By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh’s “other” professional ballet company, Texture Contemporary Ballet, opens its fourth home season July 17-20 at the New Hazlett Theater with four performances of Life, Love, & Jazz. The program features three world premieres that continue the company’s winning formula of pairing contemporary ballet styles with popular music to create moving, vibrant and energetic ballets. Such works have captivated audiences here and on tour at such venues as Massachusetts’ prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, where Texture will return on Aug. 6.
Life, Love, & Jazz opens with Texture associate artistic director and resident choreographer Kelsey Bartman’s latest effort, “Fun.,” set to music from the band of the same name, including its megahit “Some Nights.” Bartman calls the 25-minute work “grungy modern meets musical theater” ballet. She says she didn’t set out to tell a story with it, but that the songs she chose for their danceability ended up suggesting one.
“The ballet begins with the song ‘Bar Life,’ which sets the scene for a night-on-the-town story with girls and guys flirting. Then comes a love story and a bar brawl,” says Bartman.
Two more Bartman ballets follow. “Spinning Plates” (2011), set to Radiohead’s tune “Like Spinning Plates,” features Bartman’s signature classical-ballet-gone-off-kilter movement language. Danced by Amanda Summers, the four-minute solo reflects on someone caught in a bad relationship. In the pas de deux “Hollowed” (2011), co-choreographed with Texture artistic director Alan Obuzor and danced by the pair, the ballet taps into the yearning expressed in singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey’s song “Video Games.”
Next, BalletMet Columbus dancer and regular Texture contributor Gabriel Gaffney Smith showcases his choreographic talents in “Detachment. Without Reason.” The new 14-minute ballet for the full company is set to music by Arkansas spoken-word rock band Listener and North Carolina’s Sylvan Esso. The work “deals with the emotions and paths of life, and when we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, the possibilities of life are destroyed,” says Smith.
The program concludes with the premiere of Obuzor’s “Life, Love, & Jazz.” Set to live original jazz by Marty Ashby and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz Quartet, the 32-minute ballet is an expression of Ashby’s music, says Obuzor.
Texture Contemporary Ballet performs Life, Love, & Jazz, 7:30 p.m., July 17, 8 p.m., July 18 & 19 and 2 p.m., July 20. $20. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Northside. (412) 320-4610 or newhazletttheater.org.