Texture Contemporary Ballet dancing its way up in Pittsburgh

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Starting your own dance company can be a challenge. It’s hard to take that first step.

But Alan Obuzor, a veteran of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, decided he was up for it in 2011, when he founded Texture Contemporary Ballet.

It was a leap of faith that has paid off as the past year has taken the dancers to performances in Chicago, New York and the historic Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts. And Mr. Obuzor, who dances and serves as the group’s artistic director, was nominated as Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2013.

“It’s really kind of surprising,” Mr. Obuzor said, while stepping away from a rehearsal this afternoon. “It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of time and effort and wearing a lot of different hats at once. But being this young of a company, things are going very well.”

This weekend, Mr. Obuzor and Texture Contemporary Ballet present “Shades of Light,” featuring three new works at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

Former Post-Gazette dance critic Jane Vranish summed up the three works thusly:

The first is associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman’s world premiere, “This,” set to music by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurosson.

Then we have Mr. Obuzor’s “Looking Back and Moving Forward,” a piece that came about through the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Fresh Works program. Songstress Anqwenique Wingfield evokes the image of an old-time jazz club, a smoky setting that took a step back in time.

Finally, we see the Pittsburgh premiere of “Take ... Taken ... Taking,” a piece that was first performed in New York City at Ailey Citigroup Theater in February on a program with Ariel Rivka Dance and Trainor Dance. Here Mr. Obuzor was inspired by Philip Glass’ second violin concerto for soloist and strings.

“They’re a little bit introspective and up to the audience’s interpretation of them,” Mr. Obuzor said. “They all have five dancers, so there is that kind of running theme, but each of them has a different feel to it. There’s one piece that is set to an Icelandic composer and is layered and uses a wide array of sounds. Another, which will be performed to live music, is sort of old jazz.”

Five dancers, including Mr. Obuzor, for each act. Why five?

“In the summer, we have a lot of dancers. A bigger cast,” Mr. Obuzor said. “This time of year, it’s smaller. We picked five dancers. My co-director and myself like an odd number of dancers rather than an even number. It gives an unbalanced mix, and you can find balance within that. And having five dancers also is a nice number because it’s an intimate-sized group, but it’s enough people that you can move dancers around the stage to portray different things and really use the stage.

“There will be moments of everybody doing the same thing. Then there are moments of everybody together doing different things, but they’re interwoven. And then there are moments where certain dancers stand out, whether it’s where they are on the stage or the steps they’re doing. So it’s kind of a mixture of all of the above.”

You sit in the audience watching five amazing lithe bodies bring the music to life. Or is it the other way around?

“Sometimes, as you watch a performance, you can be very aware of music as it is driving what’s happening,” Mr. Obuzor said.

“And sometimes I feel like — when the music starts, you notice it, of course — but then it can almost fade into the background and you don’t realize how it is there, even though it’s always an integral part of it.

“I feel that with these works it could go either way, depending how the particular person in the audience views it.”

You can view it all tonight at 8 at the New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Square East. Other performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com.

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