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A Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre collaboration with Dance Theatre of Harlem yields generally positive results

“Brahms Variations” proved a delightful showcase of DTH dancers’ classical pedigree and youthful energy

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“When Smokey sings, I hear violins,” crooned Martin Fry in new-wave band ABC’s 1987 hit “When Smokey Sings.” Last Thursday, at a post-performance party at Downtown’s August Wilson Center, the legendary singer himself, Smokey Robinson, alluded to a similar feeling after watching Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem perform that night. Robinson was one of many who reveled in PBT’s first such cross-company mixed-bill production, which garnered the two troupes a rousing standing ovation.

DTH began the performance in choreographer Robert Garland’s classically styled ballet “Brahms Variations,” set to music by Johannes Brahms. Immediately, it was clear that DTH power couple Chyrstyn Fentroy and Jorge Andrés Villarini owned the spotlight — three vertical rows of three spotlights each, to be precise. Long and lean in stature, both dancers impressed in solos and dancing together — Fentroy with her smooth grace and line, and Villarini with his technical polish and strength. As one of several stylistically diverse works DTH will perform here in two alternating programs (see pbt.org for details) during a two-week run, “Brahms Variations” proved a delightful showcase of DTH dancers’ classical pedigree and youthful energy.

Less impressive was the shared staging of the “Black Swan Pas de Deux,” from Sleeping Beauty. In one of the two works included in every evening’s program (with different casts), DTH’s Alison Stroming and Da’von Doane danced opening entrée and adagio sections, followed by PBT’s Gabrielle Thurlow and Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev in the closing male/female variations and coda. While the dancers performed respectably, the pas de deux on the whole felt flat and uneven.

PBT’s reprise of Dwight Rhoden’s 2000 ballet “StrayLifeLushHorn,” the other ballet performed in each program, fared better. The mood of the ballet — danced to the music of Pittsburgh native Billy Strayhorn played live by the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra featuring vocalist Kim Nazarian — was joyous, as PBT’s dancers ripped through Rhoden’s signature off-kilter contemporary-ballet choreography infused with 1960s “Frug” steps. While the piece was dense with wonderful performances, a few PBT stars shone through in a big way, most notably an alluring Julia Erickson in “All Day Long,” and Amanda Cochrane and Alejandro Diaz in a picture-perfect pas de deux performed to the heartfelt “Something to Live For,” sung with feeling by Nazarian.


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