Sometimes classical and contemporary movement can trump the need for language and lyrics when telling a story or tapping into wells of emotion.
Need convincing? Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will demonstrate the beauty and power of pure dance in "Unspoken," featuring three works by 20th-century dance masters George Balanchine, Antony Tudor and Mark Morris. It opens Friday for a two-weekend run at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown.
"I like the way the program went together because these are three great ballets I've known for a long time," says artistic director Terrence Orr.
Probably the best known is Balanchine's "Serenade," premiered in 1935 and recognized as the first piece the Russian-born choreographer created in America.
Set to Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Springs in C, Op 48," Balanchine used it to help ballet students prepare for the stage. It remained one of his favorites.
"It's just the essence of the genius of Mr. Balanchine to me," Mr. Orr says. "To have that lead off the program is a powerful statement."
Next, Tudor's "Jardin Aux Lilas," or "Lilac Garden," (1936), will whisk audiences to a garden party the night before a wedding. On the surface, all seems celebratory, but with a closer look audiences learn the woman is not in love with her beau, who is marrying her for status. The man she does admire is at the reception. The conflict presents a window into the repressed emotions and societal expectations of the Edwardian Era.
"Mr. Tudor could do dance movement and tell stories and understand relationships between people by the steps being danced, which is quite novel," Mr. Orr says.
Because movement is free of miming, intentions must be conveyed through passionate-yet-controlled interpretations of the steps. An Ernest Chausson score serves as the backdrop for the classical choreography.
"It's a very emotional role," says soloist Elysa Hotchkiss. "Every step you do, you have to make sure it has feeling in it."
The program will conclude with the Pittsburgh premiere of Mr. Morris' "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" (1988), danced to piano etudes by Virgil Thomson performed live by PBT pianist Yoland Collin. Mr. Morris is revered for his musicality.
"How he hears the music and how he puts that into action often makes people hear music in a completely different way," says repetiteur Megan Williams, who taught the piece to PBT. She also danced for a decade with the New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group. "The structure of the music is really what comes first for him. There's not one note left undanced."
"Drink to Me" is a lighthearted piece free of tragedy and tinged with humor.
Audiences will see "a fresh and non-narrative piece, one that I think really highlights the athleticism and the playfulness of the company, which is what you don't see in the rest of the program," Ms. Williams says.
"Unspoken" will mark the second time PBT will perform at the August Wilson Center as part of its regular season. The switch from PBT's usual home at the Benedum Center is part of a multiyear partnership the two arts organizations entered in 2011.
"It's a very intimate theater," says soloist Robert Moore. "It's a great experience for both the dancers and the audience. You're right up close to the dancers.
"It's a lovely evening of celebrating music and dance together."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.