If you are even mildly familiar with Pittsburgh’s professional dance scene, you’ve heard of established companies like Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Attack Theatre. But as in most good-sized American cities, there are troupes that largely fly under the radar. Exhalations Dance Theatre is one such troupe.
The project-based contemporary-dance company was founded in 2009 by Duquesne University graduate Katherine Alexander Mann, who has a background in ballet and folk dance, and who has performed with folk-dance troupes Kyiv Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and Otets Paissii Ensemble. Mann, a long-term-care pharmacist by day, says she wasn’t ready to give up dancing and choreographing in order to have a career. She started Exhalations to provide herself, and others who have day jobs, whether in or outside of dance, with opportunities to perform and choreograph.
Led by Mann and artistic director Lea Fosbenner Kasic, who trained at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and is a digital-product manager at PNC Bank, the company typically stages two productions a year, rotating dancers with each production. In the latest incarnation of its annual Choreography Project, Aug. 26-27 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, the nearly two-hour production will feature a dozen short works by a host of choreographers including Mann and Kasic, performed by 25 dancers. Many of the dancers are graduates of area schools, including Point Park University, La Roche College and Slippery Rock University.
Works on the program include: Kasic’s “Slip Away,” set to the song of the same name by Seattle-based indie artist Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius, about the desire to break free from the people or things holding you back; Mann’s solo for Kasic “This Bitter Earth,” to the music of jazz great Dinah Washington; Alyssa McIntyre’s high-energy “Cats Like us,” mixing 1950s-era music with swing dancing; and Ebony Cunningham’s “Ebb & Flow,” about coping with your anxieties, set to music by Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. “Until We Bleed,” choreographed by Kasic and sister hip-hop duo Brianna Pato and Meghan Greenwood, of Pittsburgh’s BaM Choreography, begins with a dance battle between hip-hop and contemporary dancers and ends with the rival camps unifying.