Word of mouth means a lot in the performing arts. But it can mean more than shoring up audiences at performances. Word of mouth, even through texting and social media, can help to build a new company -- from the inside out.
Texture Contemporary Ballet is entering only its third season, but it already has a fan base of dancers who come to Pittsburgh from companies across the United States to participate in its annual summer performance, one that takes advantage of the normal off-season for most ballet companies.
Although Texture has already built a core group of eight dancers, it will swell to more than 20 in this year's production. Katie Miller will come the farthest, from Sacramento Ballet, which has a strong Balanchine repertoire to take advantage of her long, lean proportions. The Flint, Mich., native trained in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Graduate Program, heard good things about the first season and added her name to the list after that.
She returned because the choreographers are "very specific, challenging and musical. They pay close attention to the hand and feet positions." And it gave her an invaluable opportunity "to grow as an artist."
This time the program is called "Perpetual Motion," which certainly might give Ms. Miller a never-ending summer experience.
"It's a little bit of a joke," says amiable artistic director and founder Alan Obuzor. "It's just that we're always moving."
This time, even the choreographers will have plenty to do. Working in what is usually a solitary form of artistic endeavor, these movers and shakers are choreographing in twos and threes. For example, "Mulberry Way" changes choreographers for each of four movements, using primarily Mr. Obuzor, associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman and Gabriel Gaffney Smith.
Some might say that too many cooks spoil the broth, but the choreographers arrived at the movement phrases through a variety of methods, including mutual agreement and assigned sections. Not that they didn't discuss or disagree, but their shared passion for dance and respect for each other enabled them to keep a common focus. As the affable Mr. Obuzor puts it, "You know what you want as a choreographer. But when you add a second person, the process changes. You have to think through things more fully."
And when you have 20 dancers and three creative directors, as in the finale, "MOIP," inspired by live music from Pittsburgh band Meeting of Important People, there will be a lot of variables.
But maybe that just means there will be more "textures."
Mr. Smith and Ashley Wegman have been involved since the start. It was friendship that got them started -- Ms. Wegman met Ms. Bartman in PBT's grad school, where they performed some of Mr. Obuzor's choreography. And Ms. Bartman used music by Mr. Smith, a company member and budding electronic composer, in her student choreography there.
The quartet remained friends when Mr. Smith, then Ms. Wegman moved on to BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, a company that is undergoing some exciting changes. For the past year, renowned Canadian choreographer James Kudelka has been filling in as artistic director until Edwaard Liang, former New York City Ballet soloist and rising young choreographer himself, takes the reins next year.
Pittsburgh has remained their central meeting point, though. Ms. Wegman enjoys Texture because she likes "new work as a dancer. You learn things about yourself and you grow in general. During the season, you're with the same people and you kind of get into your groove with them, which is great. But you come here and have a little jump-start into something different."
Mr. Smith may have showcased his interest in music here in Pittsburgh, but he is developing his choreographic interests as well in Columbus. Last year he brought a duet, "Box Piece," which won him a Columbus Fellowship.
He's a fully engaged choreographer here this season, participating in all four works on the program. In addition to "Mulberry Way" and "MIOP," he will create a duet with Ms. Bartman, "Wash," and a large ensemble work with Ms. Bartman and Mr. Obuzor, "Broken Mirror," using 18 dancers and his own original musical score.
He had to learn to fit into the choreographic processes that his friends had established. But he loved how they still supported him with a blank canvas and "trusted my ability to create."
Now there are no boundaries, both in friendship and in dance.
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at pittsburghcrosscurrents.com. First Published July 17, 2013 4:00 AM