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Pittsburgh Ballet program mines inspirations from Johnny Cash to Auguste Rodin

Mixed Repertory #2 also includes work by PBT principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano

Personal connections inform Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence S. Orr’s choice of works on the company’s Mixed Repertory #2 program, with four performances March 10-13 at the Byham Theater. 

Orr says he chose Canadian choreographer James Kudelka’s “The Man in Black” partly because it is unique, but mostly because he is a fan of Kudelka. “I have known him for over 30 years and he is a very creative choreographer whose work takes off on different tangents,” says Orr.  

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Ballet program mines inspirations from Johnny Cash to Auguste Rodin
Photo courtesy of Duane Rieder
Alejandro Diaz in James Kudelka’s “The Man in Black” at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

“The Man in Black,” set to cover songs recorded by a gravel-voiced Johnny Cash at the end of his career, including Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” The Beatles’ “In My Life” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” is perhaps the most foreign in movement language of any ballet PBT has ever done. At the ballet’s premiere, in 2010 at Columbus’ BalletMet, I found it a quiet, distinctive work. The dancers, in Western attire, shuffle along in movement structured like a country-and-western line dance “only taken to much more intricate and poetic ends by Kudelka,” I wrote in my review for Dance Magazine.

Also new to PBT, but very familiar to Orr, is Emmy- and Tony-winning choreographer Michael Smuin’s “The Eternal Idol” (1969). A tribute to sculptor Auguste Rodin, the 10-minute pas de deux, danced partly atop a large fake boulder, was originally created for Orr’s first wife, American Ballet Theatre star Cynthia Gregory, and dancer Ivan Nagy. Set to Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, the elegant neoclassical ballet unfolds like the sculpted figures of two lovers come to life.

PBT principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano’s newly expanded version of “A Fellow Feeling” (2015) will be the first main-stage ballet created by a company dancer that the PBT has performed during Orr’s 19-year tenure. (It’s part of Orr’s initiative to give his dancers choreographic opportunities.) Set to music by Mozart, a portion of the abstract, neoclassical ballet debuted at last summer’s Ballet Under the Stars program at Hartwood Acres.  

Completing the program is a reprise of an Orr favorite, Antony Tudor’s 1936 masterpiece “Jardin Aux Lilas” (“Lilac Garden”). The heartbreaking mini-story ballet, last performed by PBT in 2013, depicts a young woman engaged to marry a man she does not love.