An annual fixture on the Playhouse Dance Company's season, the At the Byham program is when Point Park University's troupe pulls out all the stops and treats audiences to both premieres and treasured classics. This year's At the Byham features the world premiere of Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal dancer/choreographer Edgar Zendejas' "Lost Thing" as well as Agnes de Mille's American classic "Rodeo."
The program, which rivals that of many professional dance companies, kicks off with Point Park professor Doug Bentz's "Let's Swing." Originally choreographed for Bentz's jazz company The Extension, in the 1980s, the 25-minute work for five couples features jitterbug and lindy hop infused with postmodern technique.
"It's swing dance but with contemporary partnering," says Bentz. "There is a lot of off-balance and arching movement." The show is set to six Benny Goodman favorites including "Sing Sing Sing," performed live by the Benny Benack Band.
Whereas "Let's Swing" could have you tapping your toes, the music for "Lost Thing" might leave you on edge. "You can be hypnotized by it or find it very annoying," says choreographer Zendejas. Set to excerpts from Bang on a Can's 1997 album Lost Objects and Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro, K 492, the 15-minute work in three sections for 12 dancers has a theme reflecting its title.
"Often we walk this earth feeling secure until we lose something," says Zendejas. "Losing something or someone can cause us despair. The work reflects that moment of losing something."
The program's lone classical representative is Point Park associate professor Jay Kirk's neo-classical ballet "Presto." The ballet, which premiered last season, features an all-female cast in lively dancing en pointe.
Finally, there's "Rodeo," de Mille's iconic 1942 ballet. "There was a time Miss de Mille would not allow the ballet to be set on college or university programs," says Paul Sutherland, who staged the work on PDC. "She felt the dancers lacked the acting maturity and technique. Nowadays that's changed, especially at universities like Point Park, where the dancers are technically proficient and very versatile."
Set to Aaron Copeland's familiar score, the 32-minute "Rodeo" is high-spirited story of cowboys, cowgirls and young love. Dripping with wholesome charm, the ballet features a cast of 20, including four principals, plus square dancing and a solo tap cadenza.
"It's a happy ballet where nobody dies," says Sutherland. "It will be danced forever like Swan Lake."
Playhouse Dance Company performs At the Byham Thu., April 19-Sat., April 21. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $12-14. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com