Dance Preview: PBT's '3x3' mixes contemporary and classic

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It's been said that good things come in threes.

For its upcoming program "3x3," Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will showcase a trio of works by three choreographers. The mixed repertory bill will display the company's versatility in classical and contemporary dance with a Pittsburgh premiere by Julia Adam, a new work by Viktor Plotnikov and the return of a crowd-pleaser by Dwight Rhoden.

It opens Friday for two weekends at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown. For a few seasons, PBT has held one show from its season lineup in the venue's intimate theater. Next season, its mixed repertory offering will return to the Byham Theater, but artistic director Terrence Orr is hopeful that a new path for the August Wilson Center might mean future opportunities for dancers to perform there.

Where: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown. 
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and March 14-15; 2 p.m. March 9 and 16 and 7:30 p.m. March 13.
Tickets: Start at $25.75 at or 412-456-6666.
Related events: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University, a panel discussion with artistic director Terrence Orr, choreographer Julia Adam, artist Judy Perlow and James A. Gibson, senior rabbi at Temple Sinai, about the Jewish heritage behind “Ketubah.” Also, works representing the ballet’s namesake will be exhibited at the American Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh through March 16.

"We're not sure about it being the last time" PBT will perform there, he said. "We chose not go there [next season] because we don't know what the plans are for the theater. We want to see where the August Wilson Center is going. We like the theater very much."

The nearly 500-seat space offers audiences a closer-than-usual view of dancers' artistry and athleticism.

"All three works are so entirely different from each other and have different kinds of demands so they show the different techniques the dancers have," Mr. Orr said.

In Mr. Plotnikov's latest for PBT called "In Your Eyes," six couples perform the musically driven choreography set to Antonin Dvorak's "American" string quartet No. 12 opus 96 in F major. His last original piece for PBT was "Shall We Dance" (2011), staged to the songs of George and Ira Gershwin. Mr. Plotnikov, a native of Ukraine, also has choreographed dances for Boston Ballet, Boston Ballet II and the 2002 International Ballet Competition, among others.

Movement is rooted in classical ballet but mixes in a contemporary vocabulary.

"Inside the piece I always work with images. You can see different images that might remind you of different things," Mr. Plotnikov said. "It's up to the audience what they want to make out of it."

Musicians from the PBT orchestra will perform the score and company costumier Janet Groom Campbell collaborated with Mr. Plotnikov to design the costumes.

In Ms. Adam's "Ketubah," a reference to a type of marriage contract, the Canadian-born choreographer and former San Francisco Ballet principal brings the traditions of Eastern European Jewish Ashkenazi marriages to the stage. Through ballet, modern, Israeli folk dance and Klezmer music, it highlights such customs as the unveiling of the bride and the ceremony beneath the wedding canopy, the chuppah.

It touches on "the beauty of tradition that we're kind of losing in our modern times," Ms. Adam said. "I do think it's an uplifting work."

A klezmer band will set the tone with performances in the lobby before the program and during intermission.

"Smoke 'n Roses" by Mr. Rhoden (Complexions Contemporary Ballet) will bring a jazz flavor to the mix with a live performance by Pittsburgh vocalist Etta Cox. The piece debuted during PBT's 2006-07 season and draws steps from contemporary ballet.

Despite the three pieces' diversity, each has a humanity and emotion about it that unites them, Mr. Orr said.

"I think it's such an expression of heart," he said, from the wedding in "Ketubah" to the soul of jazz music accompanying Mr. Rhoden's piece. "It's not all just romantic, but it's all based on human feelings."

Sara Bauknecht: or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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