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Pittsburgh hosts U.S. premiere of work by renowned choreographers

Jiri Kylian and Michael Schumacher's Last Touch First creates a Chekhov-like narrative set in the late 19th century

We have all seen, in family albums or the dusty bins of antique shops, old photographs of people whose images lead us to imagine who they were and what their lives were like.    

In Last Touch First, choreographers Jiri Kylian and Michael Schumacher envision in dance what it would be like if three late-19th-century couples seen in old photographs came to life, and in doing so recalled characters found in the plays of Anton Chekhov.

The much-heralded 2008 dance-theater work makes its U.S. premiere April 6 and 7 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture as part of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Distinctively Dutch Festival.

Danced in slow motion, the hour-long, intermission-less Last Touch First began as a collaborative idea for Idaho native Schumacher, a former dancer with Frankfurt Ballet, and former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer Sabine Kupferberg.

"We decided to do a project together and we knew we wanted to work with an existing narrative," says Schumacher by phone from his home in Amsterdam. "In one of our discussions, Jiri was present and he mentioned he had made a piece in 2003 called Last Touch that might be a good candidate for such a narrative."

Kylian, a Prague native and former Nederlands Dans Theater artistic director, is considered by many to be the world's greatest living choreographer. A modified version of his Last Touch makes up the first half of Last Touch First, followed by new material developed as an extension of that original narrative.

Set to a piano score by Dirk Haubrich, the work will be danced in Pittsburgh by Schumacher, Kupferberg and other former dancers with both NDT and the now-defunct NDT III, the latter a company for dancers over age 40.

"For me the work has two sides," says Schumacher. "One it is a traditional dance-theater piece that is a combination of character, period and setting, and the other it is a somewhat post-modern study on observation. The dancers move so slowly in it that it plays with one's visual perceptions of time."

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By Mars Johnson