Tag Archives: Ryan McMasters

Women’s-empowerment theme makes for a strong evening of dance from fireWALL dance theater


L-R: Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater's "Admission." Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R: Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater’s “Admission.” Photo by Duerring Photography.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Familiar themes of self-acceptance, female empowerment and sisterhood are the driving forces behind fireWALL dance theater’s latest production, Admission.

The 50-minute intermissionless dance work, choreographed by fireWALL artistic director/dancer Elisa-Marie Alaio, was staged at the company’s home, off the WALL Performing Arts Center. Set to original music and sound by Ryan McMasters, the production began with its all-female cast of six (including Alaio) in silhouette behind a row of large panels at the back of the stage. As a cacophony of recorded whispered voices filled the theater, the dancers, in shadow, poured forth a series of gestures that revealed them in states of worry, self-doubt, and feeling trapped by their own fears.

The dancers then emerged from behind the panels onto a stage crisscrossed with bungee cords. As if caught in a web of similarly destructive feelings, the dancers one by one pushed, pulled and stretched the cords with their bodies, seeming to battle some oppressive force. The bungee cords were miked, and when struck by the dancers they emitted thunderous sounds, adding drama to the sequence that ended with all the dancers coming together to dismantle the bungee web.

For the first half of the largely non-narrative work, Alaio’s choreography offered visual metaphors for the dark feelings and emotions underlying its themes. But Admission‘s real strength and entertainment value came in the onslaught of full-throttle, energetic and athletic dance sequences that followed.

L-R: Elisa-Marie Alaio, Glenna Clark, Jenna Rae Smith, Grace Cohen, Sara Cohen, Cammi Nevarez in fireWall dance theater's "Admission." Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R: Elisa-Marie Alaio, Glenna Clark, Jenna Rae Smith, Grace Cohen, Sara Cohen, Cammi Nevarez in fireWall dance theater’s “Admission.” Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R:  Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater's "Admission." Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R: Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater’s “Admission.” Photo by Duerring Photography.

As if suddenly empowered and given the green light to let loose, the dancers launched into exhilarating sequences full of power and pace that had them traversing the stage as a unit in Alaio’s bold choreography.

Whirlwind solos by Alaio, Cammi Nevarez and Jenna Rae Smith followed as a seemingly relentless succession of hard-driving movement phrases came one after the other. Alaio’s choreography mixed styles from jazz to hip hop, creating wonderful bursts of dancing that at times had the feel and intensity of an opening routine on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.

The evenly matched cast also included dancers Sara Cohen, Grace Cohen and Glenna Clark. They were fabulous, as were the efforts of the production crew, Bob Steineck’s lighting and McMaster’s filmic score.

fireWALL dance theater’s Admission, continues through Sat., June 6 Off the Wall PAC, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. $5-20. 888-718-4253 or insideoffthewall.com

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on June 3, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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Emotional Journeys to Highlight fireWALL Dance Theater’s ‘Perspectives (as)’


Carlotta Storelli in Perspectives (as). Photo courtesy of Hans H. Gruenert.

Carlotta Storelli in Perspectives (as). Photo courtesy of Hans H. Gruenert.

By Steve Sucato

Two journeys of self-discovery collide in fireWALL Dance Theater’s Perspectives (as). The hour-long production interweaves solo dances by Madrid, Spain-based dancer/choreographer Carlotta Storelli and fireWALL artistic director Elisa-Marie Alaio.

Excerpted from her “Falling Leaves” and set to original music by Jan Huge Saabye, Storelli’s three solos are about “stripping herself down to her most vulnerable state,” says co-choreographer Jenna Rae Smith. “She unmasks herself to come to terms with who she is.”

Alaio’s Smith-choreographed solos, set to original music by Ryan McMasters, depict feelings of alienation and the struggle to retain one’s mask. Performed on a stage divided by a band of light, the six alternating solos culminate in a duet choreographed by Smith in which the two journeys combine. Perspectives (as) marks Switzerland native Storelli’s U.S. debut.

Elisa-Marie Alaio in Perspectives (as). Photo courtesy of Hans H. Gruenert.

Elisa-Marie Alaio in Perspectives (as). Photo courtesy of Hans H. Gruenert.

Smith says that the show arose after off the WALL Performing Arts Center managing director Hans H. Gruenert ran across Storelli’s work during a random Vimeo search. Perspectives (as) receives five performances this weekend.

fireWALL Dance Theater presents Perspectives (as), 8 p.m., through Sun., March 29. 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. $5-25. 888-718-4253 or www.insideoffthewall.com

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  March 25, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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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.

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