Point Park Conservatory Dance Company explores human resilience in new show 'Five'
February 3, 2016 12:00 AM
Point Park Conservatory Dance Company student performers in "Five," a new evening-length work by Ruben Graciani and Kiesha Lalama.
Point Park Conservatory Dance Company's new evening-length show "Five" explores the theme of tackling life's adversities. It will be at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Feb. 5-14.
By Sara Bauknecht / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At a recent rehearsal, a huddle of Point Park Conservatory dancers worked on a sequence of steps while maneuvering through a web of thick red straps that bound them together. In another scene, a group wheeled scaffold platforms into the wings as others danced downstage to distract from the set change unfolding behind them.
No, this is not your traditional concert dance piece. To open 2016, the Point Park Conservatory Dance Company will premiere “Five,” an original evening-length show by dance department chair Ruben Graciani and fellow faculty member Kiesha Lalama. It opens Friday at the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Rockwell Theatre in Oakland for a two-weekend run.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Feb. 12-13; 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Feb. 13-14.
Tickets: $20-$24 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors at www.pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000.
“Five” is a large undertaking, with two casts, a choir, a set and more surprises, that started as a small suggestion. Mr. Graciani, who came to Point Park in 2014 from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., pitched to artistic director Ronald Allan-Lindblom a “big ideas” program in which faculty could submit proposals to Mr. Allan-Lindblom and he’d pick one of them to develop into a show. Last year, a handful of faculty members submitted proposals, and what would eventually evolve into “Five” was selected.
Mr. Graciani’s idea was to expand upon a work he choreographed while in New York called “We Fall Down, We Get Up,” which featured a small cast of dancers accompanied by a choir. He invited Ms. Lalama to help him.
“We kept going back and forth with, ‘Do we want to tell the story from what makes you fall down?’ Or do we want to tell the story of when you get up?” Ms. Lalama said. “We certainly want to move audiences and inspire them and really provide hope instead of negative energy.”
These brainstorm sessions turned into “Five,” a two-act exploration of what makes people fall down and the journey of getting back up. The show’s title is a reference to the five senses and how “everything’s a little off,” Ms. Lalama said, when it feels like the world around you is crumbling down.
The show follows a lead character’s path of rising from the ashes and another dancer cast as the conscience. Others represent the five senses and extensions of them. What makes the casting unique is that the lead character and conscience roles are danced by women in one cast and men in another.
“It’s really cool just to see the male version versus the female version,” Ms. Lalama said. “I think that people might be interested in coming back to see it twice just to see the different casts.”
Weaving it all together will be live classical music performed by the Bach Choir, a partnership that coincides with Mr. Graciani’s commitment to fostering more community relationships.
“We’re trying to get our students to recognize that you can’t just stay in the building,” he said. “You have to go out. You have to make a network. You have to collaborate.”
Being part of the creation of an evening-length work has presented unique opportunities for students. They’ve been able to watch the choreographic process firsthand, plus contribute to it.
“We have learned so much,” says Hailey Turek, a senior dance major with concentrations in modern and jazz, who will dance the female lead role.
That’s one of the greatest challenges; no longer is the expectation just, “‘Here is the movement, make it pretty.’ It’s, ‘Here’s the movement. Why don’t you add some of your own?’” she said.
Being tasked with sustaining their characters for 90 minutes also is a change of pace from the usual 20- or 30-minute repertory piece ordinarily staged by Point Park.
“Keeping the intent real and the energy alive for 45 minutes in each act, that presents a physical challenge, and it also [requires] mental stamina and a responsibility,” said male lead Christian Warner, a senior dance major with a concentration in modern.
While the dancers and choreographers admittedly have poured so much of themselves into “Five,” they hope audiences will be able to see reflections of themselves in the work, too.
“It will resonate with people because everyone struggles with something,” Ms. Lalama said. “But we want to let them know it will be OK.”
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG.
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