When Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre chose to perform its Moments & More program at the Byham Theater, rather than at its usual home, the larger Benedum Center, the main reason was cost. But the move to a smaller setting has other advantages, says PBT artistic director Terrence Orr.
"The repertoire is one you would want to see up close, and each of the three very different works on the program were chosen for the intimacy of the Byham Theater," says Orr.
Moments & More brings together works by Dwight Rhoden and Salvatore Aiello -- two choreographers who between them have nine works in PBT's active repertory -- and a first-timer, Ballet San Jose artistic director Dennis Nahat.
Orr, a former dance-mate of Nahat's at American Ballet Theatre, had originally contacted Nahat about performing the choreographer's "Brahms Quintet." He changed his mind after seeing Nahat's "Moments" (1998), a neo-classical ballet set to Mendelssohn's "Piano Trio No. 1 In D Minor, Op. 49."
Danced in four movements, the lyrical ballet includes the trio dance "A Fleeting Moment," set to Mendelssohn's "fairy-like" third movement and a gypsy-like caractére dance finale. "Dennis is a musician, and the musicality in his choreography is what I feel draws in audiences to his works," says Orr.
Moments & More also includes Aiello's "Clowns and Others." "Dancers and clowns, the two are the same, each wears a mask on his soul": That's the verse North Carolina Dance Theatre's Jerri Kumery, curator of the late Aiello's works, remembers Aiello associating with the creation of this 1978 ballet.
Set to Prokofiev's "Visions Fugitives, Op. 22" (to be performed live by PBT pianist Yoland Collin), the 20-minute ballet is set for 14 dancers in clown-like costumes. Nearly 20 vignettes, generously dosed with humor, examine the foibles of human nature; Kumery characterizes the work as "fun, inviting and accessible."
Meanwhile, the final work on the program, the world premiere of Rhoden's "Smoke 'n Roses," seems especially conducive to the PBT's move to the Byham. It's a collaboration between the choreographer and local blues and jazz diva Etta Cox that harkens to a different type of arts venue altogether.
"Smoke" is set to a medley of seven blues, jazz and gospel songs including "Nothin' But the Blues," "Filthy McNasty," and "The Greatest Performance." It's performed live by Cox and a five-piece combo of local jazz musicians. The ballet's action takes place in an "ambiguous place that changes all the time," says Rhoden via telephone from Charlotte, N.C. He says the vibe of the work can suggest either a smoky jazz club or, at times, a church. A dozen dancers -- and as many chairs -- will be onstage during this improvisation-influenced contemporary ballet.
"Jazz is a lot of improvisation," says Rhoden. "Often you will hear a note bend, sustain, sour or flatten and then come back to the melody. I had a lot of ideas on coloring the movement in that manner, taking it and turning it inside out and upside down."
"What Dwight has done with these songs is just phenomenal," says Cox of her first collaboration with a dance company. "I got chills. This is definitely not your regular ballet."
In a recent rehearsal of "Smoke," I watched a cannon of PBT's female corps de ballet break from a vertical line, skidding one by one across the stage partially en pointe before melding into the long, lean and sweeping movement language characteristic of Rhoden's choreography.
At the Byham Theater, PBT's Moments & More will give fans a chance to see the company in a new light -- up close and personal.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents Moments & More Thu., March 15-Sun., March 18. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $16-78. 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org