A guest choreographer accepts the Pittsburgh Ballet's challenge to choreograph to Gershwin classics. | Dance + Live Performance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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A guest choreographer accepts the Pittsburgh Ballet's challenge to choreograph to Gershwin classics.

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It's a simple formula: Take a musical icon's music, pair it with choreography from one of the hottest choreographers working today, and you have an instant audience-pleaser ... well, most of the time. 

It's a formula Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr has succeeded with over the past decade, with programs featuring the music of Paul Simon, Sting and Lena Horne, and choreographers like Dwight Rhoden, Matjash Mrozewski and Lynne Taylor-Corbett.

For PBT's latest such world premiere, A Gershwin Fantasy, the music of George and Ira Gershwin is paired with choreography by Viktor Plotnikov.

The Ukrainian-born Plotnikov, a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet, says that although he loves Gershwin music, he probably wouldn't have chosen to choreograph to it.

"For me it was difficult to work with Gershwin, because it is already idolized to a certain standard," says Plotnikov. "A lot of movies and musicals were done to Gershwin music, and to me it seems to already represent America in the best way."

Having worked with Porgy and Bess before, for New Jersey Ballet, Plotnikov knows the challenges of trying to make something iconic his own. 

But Plotnikov should be up to the task: Both of his works that I've seen, for PBT's School and for Buffalo's Neglia Ballet Artists, were strikingly good.

For the 50-minute "Shall We Dance," Plotnikov says he strayed from his typical contemporary movement language, instead letting the music dictate more of the dancers' movements. 

Set to 14 songs, including "I Got Rhythm," "'S Wonderful," "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "Shall We Dance," the fantastical ballet is delivered as if the audience were seeing the thoughts of George and Ira Gershwin in dance as they compose each tune.

Joining PBT's dancers is Tony-nominated singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway and her band. Callaway, a champion of the Great American Songbook, will be onstage with the dancers and worked into the ballet's choreography, says Plotnikov.

Also on the March 17-20 program is a reprise of Derek Deane's Hungry Heart...'we all have one'!, set to the music of Bruce Springsteen, which PBT premiered in 2004. The ballet, set in an early-1960s café, features such favorites as "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "The River," "Secret Garden" and "Dancing in the Dark."

 

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs A Gershwin Fantasy Thu., March 17 through Sun., March 20. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $20.75-90.75. 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org

Dance they shall: Erin Halloran. - PHOTO BY DUANE RIEDER

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