You may find yourself somewhat surprised to learn that Pittsburgh has a fairly progressive modern dance scene, but, after all, this is the city where the Adrian Lyne film Flashdance was based.
Attack Theatre (412/441-8444, www.attacktheatre.com ) is currently one of the area’s most intriguing troupes; comprising mainly of cofounders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, the gorgeously sophisticated duo were described by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as ”the Fred and Ginger of the ’90s where Ginger does most of the lifting.” Internationally acclaimed cellist Dave Eggar frequently performs with the two.
The phenomenally talented Dance Alloy (412/363-4321, www.dancealloy.org ) is a somewhat more traditional modern troupe that tours both nationally and around the world. It performs both original and commissioned works. Visit the troupe online for a schedule of Pittsburgh performances and for information about the Dance Alloy School, where professional instructors teach standard classes and intensive workshops.
Also worth exploring is the Nego Gato (412/201-4564, www.negogato.org ) organization. The troupe explores Afro-Brazilian culture through a combination of music, dance, and a Brazilian martial art known as capoeira. (Adult and youth capoeira classes are offered frequently.)
The UMOJA African Arts Company (412/471-1121, www.umojacompany.org ) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness of African culture and heritage. Performances combine dance, drumming, and storytelling.
Looking for theater that’s a touch more progressive than the standard Cultural District fare? Consider tracking down a performance by one of the following progressive companies:
Don’t expect complicated stage sets during a barebones productions (www.barebonesproductions.com ) play. As the name implies, this company aims to use only the ”bare essentials” during its emotionally intense character-driven plays. Robert Altman would approve.
Quantum Theatre (412/697-2929, www.quantumtheatre.com ) Company Director Karla Boos is known locally for staging bizarre theater productions in equally bizarre locales. Past plays have taken place at the Pittsburgh Zoo, inside a Downtown parking garage, and at the Allegheny Cemetery.
A mixture of surrealist theater and junkyard folk music, the Squonk Opera (412/372-4264, www.squonkopera.com ) puts on one of the most entertaining and unsettling multimedia shows in town. The players are often on the road; they recently starred in a Broadway production.
Founded by the largely self-taught circus aerialist, juggler, and funnyman Ben Sota, Pittsburgh’s Zany Umbrella Circus (412/390-4054, www.zanyumbrella.com ) is something of a poor man’s Cirque du Soleil. Imagine a ragtag gang of grown-up punk-rockers and activist types performing daredevil stage stunts, and you’ll start to get the idea.
Zany Umbrella hasn’t been around for long; the company was founded in early 2004 after being awarded a $10,000 grant from the Sprout Fund, a community arts organization. After its coming-out party at that year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival, Sota and his troupe’s popularity exploded in Pittsburgh, and for months they could be seen performing their unique mixture of drama, music, and old-style carny stunts at just about every important arts function in town.
Zany’s astounding skills have lately taken them on the road; they recently entertained children displaced by the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in Louisiana, and have also taken a good-will show to the children of Afghanistan.