Friday, February 27, 2009

Angels in America at Pitt

This weekend marks the last two performances of Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches. University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theater, directed by Holly Thuma, made the commitment to Angels. They've assembled a wholly original staging.

Ted Hoover's review in the City Paper covers the historic nature & inherent difficulties of staging Angels. All the necessary Kushner details. I'm more interested in this particular staging, how its compact format and strategic transitions allowed the group to create a series of striking images for the audience.

The stage inside Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre (Forbes Avenue at Bigelow) is pretty damn small. If this were an apartment, it would be "charming" or "cozy". Monochromatic beige stone masonry in three layers, shallow levels that create zones for small set-pieces. The walls flip to become urinals. Stagehands bring out simple beds, couches, chairs, easily flipping the audiences attention from one stage 'zone' to another. Simple misdirection allows characters to appear magically.

Lighting, from strong color 'looks' to image projections over the entirety of the stage allow the set and the actors upon it to become the screen upon which we the audience projected the play. Moments like Ethyl Rosenberg's appearance, the dance of the diseased Prior and his fleeing lover in a tux, the shifting snows of the antarctic, all created indelible images that could become painting.

All in one intimate space. Of course the angel makes her appearance, in the way we are expecting her to. But the series of spells cast by the environments, the capable acting, draw one in. I was surprised to burst into tears when she fell from the cieling in her harness.

This group has overcome the difficulty of audience familiarity which poses a particular challenge in Millennium. Still, take advantage of the last two nights. That way you'll be prepared for Perestroika when they stage it this spring.

city paper review

university of pittsburgh information

for tickets call 412-624-PLAY

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Preservation Fair @Carnegie Museum

As if you didn't need a reason to visit the Carnegie Museum, here's another one! There will be a Preservation Fair at the Carnegie Museum this Saturday --

Over 30 individual conservators and vendors of conservation supplies and services will be on hand to address your conservation issues. Bring books, photographs, film, letters and other documents, paintings, textiles and family treasures for free conservation advice. No appraisals or valuations will be given.

The featured speakers will be Rick Prelinger, of the Prelinger Film Archive, speaking on the value of preserving film as a cultural artifact and Tom Clareson, of PALINET, with advice on preserving your family treasures in times of disaster. These talks will be held in the Museum’s Earth Theater, from 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM.

The fair has a broad appeal, with an emphasis on family treasures. But that covers a lot of ground, with exhibitors from local museums, galleries and universities. Here is a list of the exhibitors that will be on hand to discuss art conservation issues --

* Carnegie Museum of Art
Ellen Baxter (paintings)
Michael Belman (objects)
Carnegie Museum of Art, Conservation Dept.
* Christine Daulton (paintings)
* Concept Art Gallery (paintings, photographs, art on paper)
Charles Biddle
* Rikke Foulke (paintings)
* Rhonda Wozniak (fine and decorative art, ethnographic and archaeological materials)

In addition to art conservation, exhibitors will also be on hand to discuss film preservation, photography and furniture restoration. Check here for a full list of exhibitors. All in all it sounds like a really full day.

Preservation Fair
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh.
Saturday, February 28, 2009, 10 AM – 4 PM

Co-sponsored by Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blossom Dearie; Godspeed

I have spoken about my admiration of Blossom Dearie in the past. An incomparable vocalist and pianist, Blossom Dearie's voice has accompanied me through many changes.

I first became acquainted with her in college and because of that exposure have found myself drawn to other indefinable performers. I never saw her perform; I wish now that I had. The NYT announced today that Blossom Dearie has died. --

A singer, pianist and songwriter with an independent spirit who zealously guarded her privacy, Ms. Dearie pursued a singular career that blurred the line between jazz and cabaret. An interpretive minimalist with caviar taste in songs and musicians, she was a genre unto herself. Rarely raising her sly, kittenish voice, Ms. Dearie confided song lyrics in a playful style below whose surface layers of insinuation lurked. Read the article

Godspeed, Blossom Dearie. You will be forever cherished.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Literary Pittsburgh--Get Your Readings Here

There's lots for the literary audience to love this month. The following are only SOME of what's out there in Steel City in the next few weeks:

The ever-popular Gist Street readings happen tonight in Uptown. Emily Mitchell (who teaches writing at nearby WVU) is the featured fiction reader, and Jeffrey McDaniel (who has published on Manic D Press and University of Pittsburgh Press) will read from his poetry. The Gist Street readings start at 8:00 but doors close when the place hits capacity--go early to ensure your seat! Door charge, $5.00, held at James Simon’s sculpture studio, 305 Gist Street. For more info and directions:

On the other side of town, at the lovely Kelly Strayhorn Theatre in East Liberty (5941 Penn Ave on Penn Circle), you can see spoken word and music with performers like Human Nature hosts, Yah Lioness and Gene Stovall, Human Nature house musician Hambone Jenkins, DJ Omar Abdul in the front lobby, and more. The event is called KST Live, costs $5.00 and starts at 7:00pm.

Tomorrow, Saturday February 7th, there's a great lineup at Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery at 5015 Penn Avenue. Calling themselves the Six Degree Reading, emerging poets Renée Alberts, Sophie Klahr, Holly Coleman, Michelle Stoner, Jerome Crooks, Nikki Allen, and Jason Kirin will read starting at 7:00pm, also for $5.00.

Mid-month, the New Yinzer's reading series, TNY Presents, features Gist Street host Sherrie Flick with fiction, Patti Emory with poetry, and indie rocker and dramatist, Julie Sokolow with fiction. February 18th at ModernFormations, 8:00pm, $5.00.

Pittsburgh's own poetry powerhouse, Autumn House Press will host two readings for their anthology, When She Named Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by American Women edited by Andrea Hollander Budy. A book launch will be held at Chatham University on Tuesday, February 24 at 8:00 p.m. in the James Laughlin Music Hall (Welker Room). Featured readers will be Andrea Hollander Budy, Toi Derricotte, Sheryl St. Germain, and Judith Vollmer. Then on Friday, February 27 from noon to 2:00 p.m., there will be a "Reading & Conversation" for the book at the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh at 305 Wood Street, Downtown. There will be readings by Andrea Hollander Budy and two residential clients of the YWCA. Both Autumn House events are free.

Six Gallery Press is running a showcase reading of their authors later in the month, called The Big Dig. Saturday, February 28th at ModernFormations Gallery on Penn Avenue, join Renée Alberts, Jessica Fenlon, Dana Killmeyer, Jerome Crooks, Nikki Allen, Karen Lillis, Che Elias, Jonathan Loucks, Kristofer Collins, John Thomas Menesini, Scott McClanahan up from West Virginia (he was a show-stealer last time), Alexi Morrissey, Scott Silsbe, Bill Hughes, and the inimitable Ed Steck for a combination of poetry and fiction.

Also, Pittsburgh press, Words Like Kudzu, thanks all who emailed and called on behalf of their poet, Richard Leck. He was buried with dignity in a modest military ceremony at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island on January 23, 2009, and the New York City Mayor's Office paid for it. You can read the follow up Village Voice article here.

Speak up

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is interested in finding out what our city's artists need --
The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council would like you to tell us how to make the Pittsburgh region a better place for the artists who live and work here.

They are sincerely interested in hearing what you have to say. The survey is primarily interested in nuts and bolts issues about the business and physical making of art. It is not a reflective survey, though, so it is difficult to qualify an answer with something like "Yeah, I need a studio, I know there are some available but I can only afford to pay $150/month for rent and from what I've seen for that amount I may as well work in a parking lot." or "I could use health insurance, but my income only covers my living expenses and some professional expenses." Hmmm. Take the survey here.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Did you feel guilty, crossing the picket line to get in?"

We were settling into the audience at the Benedum center when I saw E. a few rows down.

I went down to say hi. "Did you feel guilty, crossing the picket line to get in?" I asked her.

"A little," she said, "but this is art. What does art have to do with war?"

I smiled. We were here for Batsheva Dance Company, an Israeli dance troupe founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild in 1964. Ohad Naharin, the current artistic director, began working with Martha Graham in 1980, at her invitation, after he began his study with Batsheva in the late 1970's.

Israeli dance troupe is all that some people heard. Hence, "Would you dance on my grave?" on one protester's placard. They marched in a steady loop in front of the Benedum's big glass doors. There were cops on every corner of the block.

Inside we were met with a spare stage, grey walls with multiple exits and entrances cut into them. White floors. A steady soft glow from upstage lights. Back of house inner architecture revealed - who'd have thought the Benedum had so many silver ventilation ducts?

Lights up. Dancers dressed in clothes one could order from J. Crew's summer catalogue, polo-necked tees and capri length shorts. Dancing barefoot on white marley, lit from above with 200 lights that shifted very subtly, highlighting the dancers' precise technique.

Bellus opens with a large group of dancers standing, in silence, facing the audience. With no audible cues, they move as one, most of them leaving the stage to that moment's primary dancers as the music starts.

An evenly balanced group of men and women, with bodies many shapes and sizes. They would be an ordinary crowd anywhere (though none of them are overweight).

Late in Bellus I was struck by how gesture was passed from dancer to dancer. Each dancer danced alone, yet expressed the same stories with their bodies.

How like us, in our illusion of aloneness, moving through our heartbreaks, sorrows, and joys isolated, yet just like every person's necessary journies ... The gestures of contemporary life, translated to dance, made into art.

Hilarious, true, small gestures - the male dancer sniffs the female dancer's ass in their duet of seduction (or its lack). Humor popped up elsewhere as the troupe surprised us. It took a few times for the audience to get comfortable laughing. You can laugh at a contemporary dance performance?

Humus : the power of female gestures. Only the female dancers worked together for this piece. They danced as a single organ, a single gender muscle. Stereotypes of walks - the tiptoes of high heels, the swing of jutting hips. Sexual postures placed next to everyday gestures. The rejection presented by this group of women on their knees, hips to the audience, their knees crossing their legs behind them. They look back at the audience, cold. They hold pose, then shift, stand up, flock into movements as birds.

Humus perfectly coordinated against a Brian Eno soundtrack containing no punctual rhythm. The soundtrack was so soft it pulled all of one's sensory perception into one's eyes.

By the time we reached Secus I was totally rapt. I trusted this choreographer, these dancers, completely. When they came to the moments of nudity, gestures exposing gendered difference (or its lack), gestures exposing the rump ... it made perfect sense in this context.

Yes, I cried when the mano-a-mano duet played out. Such emotional intimacy shared forthrightly by two men on stage. Yes the audience was palpably uncomfortable with it. I want so badly for us to get over that.

This is art, what does art have to do with war? What do we expect two men to do in a dance with each other on stage?

A language developed by a person with Pittsburgh roots circled the globe. It returned to us tonight in an extraordinary performance ...

* * * * * * * * * *

Batsheva dance company at the Benedum center 5 February 2009

by Ohad Naharin

70 minute program of three pieces : Bellus, Humus, and Secus. No intermission.

Artists Review Artists Project @Thinking About Art


Back in December, I posted the review of my work on Thinking About Art's Artists Review Artists project. Well, the second part of JT Kirkland's project has been posted, where I review another artist's work.

It was interesting to work on. I received one anonymous image; title, size and medium were the only information that I had to go on. What was really interesting about the process was reviewing the work without any context. No information about the artist's body of work, or a context provided by a group show. Anyway, the artist I reviewed is Alexandra Silverthorne. The work above is from a series in progress.

This has been a really great project, not only to participate in but to read. If you haven't checked out the project, haul on over to Thinking About Art and check it out.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

thank god february is a short month ...

The cranky "I'm stuck indoors with a giant gas bill" overwhelms my Superbowl afterglow. Its still too fricking dark outside. Still there's good stuff to be had ...

Documentary Salon met last night in the mini-Melwood theater at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Loosely organized by documentary filmmaker Will Zavala, a little social time with food precedes locally produced documentary film presented for post-show discussion.

Justin Crimone and Mark Staley showed a rough cut of a piece shot in Guatemala. Mark shot the footage while teaching in an educational program for underserved kids in this wild-west country. Since the program, and the film, is funded by Whole Foods, there was a lively discussion of everything from managing the content to concerns about 'slant'.

tENTATIVELY a Convenience was there; he told me a bit about his experimental orchestra, a "communal thought experiment", he recently performed? conducted? at the New Hazlett. He'll be screening the documentation of this event at the next meeting, which is March 3.

While in Filmmakers I got all the movie poster reminders I needed for films I'm looking forward to. Azure & Asmar, an amazing picture-book of an animated fairy tale (kid-friendly non-Disney/Pixar!), an old favorite, Easy Rider, and two servings of Oscar-nominated short films.

Oh, yeah, and Film Kitchen is next Tuesday at Melwood Screening Room in Oakland. Features a locally-made doc about squatters, among other things.

the blog for Documentary Salon
Filmmaker's february screening schedule
Film Kitchen's page

Jessica Fenlon

Second Elizabeth released

Full disclosure - Karen Lillis is one of Pittsburgh Arts - Digging Pitt contributors. We are ever so happy for her! The following is from Bill Driscoll's review --

Lillis, writing in the first person, tells the (perhaps at least semi-autobiographical) story of a young woman named Karen E. Lillis as she spends a summer working in a deli in small-town Charlottesville, Va., while reeling from the fallout from an unspecified personal trauma. Anxious, introverted and hard-pressed to communicate with others, including a gutsy co-worker named Beth, Karen longs to become the title character -- the more confident, more assertive person she used to be. "My meanings are trapped inside my body, I have a body which is a wall between the words I mean and the words I say," she says. From the City Paper - Read the article
The Second Elizabeth is available at Amazon.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Hello all of you lovely people!

Recently the Digging Pittsburgh Arts team had a flurry of emails about newly minted blogs. -Ah! the sweet ozone-tinted air of a new blog!-

Well, in the course of adding new blogs to our roll, I thought it might be time to take down bad links. If I inadvertently deleted your blog through some column a/column b process, please let me know.

Also, if you would like to recommend a blog that isn't in our blogroll, please feel free to leave a link in the comment trail.

Drink & Draw with Michael


We had a really nice session last Tuesday. I can't believe it's been nearly a week since our last session! It was really great, though. Our model was Mike Duray, of Synergy Bodyworks. He did these great action poses, using the walls and equipment to extend the length of some of the more challenging poses.

This particular session was a gesture intensive; all of the poses were under five minutes in duration. It was a pretty intense session because of that. The thing that's nice about a gesture intensive is that by the time you get to that five minute pose, you feel like you have all the time in the world.

Anyway, here are a few images of the sketches done that evening. Unfortunately, I was having some camera problems and there aren't as many images as there should be.

drink & draw is moving to once a month! We will be meeting on the last Tuesday of each month. Sessions will start at 6:30pm. Next session is February 24!

Drink and Draw…
is an open studio live model drawing session that meets last Tuesdays on the second floor of brillobox, located at 4104 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, Pa. This session is relaxed, surprising, and inspiring. amazing models dressed in various themes, old timey music, great company, and decor. All mediums, except oils, welcome.

Drink & Draw
Upstairs @ 6:30PM | $10

get on our mailing list. email us at
4104 penn ave