The Kelly-Strayhorn kick-starts a brand-new, multi-day dance festival. | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Kelly-Strayhorn kick-starts a brand-new, multi-day dance festival. 

It doesn't have that new-theater smell, nor has there been a cosmetic makeover, but the Kelly-Strayhorn is in effect a brand-new theater. That's because it's recently taken a new direction: No longer strictly a rental facility, it's now become a presenting organization, too.

The new plan includes a commitment by the theater's new executive director, Janera Solomon, to fostering and presenting dance.

In January, Solomon commissioned the theater's first dance-artist residency, hosting New York's dance company, led by Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham, to workshop a new piece. And from May 7-10, the theater will inaugurate the newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival.

While the idea of a Pittsburgh dance festival has been tossed about over the years, there hasn't been one in recent memory. So why now, when the economy is in the toilet and dance companies are struggling just to survive?

Says Solomon, "I don't think the current economic crisis is a strong enough reason to avoid trying new ideas. As a matter of fact, I think now is the perfect time to try new ideas."

Solomon sees the success of the Pittsburgh Dance Council's annual series and audience support of local dance troupes as strong indications of an interest in dance. Solomon also sees the festival becoming an annual event -- and just one part of a bevy of new dance programming at the Kelly-Strayhorn.

"A dance festival like this seems appropriate for a theater named in part after a dancer [Gene Kelly]," says Solomon.

Solomon and her staff began work on newMoves in February, narrowing a list of possible participants to a mix of local and visiting artists. The goal was to present a diversity of contemporary dance styles and approaches -- and to use the festival to encourage exchanges between participating artists.

"My hope is that new collaborations will come out of it and that we might see the fruits of those collaborations in future festivals," she says.

The four-day event features mostly emerging artists, plus a few mid-career artists. The four distinct programs include premieres along with reworkings of existing repertory.

May 7's Program A features Attack Theatre's revamped "Trapped," a quartet exploring themes of isolation, set to original music by Japanese composer Somei Satoh; an excerpt from Philadelphia-based choreographer Kate Watson-Wallace's latest modern-dance work, "Store" (contains brief nudity), which looks at consumerism; and works by Point Park University dance faculty member Peter LeBreton Merz; Kaylin Horgan; and Dance Alloy Theater's Michael Walsh.

Program B (May 8) features two solo works choreographed by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Sidra Bell. Bell will present her award-winning multi-media work "Conductivity" (2008), a 12-minute male solo in which Bell plays with the idea of "little deaths" in our concept of "self" as we mature through life's stages. Bell's "Overtures," a female solo, is an exploration of movement. Also on Program B are Bodiography artistic director Maria Caruso's "Intimate Liaisons Part Deux" -- a look at coping with loss; "Puppet Tears," by Dance Alloy artistic director Beth Corning; a reworking of New York choreographer Jeanine Durning's "Re: Memory (2)," performed by LABCO's Gwen Hunter Ritchie and Slippery Rock University's Jennifer Keller; and a new work by Dance Alloy dancer Christopher Bandy.

Program C (May 9) features works by Makoto Hirano (Philadelphia); Tania Isaac (Philadelphia); Edisa Weeks (New York); and Luke Murphy, plus Kyle Abraham's sexually charged solo "Brick."

Each program includes a pre-show mixer and a post-show discussion. The festival concludes May 10 with YouthMoves, a family-friendly show featuring performers from Hope Academy, Jones Summer Intensive and more.


newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival Thu., May 7, through Sun., May 10. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. $5-20 ($20 festival pass includes all events). 412-363-3000 or

Testing limb-its: Edisa Weeks will perform at the new newMoves dance festival. - PHOTO BY JAMES PORTO.
  • Photo by James Porto.
  • Testing limb-its: Edisa Weeks will perform at the new newMoves dance festival.


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