Pro-football fans have come to see the annual Hall of Fame game as the first indication that the new season is just around the corner. For area dance-goers, the equivalent is Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's annual performance at Hartwood Acres. The free summer-evening performances have for decades brought ballet's high art to the grassroots, where a picnic basket and a lawn chair or blanket is all you need to see some great dance.
This year, PBT presents its Ballet in the Park production at two venues: Hartwood Acres (Thu., Aug. 21) and Cranberry Township's Rotary Amphitheater (Fri., Aug. 22).
On the program are reprises of two Twyla Tharp masterworks, 1991's "Octet" and 2001's "Known by Heart ('Junk') Duet," both of which the company performed last March, along with excerpts from the ballet "Raymonda."
Tharp's "Known by Heart ('Junk') Duet," set to a section of Donald Knaack's "Junk Music," is a farce that unites two kooky characters teetering on the brink of love or fisticuffs. The duet blends elegant movement a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with gravity-heavy swooping and slumping that recalls Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. It's a charming and humorous dance work that is signature Tharp.
In contrast to the offbeat "Known by Heart," Tharp's "Octet," set to the music of composer Edgar Meyer, is a stylistic group work where smooth, jazz-influenced movement meets ballet.
The program's classical-ballet element will be "Raymonda Variations." Not to be confused with the George Balanchine ballet of the same name, the work features excerpts from Marius Petipa's full-length 1898 ballet Raymonda. Set to music by Alexander Glazunov and staged by PBT artistic director Terrence Orr, eight couples and one principal pair -- to be danced by Maribel Modrono and Christopher Budzynski at Hartwood, and Kumiko Tsuji and Daisuke Takeuchi in Cranberry -- will present a headier take on Petipa's traditional choreography for a ballet that Orr says is not often staged.
PBT's Ballet in the Park should also offer a glimpse of at least one of several new dancers joining the company this season: Alejandro Diaz, formerly of Boston Ballet II. The company has not officially announced its roster changes, but they also include promotions for dancers Alexandra Kochis, Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva to the rank of soloist, and for Kwang-Suk Choi to the rank of principal. Not returning this season are dancer Christopher Bandy, who joins Pittsburgh-based Dance Alloy Theater, dancer Gabriel Smith, and longtime company members Aaron Ingley and Patricia Hachey.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents Ballet in the Park. 7:30 p.m. Thu., Aug. 21 (Hartwood Acres, Hampton Township) and 7 p.m. Fri., Aug. Aug 22 (Cranberry Rotary Amphitheater, Ernie Mashuda Drive, Cranberry Township). Free. 412-281-0360 or www.pbt.org.