- Choreographer: Helen Pickett
- Music: Philip Glass, “Knee Play 1” from Einstein on the Beach
- Costumes: Janet Groom Campbell; costumes built in the PBT Costume Shop
- World Premiere: August 2021, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet Under the Stars at Hartwood Acres
- PBT Performance Date: August 22, 2021; Hartwood Acres. March 24-27, 2022 at August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh
PBT Artistic Director Susan Jaffe commissioned award-winning choreographer Helen Pickett to create this delightful trio at PBT in 2021. It is a highly energized, architectural and kinetic contemporary dance for three men, with choreography that shows off each dancer’s personality and technique. It’s also a lighthearted take on competition – on the stage, in life – with the dancers in a fluid and humorous contest of one-upmanship. The movement palette is playful but it also includes beautiful moments of partnering and synchronicity, with the work ultimately embracing camaraderie and community – hallmarks of Pickett’s work and style.
The music is from one of five interludes (“knee plays”) that bookend and connect acts in the Philip Glass experimental opera, Einstein on the Beach. The knee play is for electric organ and chorus; the chorus chants a sequence of numbers throughout the piece. This vocalization of numbers references Einstein’s mathematical genius – in the ballet it cleverly reminds us that dancing is so often about math and geometry and planes and calculations – the voices echo the familiar 8-count heard in dance studios across the world.
Glass created Einstein on the Beach with director and playwright Robert Wilson and choreographer Lucinda Childs, both known for pushing the boundaries of their art form. The work premiered in 1976 and was like no opera that had come before it: it clocks in at about 4.5 hours with no intermissions, but audiences are invited to come and go at will; it has no plot and is not linear, though there are scenes, acts and characters. A feeling of continuity and structure is facilitated by the knee plays – a term that alludes to the connecting function the knee joint plays. In addition to the recitation of numbers by the chorus, in Knee Play 1 the chorus also voices solfège musical syllables (a method of applying syllables to the notes of the scale: think the “Do-Re-Mi” song from the Sound of Music), and a single speaker recites remnants of poetry.