Behind the Scenes @ Dance Council 2021-22 Season

Dance fans missed out on that COVID season for Pittsburgh Dance Council? Why doesn’t Randal Miller just reschedule?

Or so some may think…

But it’s not that easy.

Going behind the scenes as Miller announced his upcoming 2021-22 calendar, it was enlightening to find how the PDC director of dance programming and special projects juggled so many balls in the air, scrambling to give Pittsburgh the best in global dance.

Let’s revisit the actual companies that we missed. With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, flamenco superstar Rocio Molina and the ever-popular Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which was supposed to anchor the season, had to be cancelled.

Miller called scratching Molina “the most heartbreaking cancellation of COVID. Without question, one of the more adventurous works I’ve programmed since I took over the Dance Council. I was excited for Pittsburgh to see this ground-breaking work.”

So was her audience here, where the Byham Theater was virtually sold out. It was more painful that things shut down only a couple of weeks before her performance. Miller found himself burning up the phone lines, trying to get her to England, where there might be a narrow window to travel to the U.S. But it wasn’t to be.

The 2020-21 season was subsequently delayed to an actual 2021 start. But Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Montreal’s Le Patin Libre (even though the troupe was scheduled for the outdoor PPG ice skating rink) didn’t make the cut. The Ailey company, which had been rescheduled, didn’t as well, although Miller continues to call Ailey “an ongoing conversation.”

But Pilobolus and Complexions, originally on tap for last season, have been transferred successfully to this season. Pilobolus’ 50th anniversary season was interrupted, so its Big Five-Oh! Tour has lasted three years. It will be re-imagining some of its classic pieces, like its shadow work and “Unititled,” the 1969 signature dance that pictured two Victorian woman having a picnic. But then one stood up and…let’s just say that “she” had hairy legs. One of my most memorable moments over the years. (Byham Theater, Apr. 9)

Complexions, so popular for its unique ballet attack, will show two different sides of the company when it comes to the Byham May 7.  “Bach 25” will demonstrate the “beautiful contemporary ballet — gorgeous,” for which the group is well-known. “Woke,” on the other hand, “has more of a social message and uses contemporary hip hop,” with a score mixing artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Diplo.

British group Botis Seva | Far From the Norm will be making its U.S. premiere tour, with Pittsburgh the third and final stop. The Olivier award-winning troupe will give us “BLKDOG.” Miller originally saw the work by choreographer Seva in the workshop version, “like the week before the world shut down.” British television reported 12 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 9 in England. He came back to Pittsburgh and “two weeks later, everything was shut down.” It was one of the last pieces that Miller saw before the pandemic, a blend of “a genre-defying blend of hip hop and free form antics.” Originally scheduled for fall 2020, but unannounced, Pittsburgh will finally see “BLKDOG” at the Byham Feb. 18.

But the biggest news is that A.I.M by Kyle Abraham opens the season in partnership with the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. The Pittsburgh native, now a global citizen in great demand (New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet) will offer his newest full-length work, titled “An Untitled Love,” on Nov. 13.

The engagement will be presented in partnership with the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and will include a full week of residency activities and performances curated by Abraham as part of the My People Festival, which will celebrate queer and trans people of color.

This is important in several ways. Pittsburgh can lay claim to dance greats Martha Graham and Paul Taylor as part of its history. As Miller put it, “people will talk about him to that degree in the future as well. He is one of the few American choreographers that is respected outside of the country.”

Certainly Pittsburgh dance organizations should be taking turns in bringing Abraham and his work to the city as frequently as possible. As Miller relates, “He feels the same way.”

For those that are counting, that means four staged productions, down one from previous years. “I took away one so that we can continue to keep true to the vision and the path that I’m trying to take us down, so that we can continue to provide a reframing of our dance mission,” explains Miller. As he works to rebook as many of the canceled shows as possible, Miller says “hopefully we’ll be back to six shows and maybe plus” in the future.

That still leaves a fifth performance. “We will be gifting Pittsburgh with another large outdoor spectacle of a performance at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival,” he states.

It will also come from England, the U.S. premiere of Motion House’s “Torque” in June, location and date TBA. “I [saw] a new direction for us to take to reframe what people think about dance and where they can expect to see it.”

In the vein of Blue Lapis Light descending the Highmark Building, Origami operating out of a huge trailer and “even” tapper Sarah Reich at the Cabaret, Miller is bringing a “catalyst piece” that uses “two full-sized construction vehicles that drive in circles and miss each other by inches. It has the kind of danger that [Extreme Action Company’s Elizabeth] Streb has; the same level of anxiety exists.”

For those who are wondering, the piece needs two JCB3CX vehicles and Miller is still scouting three possible locations, “trying to nail down the details.”

As for me, I’m contemplating when and where and how long they will rehearse…

While Miller is trying hard to budget careful as he tries “to restart the dance engine,” he explains that “there’s a lot of good art out there. I’d like to bring exceptional work of a different scale — only the Trust has the resources to do that. And we try to be good stewards given that responsibility.”To follow to Dance Currents on Facebook CLICK HERE



Categories: Show Previews

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