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Point Park’s Ballet Off-Center program

“Portrait De Femmes” transported the audience to a surreal psychosexual world.

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Fresh off its annual Contemporary Choreographers program, Point Park’s Conservatory Dance Company is presenting another intriguing program of contemporary ballet works, Ballet Off-Center, at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

The production, as viewed this past Friday, began with Beyoncé choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Beyond The Cover.” A recorded shout of “Go!” sent eight women and three men into a flurry of contemporary ballet movement that quickly morphed into a series of duets and solos that often ended with a dancer lying on the stage floor, only to be dragged off by the heels by another dancer.

Interjected into the eclectic soundtrack were voiceovers of dancers reflecting on performing for an audience, and Moultrie extolling the virtue of diversity in dance. While the piece had its bright moments, overall it lacked structural cohesion.

Next, former Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet artistic director Alexandra Damiani’s spellbinding “Portrait De Femmes” transported the audience to a surreal psychosexual world. Looking like a sci-fi movie that brought the past into the future, the ballet blended Renaissance-period sensibilities and wardrobe (futuristically updated) with deliciously quirky choreography and an intense cinematic score to create one of this dance season’s very best dance works.

From the moment dancer Paige Devitt began a series of tightly controlled ballet poses in a spotlight, the work took on an ominous tension that reached out and grabbed you by the throat, demanding your full attention. The cast of six women and two men were exquisite in Damiani’s illustrative choreography. Most compelling were two predatory duets featuring dancers Kimie Parker partnered by Damond Garner, and Jane Zogbi dancing with Eric Lobenberg. The wonderfully unusual ballet ended with the dancers casting dark, accusatory glares out at the audience.

The final two ballets on the program were choreographed by Point Park dance faculty members Daniel Karasik and Jason McDole. Karasik’s “Volumes” provided the production’s other highlight, a nicely woven pas de deux contained within it performed with skill and grace by dancers Annie Morgan and Shawn Lesniak. McDole’s aerobic “Karmic Variations” closed the program. Led by dancer Terrell Rogers, a cast of 20 exuded of emotion, from rapturous joy to cowering fear, that fed into the ballet’s karmic theme. But a sense of being overly melodramatic and too long diminished its overall impact.

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