It was 1994, and movies like Speed and Pulp Fiction were packing theaters; a Chicago law professor named Barack Obama had yet to run for state senate. And in Pittsburgh, two former Dance Alloy dancers formed a new company that would indelibly change Pittsburgh's dance landscape.
Combining athletic modern dance, original live music, multimedia and interdisciplinary art forms, Attack Theatre, led by co-artistic directors Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza, became one of the city's most innovative and popular dance troupes. To launch its 20th season, the company premieres Are You Still There?, with six performances Oct. 3-10 at The Pittsburgh Coliseum, in Homewood.
"It feels like it has spanned a lifetime but at the same time it still feels exciting, with so much more for the company to explore," says de la Reza.
One thing that abides, says longtime company member Dane Toney, is Attack's collaborative spirit. "Peter and Michele really rely on the dancers' perspective, and at times the audience's, in shaping the dance works," he says.
That collaborative spirit is reflected in Are You Still There?, which features guest dancers James Johnson and Brittanie Brown, both graduates of The Juilliard School. Their presence represents a new dynamic for the company, which de la Reza says is reflected in longer and livelier dance sequences. (Attack is without longtime company member Liz Chang, who recently left to pursue a nursing career.)
The 85-minute, narrative-less Are You Still There? is co-choreographed and directed by de la Reza and Kope. The work explores the mechanisms that connect us and asks whether you can still have a strong connection with someone in spite of real or perceived barriers of distance and time.
Set to a mix of recorded and live original music performed by a four-piece ensemble that de la Reza describes as having a "funk, soul and R&B vibe," the work takes advantage of the vast space of the Coliseum, a former trolley-repair station and roller rink. The set includes dozens of old corded telephones hung in the space, and two large movable walls that are used as barriers between the dancers and serve to shift the audience's perspective.
After two decades, Attack Theatre itself is still here, and perhaps better than ever.