I would love to say that I began dancing after I saw an inspiring performance of The Nutcracker when I was four, that I was enthralled for all two hours, even during that Sugarplum pas de deux that goes on forever; and that I whispered to my mom at the end, “I want to be a ballerina,” and the rest is history. But then I’d be lying.
In reality, my mom asked me one average day when I was four, “Do you want to take ballet classes?” and I said, “Sure.” I think my reply would have been the same had she asked me if I wanted to play ice hockey or baseball, so I’m very fortunate that my mom knew me so well! It appears she had been observing me for a while, and noticed that every time she would play music (especially the 1997 song “How Bizarre” by OMC--strange) I would just start moving, almost as though I had to move the instant I heard music. It didn’t matter if we were in public at a kids’ Christmas music concert or at my friend’s birthday party--I would be dancing.
I took my first dance class in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Creative Movement class in January 1998, and just kept coming back. I always enjoyed my classes, but I don’t think it was until the ripe age of nine that I knew, this is it; this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I remember standing backstage at the Benedum Center during a Nutcracker performance in a hot, sweaty sheep costume and looking at the regal back of former PBT dancer Maribel Modrono in the beautiful pink Sugarplum tutu. All I thought was I’m going to wear that someday. From then on, when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be a dancer, shoving the old dream careers of being a school teacher and a crossing guard to the wayside.
There were a few times of course when I seriously thought, is this actually what I want to do as a career? Dance is horribly unforgiving: I’ve never had beautiful feet, a big extension, great turnout, and my knees don’t straighten easily. But I learned early that if I worked hard enough, I could still improve these things and make this my career. One day when I was around ten, I got a correction from a teacher about how my ankles were pronating, and that if I kept standing like that, I’d have bad knee problems down the road. I panicked, and when my friend called me that evening to ask if I wanted to play, I replied, “No, I really need to practice ballet, or I’m going to get knee problems.”
At times though, I would realize that I’d have to work twice as hard to catch up to dancers with a lot of facility for ballet, and this would make me discouraged. Dance often meant comparison: I would compare myself constantly to other dancers in my class, dancers in higher levels, and professional dancers, trying to gauge if I had what it took to make it in this art form. I still struggle with this as many dancers do, but there did come a point when I realized there was no way to change my anatomy; I’d have to learn to work harder and focus on the good qualities I did have, such as musicality and artistry, or quit.
I obviously didn’t quit. I love moving to music, the challenge of learning new choreography, and the fulfilling feeling of performing too much to give up just because it’s going to be hard! In fact, I’ve realized that dance means more to me because it often doesn’t come naturally--hard work is truly rewarding. I’ve always daydreamed about being in a company, thinking, how cool would it be to get paid for dancing all day long, something I’d pay to do! That doesn’t even seem like a job! Last summer when I began dancing with Texture for the Blur show, I found out it’s really cool. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
I tend to wander when I talk on the phone. Even after hours of dancing, my feet get restless as soon as I start talking to someone who’s miles away. One day while Texture was rehearsing at Point Park University, I called my mom during my break to tell her how rehearsals were going. Sure enough, I started wandering and ended up in the beautiful lobby of Point Park’s theater. Even though I danced with Texture last summer and spent several weeks rehearsing at Point Park, I somehow didn’t make it to this part of the building. But I had been in the lobby before and, while wandering on the phone, a very specific memory, vivid yet surreal, came back to me.
In 2009-10 I was in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s High School Full Time program, which is where I first met Alan Obuzor. He was teaching at PBT and choreographed Amazonia, the piece that my level performed in the Spring Showcase. Amazonia remains to this day my favorite ballet (you’re going to revive it at Texture, right Alan?!) so I was well aware of Alan’s talent as a choreographer. Only a few weeks before our show, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre organized a performance at Point Park Theater to benefit the Dancer’s Trust, a fund for professional dancers who are transitioning into second careers. Alan had choreographed a piece for some of the PBT company members and performed a solo that he had choreographed along with a pas de deux that he and PBT principal Erin Halloran had collaborated on. Several of the Full Time students came to the show and we met Alan in the lobby afterward to congratulate him. After the well-deserved congrats were given, the conversation proceeded as follows:
“Hey Alan, you should start your own company.” This was said only half jokingly. Alan smiled and nodded; he had had the idea long before we came along. “And you should hire us!” More smiles and nods in response to our not-so-sarcastic suggestions. I knew he would start a company, I just hoped it would be before I retired. Dancing careers are short and at 18, I probably only had about ten more years ahead of me. What were the odds that Alan would tackle the huge undertaking of starting a ballet company from scratch in time for me to be a part of it?
Yet here I am, a mere three years later, back in that same Point Park lobby while other Texture dancers rehearse upstairs. I feel pretty lucky to dance for a company that I’ve wanted to be a part of since before it existed. Not that I’ve ever taken Texture for granted, but going back to that particular part of the building was a pleasant blast from the past. Maybe I wasn’t wandering after all…
Hello Texture friends, family, and dancers! Two weeks of rehearsal down, and lots of laughter, excitement, and fierce dancing has been going on in the studios. It’s been hours of sweat, bruises, and tears (no blood…yet!!!) and lots of fun! I cannot wait to continue the rehearsal/choreographic process next week!
Week two went out with a bang: an exciting performance for the Americans for the Arts National Convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Friday morning.
Texture dancers and Cello Fury, post-performance at the Convention Center.
What an incredible opportunity for the company to gain some national exposure and collaborate, again, with the wonderful artists of the Pittsburgh-based rocking band, Cello Fury! Americans for the Arts is a non-profit organization that works nationally to advance the arts and arts education. They promote the artistic community as an important and necessary part of American life. What a privilege to perform for a group that values dance and art as much as we do! Check out their website here:
Throughout the last two weeks, we’ve been re-staging and rehearsing two sections from last summer’s ballet, The Pulse of Time, a co-creation of Kelsey and Alan, to be performed for the convention. It’s been quite a rewarding experience to return to a work that we’ve already rehearsed and performed. As a dancer, I’m always shocked to find that my body, in many ways, has a clearer memory than my brain! Put the music on, let it play, and before I know it I’m dancing the steps of the ballet even though two minutes ago I couldn’t tell you what my first movement was supposed to be! Revisiting The Pulse of Time provided all of us dancers a wonderful chance to really dig into the choreography. Since we already knew the steps and the music, we explored new ways to shade the movements. We experimented, finding moments to make super energetic as well as moments to make soft and smooth. It’s sort of like coloring in a coloring book. The choreography is the blank picture, simple outlines of shapes. We get to shade and fill in the spaces. The Pulse of Time was the same blank coloring book page that we were given a year ago, but all of us have another year of dance and life experience to use as colors to shade the picture however we wanted! Imagine our excitement, similar to that of a five-year-old given a giant box of Crayola Crayons and a new coloring book!
Friday morning, we dragged our sore, tired bodies into the studios for an 8 am warm up class to prepare us for the performance. Believe me, no matter how much you love ballet, 8 am is an early call for tendus and pliés! We put on some rocking tunes and got ourselves moving before walking over to the Convention Center for spacing rehearsal.
Long distance view of the stage and jumbotron screens.
We performed in a GIANT room, packed with tables and chairs and white china for a luncheon event. Pretty amazing! The stage experience was new for us: a raised platform with just three panels of marley (we usually perform on a stage with wings and about six marley panels. Not to mention, Cello Fury was up there on the stage with us! I think dancers and musicians alike were a bit nervous about being stabbed with a cello bow, or having a long-legged dancer grande jeté right into a beloved cello! But we made it work with rave reviews!
Giant room at the Convention Center for our performance.
Cello Fury is a joy to work with! Such chill, fun musicians! One of my favorite moments last summer came from our first rehearsal with the band playing live in the studio. At the first pluck of the cello string, all of us screamed in excitement! There is NOTHING like live music, right there with you, informing the dance steps and feeding the performance energy. Every time I hear Cello Fury play, I experience that same rush of excited adrenaline from the first time we heard them live!
What an exciting first performance of the summer! A dancer cannot ask for more than to perform to live music for an audience that loves and appreciates the arts, and of course wearing some super cool tutus designed by our costumer-extraordinaire, Erin Heintzinger!
Erin’s incredible tutus for The Pulse of Time (and a pair of my smelly pointe shoes!)
Week three of rehearsals, here we come!!!
Allow me to indulge my imagination for a moment with regards to dance history. I know, I know, history is boring. Just hang in there with me for a moment. I’ll make it quick:
So, imagine a battlefield, Civil War style, with two opposing armies lined up on opposite sides of a field. They march toward one another. On the right, we have The Ballerinas. Elegant and refined, they bourreé forward effortlessly on their pointes, their slim necks holding their heads high with pride. On the left, the Modern Dancers advance, skipping across the battlefield. As a mob of free flowing movement, their jumping and rolling completely contrasts with the linear formations of The Ballerinas.
The Ballerinas came first in dance history and placed ballet on a pedestal of luxury and extravagance. The Modern Dancers intruded on this domination of the art form, rebelling against the order and refinement of ballet. Thus, they must fight to win the power to dominate the future of the art form. The two armies clash in the middle and the battlefield. The dance-off has begun.
Ok, ok. Perhaps that was a bit of a stereotypical and grossly simplified portrayal of the fusion of classical ballet and modern dance. However, I feel it illustrates a point: our art form historically evolved from clearly classified genres of dance that today are muddled and fused in a beautiful, ever-changing way. When ballet and modern clashed on the battlefield of dance history, an amazing thing occurred. Both were preserved as their own, individual genre of dance, but many of these brave soldiers walked away arm in arm, combining their forces to test the boundaries of dance. They formed a new genre of dance can be very vaguely defined as “contemporary” dance.
So what exactly is contemporary dance? Well, this term can be applied to a huge variety of companies and choreographic works. Sometimes contemporary work is danced en pointe, sometimes in flat shoes, sometimes in bare feet, and sometimes in socks. And sometimes, like at Texture, it’s danced in all of the above! However, the footwear isn’t all that relevant. What is important is that “contemporary”, in my opinion, is a label for dance that demonstrates attention to the line of the body while exploring the limitless dynamics and movement possibilities of the human body. And of course, the whole point of this is so that the dance can convey some sort of theme, or story, or perhaps just an overall emotional tone or energy.
I feel like contemporary dance uses the best of both the ballet and modern world. It draws on some technical aspects of classical ballet and also modern dance’s emphasis on movement stemming from emotions and feelings in the body. Here at Texture Contemporary Ballet, we use our ballet class to set up our bodies at the beginning of the day. We find our balance, train our muscles, perfect the clarity of our positions, and basically put the sore and broken pieces of our bodies back in alignment. (I’m kidding, we aren’t all broken, at least not all the time!) After class, we learn and create choreography that goes way beyond the technique we practice. Sometimes we aggressively throw ourselves around like crazy people, only to contrast this with a balance in a perfect arabesque, causing the audience to catch its collective breath in surprise. I love this about Texture. We are encouraged to explore the extremes of our body’s ability to move, and then manipulate these discoveries within what we know about ballet technique. Basically, we get to be like pretty ballerinas and wild, crazy, kamikaze ninja dancers all in a days work!
Contemporary dance allows for an amazing exploration of meaningful and thought-provoking dance. So, in closing, I’d like to propose a question. Who cares? Does it really matter how we categorize contemporary dance? As dancers, audience members, choreographers, and patrons of the arts, we have the important job of defining the future of dance. What is the relevance of labeling what we watch in the theatre as ballet or contemporary or modern? From a dancer’s perspective, do I need to label myself as a contemporary dancer or a modern dancer or a ballerina?
I believe that dance is dance. It is universal because it is human bodies moving in space. It is fleeting moments of motion that disappear and then are subjects to be categorized by our perception and opinion. Paul Taylor, a modern choreographer, says often that he “makes dances”. Not modern dances, not contemporary dances. Just dances. I find this profound. Categorization aside, whatever happens out there on the battlefield of dance history is the making of dances. Perhaps as long as that continues to happen, it does not matter what type of dance we call the product.
It’s been a year since I began dancing with Texture full-time and you know the first word that pops into my head when I think on it? Wow. Wow, wow, WOW! What an absolute privilege it is to be dancing with such an incredible group of artists on a daily basis. I am a very lucky person and never thought my journey as a dancer would get to take a stop at Texture Contemporary Ballet!
I always knew as a kid that I wanted to be a dancer. I think that’s why I stuck with it all those years, beginning when I was three years old when I did my first ballet dance to “Fire Works” from The Little Mermaid and first tap dance to the song, “Welcome to Rio!” Over the years I took all sorts of styles, enjoying them all equally…even clogging, believe it or not. But it wasn’t until I joined a predominately classical ballet studio, which would become my home-away-from-home for years after, did I realize ballet was what I wanted to pursue. I loved the beauty of the genre and the challenge of presenting its beauty through my own body for others to see and enjoy.
Once I graduated from high school, I immediately wanted to get hired by a classical company, so I completely immersed myself in ballet by training for two years at a professional school, cleaning my technique to a polish, pushing through soreness and injury, and carefully watching my diet, just trying to fit into the mold of a classical ballerina. I auditioned for classical companies and was given a “no” from all of them. It took those two years to realize I would never be able to truly fit into that mold.
I was starting to think, “Maybe you’re not cut out for this profession like you thought. Maybe this is a sign that you should stop dancing and put yourself out of constant disappointment.” And then, suddenly, I was asked by artistic directors of Texture, Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman, to dance with their contemporary ballet company for an upcoming show ─ that was the breakthrough moment!
I started working with Alan and Kelsey and I suddenly understood why I wasn’t hired by any of the companies I had auditioned for. I wasn’t supposed to be there! I was supposed to be in an environment where I could take my love of ballet and combine it with all the other styles of dance I enjoy so much, creating brand new art with new ways of moving and expression. If nothing had happened the way it did, I would have never reached that realization. It all happened the way it was supposed to and as a result, I am now a company member of Texture Contemporary Ballet.
There’s been a lot of firsts for me since joining Texture full-time, like touring to New York, having my choreography presented in a professional show, even delving into the business side of the company by becoming an artistic administrator. And of course, I’m dancing like I have never danced before. What an incredible gift! Year two at Texture is about to begin and I could not be more excited about where it might take me. Everything happened for a reason and I’m so thankful for it.
Erin Halloran is a Principal Dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre who is retiring after over 20 years of dancing with the company.
I owe a large debt off gratitude to all of the teachers that I have had throughout the years and all of the choreographers that I have worked with, they have all played a big role in shaping me to be the dancer that I am today. But I would say that something that has maybe had a larger influence on me is watching and learning from other dancers. It is amazing to watch videos of great dancers, but there is nothing that can describe what it is like to be able to watch, learn, and be in the same studio with greatness everyday. For me to have seen Erin Halloran dance everyday in the studio and on the stage I have witnessed greatness.
When I first started training at PBT school Erin was in the corp de ballet of the company. The entire company was inspiring to me, but Erin was one of the few really special dancers that I knew I could learn a lot from. Starting from
when I was a student and continuing through to today I love to watch and learn from different dancers. I watch people that I like as dancers and try to figure out why I like them, I watch people that I don't like and try to figure out why I don't like them. From watching different dancers I try to pick, choose, and borrow all of the aspects that I like about their dancing, while leaving out everything that I don't like. I believe that learning from fellow dancers and
being surrounded by dancers that you admire and are inspired by is one of the best tools that person can have to grow themselves as a dancer. When I joined the company I got to know Erin better as a person and found out that she is one of the sweetest most humble people that you could ever hope to meet and she has always been extremely supportive and nurturing to her fellow dancers.
When I first got into the company PBT had two small performances coming up where one guy was doing Don Q Pas de Duex with Maribel Modrono one weekend, and then doing the same Pas with Erin the next. With a full rehearsal schedule the guy didn't always have time to rehearse the Pas twice everyday, and with Erin being one of the hardest working and most prepared dancers that you could every meet she wanted to rehearse everyday. So it turned out she was looking for a rehearsal partner. When she asked me to be her partner it was unreal, like a dream come true. Someone that I had looked up to so so much since I came to PBT School had that much faith and confidence in me, when I had just joined the company, was incredible to me. Her being a Soloist and having that much faith in me is probably one off the reasons that Terrence Orr, Artistic Director of PBT, trusted me enough to cast me in Snow Pas in Nutcracker that first year of mine in the company.
A few years after that Erin and I decided to dance together for the Dancers' Trust performance. We looked through PBT's repertoire and found something that we both wanted to do, it was from "Indigo in Motion," a pas choreographed by Dwight Rhoden for Ying Li and Steve Annegarn(Erin's husband). It was Erin and my first time dancing together on stage and we both had a wonderful time. When next years Dancers' Trust performance came along we decided to choreograph on ourselves for it. We created "Fix You." It was an amazing experience! We
work really well together, and as a choreographer I really like creating pieces with other choreographers because it kind of pushes you outside of your box, or your own way of thinking, and it leaves you with a piece the neither
choreographer could have come up with by themselves. The next Dancers' Trust we created "I Know."
When I started Texture I knew that I wanted to have more than just my choreography, and one person that I definitely wanted to have was Erin. When she said yes I was thrilled to have her on board. For our premiere she choreographed a duet for Elysa Hotchkiss and myself, it was a beautiful piece, it was a thrill to dance, and it was great to work with Erin in a new way, her choreographing on me.
One of the things that I admire most about Erin, which is the mark of a true artist, is that she never stops growing. Sometimes artists lose sight of that but Erin is always growing, learning, pushing herself, trying new things. As an
artist I think that you need to have that hunger for more and that striving to further yourself or else you lose one of the things that make your art compelling to others.
A hip ailment has given Erin too much pain to be able to do a farewell performance, and I have heard some fans say that that is a real shame. I see it differently, a farewell performance would be nice but it wouldn't mean that much. The thing about Erin's career that has meant a lot is the countless number of people that she has touched with her dancing, teachers that got to see her grow, dancers that got the opportunity to dance with her, ballet masters that
got to work with her, dancers that have been able to witness her beauty, diligence and work ethic, children seeing ballet for the first time that have been inspired to become dancers, young people that have have been dancing for
many years inspired to continue their pursuit to become dancers, audiences that have been left breathless..........
Erin is now teaching in PBT school, and I know that she will continue to touch and inspire many many more people whether it be through teaching ballet, pilates, choreography, being a mother, or anything else that she chooses to
Erin congratulations on an absolutely phenomenal career! I wish you the very best on everything that comes next!
This is Alan Obuzor here!
I am choreographing a new piece for Point Park University (PPU) which will be performed by their students on the upcoming weekends of Nov 11th-13th & 18th-20th.
The whole process started this summer when Susan Stowe asked me to choreograph a piece this fall for PPU's “Contemporary Choreographers” program. I had choreographed a piece in 2006 for PPU so I was familiar with the caliber of their dancers and jumped at the opportunity.
Since summer I’ve been looking for music and thinking about what kind of a piece I wanted to do. I decided that I most likely wanted to do a medium to large ensemble piece that had a variety of music and movement throughout the piece. But a lot of ‘making a piece’ comes from the dancers and I didn’t personally know most of the current PPU dancers. So I did some planning…….but most of it had to wait till I had dancers.
The audition process started Friday(8 days ago) with a whirlwind of an audition where Kelsey (my rehearsal assistant for this piece) and I had just three hours to choose from around 120 students. For the audition I taught a short section of choreography that I madeup for this piece. In the audition it was great to see so many different kinds of dancers to choose from.
The day after auditions I had the dancers I selected for seven hours in the studio which included callbacks and actually getting started on the piece. All of my dancers are really great to work with! They are hardworking, eager to please, and ready to try anything! The dancers are eating up my choreography, it is great to see them take my steps and make them their own, but to also push them to move in different ways.
As you can maybe tell I am getting really excited about this piece! We are a little over a week into the rehearsal process and everything is really starting to take shape. This ballet has 5 selections of music from 4 different artists and I like that it visually matches that in diversity. Each section has its own distinct feel to it and can stand alone as a piece on its own, yet I think they all blend together to make a cohesive work.
There are 10 women and 6 men in a cast, as of now my piece doesn’t have a title………. but you should definitely come check out a show, I think it is gonna be a really good one!
For tickets visit:http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22105&event_val=DAN2&schedule=list
Alan Obuzor – Artistic Director
Texture had a wonderful time performing with “Speaking Of” at the New Hazlett Theater.