All performers crave a stage. And usually, the bigger that stage the better. So when Point Park University's Playhouse Dance Company began its annual At the Byham concerts, in 2004, it offered its student dancers a spot on one of the biggest stages in the city -- one that many hope to return to as professionals.
The jewel of PDC's season regularly presents top-flight professional dance works by celebrated choreographers. This year's program, Feb. 28-March 1, continues the tradition with work by Melissa Barak, Bill T. Jones and more.
Originally created in 2001 for the School of American Ballet's year-end showcase, Barak's award-winning "Telemann Overture Suite in E Minor" found its way into the repertory of the New York City Ballet. Barak, a former NYCB dancer now with Los Angeles Ballet, describes the 17-minute neo-classical ballet for 10 women and four men as a technically demanding work, a la Balanchine.
"The ballet has no story, but rather is a visual representation of Telemann's lively and melodic music," says Barak via telephone from Los Angeles.
Where Barak's ballet will offer audiences a bit of dance harmony, Point Park faculty member Keisha Lalama-White looks to provide a jolt. Her 2007 work entitled "Jolt" is a high-voltage, 10-minute contemporary-jazz piece for nine dancers set to the percussive music of Vic Sorisio's Head Full of Drums.
"The music guides the dancers through the work as if they were possessed by it," says Lalama-White. "The dancers come out running and don't stop."
The remaining two works on the At the Byham program share the influence of modern dance maverick Bill T. Jones.
Heidi Latsky, a former dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, choreographs the 11-minute duet "Knife." It's a re-making of her 1997 signature solo "What Would You Have Done" into a same-gender duet.
"It's about hate and it is pretty relentless," says Latsky, by phone from New York. "It experiments with the dancers moving in unison."
Rounding out the program will be the 20-minute "rondo" section of Jones's 1996 evening-length work Ursonate. Staged for 11 PDC dancers by another former Jones dance-company member, Rosalynde LeBlanc, the work is set to Kurt Schwitters' 1928 Dadaist phonic poem of the same name, which LeBlanc characterizes as gibberish spoken with German inflection.
"The poem has the touch of the ridiculous and the absurd, but like the dance, it is very well crafted," says LeBlanc, speaking from New York.
A collaboration between Jones and Boston dance artist Darla Villani, Ursonate blends Villani's free-flowing choreographic style with Jones's aggressive one.
Meticulously reconstructed by PDC to resemble the original, the excerpt will challenge PDC's dancers, says LeBlanc. "It will require each dancer to be on top of his or her game."
Playhouse Dance Company presents At the Byham Thu., Feb. 28-Sat., March 1. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $18-20. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.