Continuing his love affair with popular-music dance tributes, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr's American Rhythms, at the Byham Theater March 19-22, pays homage to doo-wop.
The world premiere of choreographer Dwight Rhoden's "Step Touch" features a series of vignettes set to 13 hit songs, including "Under the Boardwalk," "There Goes My Baby" and "This Magic Moment," performed live by Charlie Thomas' Drifters and Pure Gold.
Orr's pop tributes began back in 2000, with Indigo in Motion, a program set to the jazz of Billy Strayhorn and Lena Horne. He and Rhoden -- a favorite collaborator, and a sort of de facto resident choreographer for PBT -- subsequently discussed a doo-wop project. The set list includes some songs rarely performed by The Drifters (a vocal group) and Pure Gold, a Pittsburgh oldies band.
"Step Touch," a half-hour group work, is set to put a new spin on some old classics.
"Each song has its own theme," says Rhoden, co-director of New York's Complexions dance company. "I give a visual to each one of them, sometimes interpreting the lyrics and other times just the mood of the song."
There is no setting to the work, which will have the singers onstage with PBT's dancers and Pure Gold in the orchestra pit. Rhoden says, however, that to give the work a 1950s and '60s flavor he has intertwined into his contemporary-ballet choreography several recognizable period dance steps.
Joining Rhoden's "Step Touch" on the program will be reprises of two other musical tributes: British choreographer Derek Deane's "Anything Goes!" (2005) set to the music of Cole Porter, and Canadian choreographer Matjash Mrozewski's Bruce Springsteen tribute "Straight Life" (2004).
In "Anything Goes!" old Hollywood glamour and elegance is the theme as PBT's dancers glide through such Porter hits as "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Night and Day." One such dancer will be newly promoted company soloist Christine Schwaner. The Brazilian-born dancer, who is returning from an ankle injury that kept her out of the company's previous two productions, will on March 20 be partnered with principal dancer Christopher Budzynski, dancing to "I've Got You Under My Skin."
"It is playful and challenging pas de deux," says Schwaner.
Schwaner will also have a featured role in Mrozewski's heartfelt "Straight Life," this time partnered (on March 19 and 21) with principal dancer Kwang-Suk Choi, in a duet to Springsteen's 1987 hit "Brilliant Disguise." Schwaner and Choi play two lovers in an abusive relationship, where Schwaner's character gets the brunt of the abuse but remains loyal to the relationship. "Straight Life," which focuses on the more somber side of Springsteen's songbook, also contains duets to such songs as "Atlantic City" and "State Trooper."
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents American Rhythms Thu., March 19-Sun., March 22. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $20.50-88.50. 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org.
- Courtesy of Rieder Photography
- Doo-wop, Porter and Springsteen: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's American Rhythms.