By Steve Sucato
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Staycee Pearl dance project (SPdp) this Thursday, April 19 and Friday, April 20, when the 8-year-old company returns to East Liberty’s Kelly-Strayhorn Theater after a multiyear absence.
The site of many of the company’s most important premieres, their latest production Worx, looks back on three of them plus introduces the troupe’s latest work-in-progress, “Sol”.
Included in the hourlong repertory program will be a 10-minute excerpt from 2010’s “circlePOP”. Set to a mash-up of music samples from Pharrell Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Beyoncé and others created by SPdp’s Co-executive Director/ Sound Designer Herman Pearl, the work, choreographed by Co-executive/Artistic Director Staycee Pearl and performed by a trio of dancers, takes its inspiration from how popular culture influences our world. Updated for Worx, the excerpt contains new material reflective of current popular culture.
Inspired by the socio-political climate surrounding race and colorism as well as Blackness in relation to Post-Blackness, a condensed version of the Pearl’s 2013 piece “…on being…” will also be performed. The term post-blackness was coined by Harlem museum curator Thelma Golden and conceptual artist Glenn Ligon in the 1990’s and describes the tossing off of one’s racial identifiers and with them the burden of having everything you do speak for your entire race. And while exploring the notion of post-blackness is part of the work, it is “really about identity and examines self-identifiers such as gender and sexuality,” says Mrs. Pearl.
Danced to an original music collage that Mr. Pearl describes as “chopped up soul music abstracted,” Mrs. Pearl’s choreography for the work’s three dancers can also be characterized as being abstract.
Rounding out the program’s reprised works will be a 15-minute excerpt of the Pearl’s 2011 work “Octavia” for a trio of dancers. Inspired by MacArthur genius grant recipient Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction novels, the work shines a light on the real-world lessons contained within those literary works.
Set to another of Herman’s otherworldly curated soundscapes that contains samples from Jimi Hendrix’s song “1983” plus original music by cellist/composer Dave Eggar, the work, says Mrs. Pearl, is a conceptual representation of her work juxtaposed with her life.
Music as motivator is at the core of the program’s lone new work-in-progress, “Sol”. Set to a collage of of lesser known soul music from the late 50s to mid 70s and sound distortions orchestrated together by Mr. Pearl that he compares to sounding like “a distressed cassette tape,” the 20-minute “Sol,” performed by a quartet of dancers, plays with ideas of how soul music evokes certain moods, says Mrs. Pearl. “It can inspire a deeper connection to your inner self and the music you are hearing.”
Included in “Sol’s” mood-inspiring soundtrack are portions of the ballads “The Right To Love You” by The Mighty Hannibal and Betty Harris’ song “Nearer To You” as well as funkier tunes by Curtis Mayfield and others.
For those unfamiliar with Staycee Pearl dance project’s catalog of work or those interested in revisiting some of the troupe’s greatest hits, Worx is just the ticket.
Staycee Pearl dance project (SPdp) performs Worx, 8 p.m., Thursday, April 19 and Friday, April 20; Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh. Tickets: $10 students/seniors, $20 regular admission. http://www.pearlartsstudios.com/events/worx
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.