Tag Archives: Point Park

fireWALL Dance Theater’s ‘Uproar’ an Unexpected Holiday Treat


Elisa Marie Alio in fireWALL Dance Theater's "Uproar". Photo by Heather Mull

Elisa Marie Alaio in fireWALL Dance Theater’s “Uproar”. Photo by Heather Mull.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For its sophomore effort, fireWALL Dance Theater embarked on a unique project. The resident dance company at Carnegie’s Off the Wall performing-arts center created a companion dance-theater piece to the Liz Duffy Adams play Or, now being staged by Off the Wall’s acting troupe. Adams’ Or, tells a fictional story of 17th-century British poet, spy and playwright Aphra Behn’s efforts to write a play while constantly being interrupted by a trio of lovers. fireWALL’s Uproar turns that premise inside-out using a similar setting and characters to tell the tale in dance of an author whose fictional characters complicate her efforts to write their stories.

Uproar, conceived by Erika Cuenca and fireWALL artistic director Elisa-Marie Alaio, who also choreographed the work, is set to original music by Ryan McMasters. The Dec. 18 opening-night performance began with Alaio, as the author, engrossed in her writing and taking some pleasure in its outcome. On a one-room set with several doors and furnishings, the author was interrupted by the appearance of dancer Taylor Quinn in a French maid’s costume running into the room on tiptoes in small quick steps. Her arms spun in rapid circular movements in front of her as if to steady her balance while angling to catch a glimpse of what Alaio was writing. The first of many quirky characters sprung from the author’s mind, Quinn was a delight as the perky blonde maid whose curiosity led to several humorous moments throughout the intermissionless 50-minute work.
The cast in fireWALL Dance Theater's "Uproar". Photo by Heather Mull

The cast in fireWALL Dance Theater’s “Uproar”. Photo by Heather Mull

The author’s other characters first appeared in nondescript leotards, then as the work progressed donned costumes, hinting at their station and their relationship to the author, who doubled as the heroine in her own story. A royal lover, a lesbian lover and a long-lost lover all vied for the heroine’s affections, leading to a few heated makeout sessions that sent pulses racing.

Uproar‘s primary allure however, came from Alaio herself. The Point Park grad’s vibrantly athletic choreography was thick with gesture and beautifully nuanced, and her passionate acting and dancing in the role of the author/heroine was a triumph. Also notable was the over-the-top performance of Luke Paulina in drag as a flamboyant dramaturge come to help the struggling author.

A solid effort by all involved, Uproar proved an unexpected holiday treat.

Elisa Marie Alaio, Jenna Rae Smith and Glenna Clark  in fireWALL Dance Theater's "Uproar".  Photo by Heather Mull.

Elisa Marie Alaio, Jenna Rae Smith and Glenna Clark in fireWALL Dance Theater’s “Uproar”. Photo by Heather Mull.

fireWALL Dance Theater’s Uproar continues through Jan. 11. Off the Wall PAC, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. $5-25. 888-718-4253 or insideoffthewall.com

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  on December 31, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2014, Pittsburgh City Paper

Dance work summons the memory of the passenger pigeon


Jessica Marino of Shana Simmons Dance. Photo by Shana Simmons.

Jessica Marino of Shana Simmons Dance. Photo by Shana Simmons.

By Steve Sucato

Once they were the most populous bird in North America, accounting for a quarter of all birds. But in less than half a century, starting in the late 1800s, unabated commercial and sport hunting and habitat destruction reduced the passenger pigeon’s numbers from billions to none. Their extinction inspires Passenger, a new program by fledgling company Shana Simmons Dance, staged Nov. 14 and 15 at the National Aviary.

The 40-minute modern-dance work, choreographed by Shana Simmons with original music by Ian Green, is part of Project Passenger Pigeon, a nationwide initiative founded by Chicago native Joel Greenberg. Passenger is part of the Pittsburgh chapter of the organization’s local programming (lecture, movie, art exhibit) surrounding the centennial of the death of Martha, the last known passenger pigeon. Martha died in 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens.

“It is about extinction,” says Simmons. “The piece takes you on a journey of this morphing between bird and human.”

Jessica Marino of Shana Simmons Dance. Photo by Shana Simmons.

Jessica Marino of Shana Simmons Dance. Photo by Shana Simmons.

Simmons, a 2003 Point Park graduate, has a master’s degree in choreography from London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. She has performed with dance companies in New York, London and Pittsburgh.

Passenger will take place in the atrium of the Aviary. (Seating is limited.) Its three sections begin with its five dancers displaying birdlike behavior. As the work progresses, comparisons between avian and human behavior will illustrate our natural link to other species. Simmons hopes to have audience members contemplating how humans have affected the environment, and thus the survival of birds and other species. The production also features a live performance by opera singer Anna Singer, who will perform Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalize.”

Following the main performance, the “free-fly zone” areas of the Aviary will be opened for another 30 minutes for audience members to tour the facility and observe its birds. There will also be impromptu mini-performances by the dancers, who will move about those spaces.

“The underlying goal is to promote awareness in one area,” says Simmons. “That will hopefully lead to a discussion about extinction in a broader sense.”

Shana Simmons Dance performs Passenger; 8 p.m., Fri., Nov. 14, and 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 15; National Aviary, 700 Arch St., North Side; $15-35. passenger.brownpapertickets.com

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  on November 12, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

Leave a comment

Filed under Pittsburgh City Paper