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By Karen Dacko
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Byham Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
March 15-18, 2007
Reviewed by Karen Dacko
As the song goes, Time to Change. While that tune was one of seven in Dwight Rhoden’s jazzy/bluesy concoction Smoke ‘n Roses, it was apropos of PBT’s first main stage event held at the 1,400 seat Byham Theater. The move from the vast Benedum Center to the smaller house for this mixed bill showcased the youth and vitality of PBT’s 30 dancers.
Circular patterning, revolving lifts, and multiple pirouettes highlighted Dennis Nahat’s fluid Moments (1998), a four-movement neo-classical work with an evocative Mendelssohn score. Thematic steps introduced in the opening ensemble section—sit-spins, pirouettes with the working legs en avant, and C-jumps by the men—filtered throughout the work. On opening night Christine Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev elegantly performed Suspended in Time, a well-crafted pas de deux. Her variation was initiated by bourrées alternated with walking; his solo mingled pirouettes and dips that brought him to his knees. A Giselle-like passage (him kneeling, her bourréeing to him from behind) launched their swirling adagio.
Like Moments, Salvatore Aiello’s humorous Clowns and Others (1978) ended where it began, with a full cast grouping. Here, the 14 dancers were dressed in individualized clown attire as they romped through a series of character-driven vignettes. A loving couple elicited laughter from the audience with a misplaced kiss (on her chest) before they hit their puckered targets and was subsequently seen in a thematic lip-lock. The little girl with a beanie on her head and a balloon in her hand learned a lesson about lost and found and lost again; while a tightrope walker’s misstep resulted in a deeper sense of loss for the ensemble. In a silly episode, a bat-wielding clown swatted at the others while a trembling girl knelt and prayed to be spared. She was. The batter instead beat himself on the head while receding into the wings.
Rhoden’s non-narrative premiere wrapped itself around songstress Etta Cox, who performed in the pit. It proved to be a vehicle for veteran principal Erin Halloran, whose sinewy bare legs attacked Rhoden’s fractured classical vocabulary with confidence and precision. She maintained grace and clarity as partner Christopher Rendall-Jackson deftly negotiated her supple frame through twisted and complex adagio passages that would have looked muddled if performed by a lesser artist.