Dancing on the wings of fame

Dancer: Long Reach High sophomore Graham Pitts is hoping an appearance in Debbie Allen’s production will help his career soar.
Howard Live
Arts and entertainment in Howard County


April 15, 2005|By Dana Klosner | SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Long Reach High School sophomore Graham Pitts is enjoying a brush with fame this week, and from the looks of it this won’t be his only “15 minutes” in the spotlight. The 15-year-old dancer is appearing in “Dancing in the Wings” – a show written, directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen at the Kennedy Center. The show is performed by young people for young people. It is made up mostly of Washington-area dancers between the ages of 7 and 18. It is part of the Kennedy Center’s Imagination Celebration performance series for young audiences.

Pitts survived a grueling audition process and was one of 53 dancers chosen out of 250 that auditioned. The show began April 8 and has three more performances, one tonight and two tomorrow. It is the culmination of one month of intense rehearsals, and for Pitts it is the highlight of an 11-year career.

“It’s amazing to work with someone [Debbie Allen] who has such achievements,” said Pitts, who has been dancing since he was 4. “It’s amazing to perform on a stage that has had so many incredible people perform there.”

FOR THE RECORD – Long Reach High School student Graham Pitts was misidentified Friday in The Sun in Howard County in a caption accompanying an article about him performing in “Dancing in the Wings” at the Kennedy Center. In the photo at left, Pitts is the second performer from the right, face partially hidden. He is also pictured at right.
The Sun regrets the error.

Allen has choreographed the Oscars, directed TV shows such as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Family Ties, and has received two Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award and numerous Tony Award nominations. She is also well-known for the role she played of a dance instructor in the television series Fame.

“She’s really positive and encouraging,” Pitts said. “You really get the feeling that she got there and if you work hard you can too.”

The show is about a tall girl who wants to be a ballerina. But she worries that her feet are too large and her legs too long. She has the opportunity to audition for a famous director of the Kirov Dancers and gets his attention with high jumps and a bright leotard, her heart set on dancing and her head above the rest.

“In the show the audience gets a glimpse into the audition process,” Debbie Allen said. “In real life, it lasted two days.”

“I can’t even explain how nervous I was [at the audition],” said Pitts, who portrays a ballet dancer in the esteemed Kirov Dancers and dances hip hop as a member of the football team in the show. “I’m used to auditioning but not for something this big.”

He added: “I never thought I would get in. I just went for the experience.”

He got the part.

“Graham was one of the few boys who had a rather solid ballet technique,” Allen said. “He was one of maybe about three.”

Pitts has been winning dance competitions since the age of 7.

“Graham has loved dancing since he was in utero,” said his mother, Amber Dvorak-Pitts. “Whenever we would hear music he would go nuts. When he was a toddler he moved a lot, he was bouncy.”

The family moved to Columbia from Iowa when Graham was 3 1/2 .

“I saw a sign for the grand opening of Arabesque Dance Studio [when the studio moved to its current location in Owen Brown],” Dvorak-Pitts said. “I signed him up and he has been there ever since.”

Pitts started with one class; he now dances at least 22 hours a week. He is on the studio’s tap, jazz and lyrical dancing teams, said Marcia Lachman, the studio’s owner.

“We don’t have a ballet team, or I’m sure he’d be on it,” Lachman said. “He’s an assistant teacher. He’s great with the kids. He’s always happy and focused.”

Pitts has performed in the Moscow Ballet’s Baltimore performance of the Nutcracker Suite, and he performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a dancing Santa Claus in the Home for the Holidays show. He has won gold medals in many national competitions and he recently won the opportunity to tour in five cities with Starpower, a national talent competition based in Waldorf.

“I love performing and being on stage,” Pitts said. “I love making audiences feel emotions that I impart on them.”

Pitts is more than a dancer. On the advice of his tap dancing teacher, he took the plunge into musical theater. He has performed in Pippin and Brigadoon with the Talent Machine Company Inc. in Millersville and in November played the leading role of Finian in Finian’s Rainbow with the Howard Community Players.

He also sings in the choir and the Madrigals at Long Reach High School and has performed in Toronto with them.

“He is incredibly gifted and talented,” said Larry Friedman, who directed Pippin and continues working with Pitts as his vocal coach. It was from Friedman that Pitts heard of the audition with Debbie Allen.

“He’s an incredible dancer and a tremendous singer,” Friedman said. “I really think he’s got what it takes to be successful.”

Information: Kennedy Center (202) 467-4600 or www.kennedy-center.org

Dana Klosner