A choreographer brings her dancers outdoors for ‘PLAYGROUND: blacktop’


Staycee Pearl. Photo by John Altdorfer.

Staycee Pearl. Photo by John Altdorfer.

By Steve Sucato

A recent string of dance works with weighty themes led choreographer Staycee Pearl to take a lighter approach on her latest project.

In 2011’s OCTAVIA, for instance, Pearl evoked the works and complicated life of science-fiction author Octavia Butler. And 2013’s “…on being…” explored what it means to be black.

Pearl’s latest, PLAYGROUND: blacktop, is a 50-minute, site-specific work developed over the past three years, including 2014’s version, PLAYGROUND: material. It will be performed by STAYCEE PEARL dance project on May 2 in the parking lot of the building housing PearlArts Studios, in Point Breeze.

When Pearl founded SPdp, in 2009, it was with the intention of “interpreting and mirroring culture and community.” PLAYGROUND: blacktop will do so, just in a less serious way.

“It is a bit indulgent for us,” says Pearl about this piece that recalls the feeling of childhood play. “Creating a work that lets the dancers just get inside their bodies for the enjoyment of moving.”

STAYCEE PEARL dance project

STAYCEE PEARL dance project

PLAYGROUND is set to original music by Pearl’s husband, Herman “Soy Sos” Pearl, along with songs by Stevie Wonder and neo-soul singer-songwriter D’Angelo. Six SPdp dancers will inhabit what Pearl calls “a fun space reminiscent of early life experiences and games.”

In particular, PLAYGROUND seeks to recapture the innocence and lack of inhibitions of childhood play, when days seemed to last forever and daydreams loomed larger than life. The piece uses the dancers’ childhood memories, along with some of Pearl’s, as a jumping-off point. Pearl, for instance, recalled a summer day at age 4 or 5 feeling on top of the world, an untouchable princess who knew everything, only to be brought back to reality by a fly that got caught in her afro.

Indeed, the work will mostly summon childhood’s idealized joys and minor disappointments. But Pearl juxtaposes those with the cold reality of life reflected in current events, including the emotions surrounding the tragic 2014 shooting death — on a Cleveland playground — of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, by police who mistook Rice’s toy gun for a real one.

After the performance, audience members are invited to let loose their own inner children at a block-party-style reception featuring homemade food and food trucks.

STAYCEE PEARL dance project performs PLAYGROUND: blacktop; 8 p.m. Sat., May 2; 201 N. Braddock Ave., Point Breeze (outdoors, limited seating); rain location: PearlArts Studios. $10-12.75. pearlartsstudio.com

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on April 29, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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