The title of Attack Theatre’s latest program The Next Stop references the company’s 22-year journey so far. Born of the minds and bodies of married couple and former Dance Alloy dancers Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope in 1994, the company has taken many stops on the path to becoming one of Pittsburgh’s most popular contemporary-dance troupes. It’s gone from de la Reza and Kope running the company from their kitchen table to having all the trappings of a full-time dance organization. However, for this “next stop” — with three performances May 19 and 20 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater — Attack comes to a place it has rarely visited before: commissioning outside choreographers to create works on the company.
“We began to look at the totality of what Attack Theatre has become,” says Kope. “The organization we built and nurtured over the years now includes many more people and has many more needs, wants and desires. What we have begun to understand is the importance of outside influences and perspectives in how to make work and challenge our dancers so they continue to grow.”
Until now, Attack’s many productions, including Incident[s] in The Strip (2009), Site/Re-Site (2010) and Soap Opera (2013), have been choreographed by de la Reza and Kope in collaboration with the dancers. With The Next Stop, the two co-artistic directors begin an experiment with outside choreographers that might lead to more of the same. For this trial balloon, Kope says they turned to two contemporary choreographers he and de la Reza have a lot of respect for, North Carolina-based Helen Simoneau and New York-based Norbert De La Cruz III.
Simoneau, a native of Quebec, is a graduate of the North Carolina School for the Arts and directs her own company, Helen Simoneau Danse, which includes Pittsburgh’s own Jasmine Hearn. Simoneau has created works for the American Dance Festival and Springboard Danse Montréal, and this past November restaged her work “Flight Distance 1” on Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company.
Her new work “Epilogue,” for Attack Theatre’s female company members Kaitlin Dann, Ashley Williams and Sarah Zielinksi, along with guest dancers Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss, is a 15-minute exploration of the dancers as individuals and how they relate to each other as a group working toward a singular goal.
Set to music by American composers Steve Mackey, Mike Wall and Philip Glass, “It has an otherworldly feel to it,” says Simoneau by phone from New York.
De La Cruz, born in the Philippines and raised in East Los Angeles, is a graduate of Juilliard and a 2012 Princess Grace Foundation-USA Awardee. He was named to Dance Magazine’s prestigious 25 to Watch list in 2016; in the article marking this honor, I wrote that De La Cruz “mixes the precision of classical ballet technique with the groundedness of modern dance to create movement that is as intriguing in detail as it is in structure.” He has created works for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Philadelphia’s BalletX and Tulsa Ballet II.
His new 16-minute duet “Under the Rug,” for Attack’s Dane Toney and Anthony Williams, is a prop-heavy work dense with metaphor. De La Cruz, speaking by phone from New York, says the work takes some inspiration from his personal life and his relationship with his partner. Set to music from San Gabriel, Calif., singer Liela Avila and original music by San Francisco-based electronic composer Ben Juodvalkis, the work looks at the intimate relationship between two men going about daily life: their hopes, dreams and failings, as well as those things often swept under the rug.
De La Cruz creates a surreal world the two men exist in. “There are these drastic shifts in mood in the piece, sort of like snapping out of a daydream and being faced with the reality and heaviness of the world around you,” he says.
Rounding out the program will be a 25-minute reworking of Act 2 of Attack’s 2016 production Unbolted, newly adapted for the proscenium stage and retitled “Unresolved Truths.” The work will also include a newly created four-minute prelude choreographed and performed by de la Reza and Kope in response to the nation’s current divisive political climate.