh Ballet soloist Terence Marling, who danced in the world premiere. "It's pretty much cleaner and more precise. It's not exactly just kicking back or anything. But it's familiar territory, and we get to expand ourselves artistically."
Marling says he looks forward to reinterpreting and reinvigorating "Indigo" after nearly three years, even though his muscles feel every second of that elapsed time during some of the more demanding legato movements of the evening's opener, " <#201> on the spot" by choreographer Kevin O'Day.
"It's like any piece of artwork," he says. "The more you see it, the more you appreciate it, the more you can relate to it. Our lives have changed over three years, and we're investing that in the work."
"Indigo's" premiere two-and-a-half years ago was also the first season in Pittsburgh for Jennifer Langenstein. Now a principal dancer, she recalls the difficulty of adapting ballet's crystalline science to the urban, note-bending idiom of jazz, particularly in "StrayLifeLushHorn."
The show's closing number, choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, celebrates the songs of Billy Strayhorn, who our city claims as a native son and whose collaboration with Duke Ellington produced classics "Take the 'A' Train" and "Lush Life."
"The first year was the first time any of us had ever experienced Dwight Rhoden's style of choreography," says Langenstein, who danced five seasons with the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet in Texas. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has since performed his "7th Heaven" and "Ave Maria."
"Since having done that, we have more of a feeling of his style," Langenstein says. "It changes where you distribute your weight. Now you can push a little farther, give a little more about what he wants. The first year we were like, 'You want us to do what• Upside down• With our hair in our face?'"
As for the classical vocabulary as it applied to "StrayLifeLushHorn," she jokes, "There are no names for these steps. It borders on the edge of modern but it's still ballet. He pushes things beyond the comfort zone of ballet and goes for distorting the movement just a little."
" <#201> on the spot" also requires the dancers to perform moves that seem counterintuitive, she says.
"He emphasizes the weightiness of the piece. With him it's about really feeling grounded and down. Whereas in classical ballet the woman always thinks about pulling up out of the movement. We had to take classical movement and push it down into the floor and to stay in the plie longer and stay in the plie for a lot of the movement."
The deaths of Turrentine, who died Sept. 12, 2000, at age 66, and Brown, who died July 2 of this year at age 75, will lend a certain poignancy to this edition of "Indigo." Saxophonist Houston Person will play along with music recorded by the Ray Brown Trio from the final performance of the "Indigo" premiere in May 2000.
"I'm going to miss terribly having them onstage with us," Langenstein says. "I have a picture with me and my husband with Stanley Turrentine and Ray Brown, and I will cherish it always."
‘Indigo in Motion'
Presented by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where : Benedum Center, downtown Pittsburgh
Tickets : $13 to $66.
Info : 412-456-6666.