- Photo courtesy of Drew Yenchak, Lighthouse Photography
- Elise Ritzel in Ruth Leney-Midkiff's "Euphoric Dances," part of Pittsburgh Connections.
The latest edition of Point Park University's Pittsburgh Connections series, by its newly renamed Conservatory Dance Company, mightn't rank among the stronger Connections programs. But it still made for an entertaining evening with some stand-out work.
The varied program of works by choreographers with local ties, which premiered Nov. 14 at Point Park's new George Roland White Performance Studio, Downtown, opened with Ruth Leney-Midkiff's classical ballet work "Euphoric Dances," set to music by Felix Mendelssohn. Costumed in teal dresses and pointe shoes, a corps de ballet of eight women, along with lead couple Elise Ritzel and Nicholas Cayce, moved in waves across a large open stage with buoyancy, energy and glee. Leney-Midkiff's elegant choreography skipped, hopped and unfolded with delightful unpredictability, with CDC's young dancers giving one of the most solid performances of a ballet work I have seen in recent years from the student company.
The gem of the evening was Point Park faculty member Jason McDole's Wizard of Oz-themed "Rainbow." A poignant modern-dance work featuring two heart-tugging solos began with dancer Raymond Interior as a version of the Tin Man, decked out in a silver tux and sitting on a tree stump. Lit only by spotlight and dancing to Tracy Chapman's song "Remember the Tinman," Interior moved through McDole's lyrical and gesture-laden choreography in fits and starts. His emotional solo evoked heartache and loss. In the work's second solo, dancer Stephanie Stempler, as a "Dorothy" character, raced through a frenetic dance that had her dashing back and forth across the stage and falling to the floor as if attempting to elude the follow spotlighting her. A pint-sized powerhouse, Stempler performed brilliantly.
Not so brilliant was New York choreographer Francesca Harper's "Lovebluz.net." It was set in a sort of cyber group-therapy session where stereotypical characters -- a nerd, a celebrity-type and a quarreling couple -- were counseled by computer. Danced to a musical montage by Wynne Bennett, the contemporary-dance work contained some humor but was for the most part dull, its cliché-rich theme overpowering too few well-crafted dance sections, such as a flowing duet danced by Amanda McCormick and Major Nesby as disenchanted lovers, and a funky free-styling solo by Nailia Ansari as a janitor with the heart of a diva.
In Kristina Fluty's group work "Juxtapose," 13 dancers in street garb moved through pedestrian choreography that had them walking forward and back on a dimly lit stage. Something like TV's Teletubbies, the sedate dance work, with perfectly matched music by Michael Caskey, mesmerized with its simplicity and psychological undertones. Calculated movements were married with flashes from a range of emotions that eerily swept across the dancer's faces. Despite of its unassuming look, "Juxtapose" turned out to be a rather engaging dance work.
Sherry Zunker's jazzy show-dance spectacle "In the Circle Out of the Box," meanwhile, was a high-energy romp that had its dancers grinning ear-to-ear, slapping thighs, and showing off their considerable dance talents. It provided an apropos ending to the evening.
Conservatory Dance Company's Pittsburgh Connections continues through Sun., Nov. 23. George Roland White Performance Studio, 201 Wood St., Downtown. 412-621-4445 or visit pittsburghplayhouse.com.