Tag Archives: Kelly Strayhorn Theater

With ‘Worx’ Staycee Pearl dance project brings the Nostalgia and the Funk


Staycee Pearl dance project (SPdp) dancers (L-R) Maree Remalia, Jessica Anne Marino and LaTrea Rembert. Photo by Kitoko Chargois.

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.

worx 3

Staycee Pearl dance project (SPdp) dancers (L-R) Maree Remalia, Jessica Anne Marino and LaTrea Rembert. Photo by Kitoko Chargois.

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.”


Staycee Pearl dance project (SPdp) dancers (L-R) Maree Remalia, Jessica Anne Marino and LaTrea Rembert. Photo by Kitoko Chargois.

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.


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Michael Sakamoto: ‘Soil’- Worldview on Who

Soil Pic 2- Photo by JaNelle Weatherford

Chey Chankethya, Nguyen Nguyen and Waewdao Sirisook in Michael Sakamoto’s “Soil.” Photo by JaNelle Weatherford.

By Steve Sucato

Who am I? It’s a philosophical question many have pondered.  It also the central thought in interdisciplinary artist Michael Sakamoto’s latest creation Soil. Premiered in 2017, the multimedia dance-theater work makes its Pittsburgh debut March 9 & 10, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater as part of its World Stage Series.

The hourlong, intermission-less work conceived, directed and choreographed by Sakamoto in collaboration with Cambodian classical dancer Chey Chankethya, Thai traditional and contemporary dancer Waewdao Sirisook, and Vietnamese-American contemporary dancer Nguyen Nguyen, explores crisis in the three Southeast Asian cultures the performers have a connection to, and who also have had “a historically fraught relationship with the United States, Western culture, and hegemony,” says Sakamoto.

Using personal narratives of the performers, a methodology Sakamoto says he often employs in his works, “Soil draws on dance forms and multicultural landscapes of America and Asia, performing a vision of 21st Century global society. This expression of intercultural being both connects with and challenges the audience’s sense of identity.”

The work got its start in 2012 when, says Sakamoto, “I had come to the point, as many artists do, where I was a bit tired of my own style. I wanted to be stretched and challenged away from my own singular voice, and also to do something from a more feminine perspective. I asked Kethya [Chankethya] and Waewdao [Sirisook] to collaborate on a duet, and then Nguyen [Nguyen], who was our colleague in Los Angeles asked to join.”

The collaboration also took Sakamoto out of his comfort zone.  “As a Butoh artist also heavily influenced by popping and hip-hop culture, my movement inspirations and motivations are both internal/external and physical/psychological,” says Sakamoto. Alternately he feels, the three forms of dance Chankethya, Sirisook and Nguyen brought to the choreography were quite visual, symbolic, and spatial.

Soil - Photo by JaNelle Weatherford

Chey Chankethya, Nguyen Nguyen and Waewdao Sirisook in Michael Sakamoto’s “Soil.” Photo by JaNelle Weatherford.

Soil Pic 5- HI RES Photo by JaNelle Weatherford

Nguyen Nguyen and Waewdao Sirisook in Michael Sakamoto’s “Soil.” Photo by JaNelle Weatherford.

“We had to gradually develop a shared language, and it came in the form of personal questions that each performer answers in their own way,” says Sakamoto.  “We excavated personal narrative and those experiences and feelings dictated the form and content of each scene. Each performer adapted their movement and personality to each moment as needed, just like any good actor would.”

As to each of the performer’s particular relationship with the work’s themes? Sakamoto says Nguyen is a post-Vietnam War refugee from South Vietnam whose family settled in America, Sirisook is native of Northern Thailand dealing with an unrealistic and touristic image of her country, and the majority of Chankethya’s forebears perished in the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Set to Japanese koto and guitar music by Reiko Imanishi and Shinichi Isohata with additional music by Raphael Xavier, Soil also employs dialogue written by the performers, various props and video to add subtext to the work.

Sakamoto says ultimately in Soil the question of who am I? is simultaneously asked by the way the performers express themselves, and answered in their individual identities. “We are not looking for neat and tidy images of cultural identity because there are none,” says Sakamoto.  “Just the opposite, in fact. This is our truth that we try and gift to the audience. In this historical moment of divisiveness and violence [in the world], we must remember that despite our inherent differences we can love ourselves and one another in all of our messy and transformative beauty.”

Michael Sakamoto: Soil will be performed 8 p.m., Friday, March 9 and Saturday, March 10, Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty.  Pay What Makes You Happy ticket pricing. kelly-strayhorn.org or (412) 363-3000.

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.

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Pittsburgh’s Kelly Strayhorn Theater to Host 2018 National Performance Network / Visual Artists Network Conference


Photo courtesy of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

By Duane Binion

(PITTSBURGH, PA, January 29, 2018) The Kelly Strayhorn Theater (KST) and National Performance Network (NPN), are pleased to announce the 2018 National Performance Network / Visual Artists Network’s Annual Conference will take place in Pittsburgh, PA, December 2018. NPN/VAN’s Annual Conference is a dynamic international forum for artists, arts leaders, activists, organizers, funders, and creative stakeholders to develop a more artist-centered, just, and sustainable performing and visual arts universe.

For over 10 years KST has been committed to serving our community as an inclusive safe space for all, offering a place where everyone’s voices are heard, and responding to community needs,” says Executive Director of Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Janera Solomon. “Now is the perfect time to showcase Pittsburgh based artist. We have a unique voice, and culture, we are proud to welcome our NPN colleagues to experience our city.

Over four days, KST and NPN/VAN will partner to gather more than 400  artists, arts funders, and leadership from arts organizations across the nation to consider current issues, share solutions, examine local, national and international policies that shape the cultural environment, and expand industry and institutional know-how.

In addition to gathering arts leaders from across the country, the Annual Conference also provides opportunities to share the work of local, national, and international artists that include ArtBursts (pop-up performances throughout the Conference), Idea Forums, In the Works, and “Live & On Stage “performance showcases.

The Annual Conference also directly addresses artist equity issues by providing subsidies to NPN/VAN, as well as Pittsburgh artists, selected to mirror the diversity of the NPN/VAN community.

The NPN network includes more than 100 arts organizations in the U.S., Latin America, and Asia. They are committed to investing in artists whose voices and visions illuminate and shape the world around us, and to taking risks in support of artistic expression. Since its inception, NPN/VAN has reached 3.5 million audience members and supported 4,700 artist projects employing more than 21,000 artists. NPN has provided $26 million in direct support to artists and presenters, and leveraged another $44 million, resulting in $70 million in support for artists and arts organizations.

KST and NPN/VAN share a mission to create an arts sector rooted in justice. The conference is designed to foster deeper collaboration among presenters, greater mobility for artists and a stronger collective voice for the arts. Its programs demonstrate the network’s commitment to spaces for expression that are free of racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, misogyny, classism, or other bias. It is a rare platform where artists and presenters come together as equal peer participants toward greater field-wide goals.

The Annual Conference is held in a different city in the United States each year, and is hosted by local Partners in collaboration with the NPN/VAN National Office. Past meetings have been held in the following cities.

Attendance is open to everyone interested in participating. Local artists wanting to learn more about how you might be involved in sharing ideas, performing, teaching, and/or as a member of the Community Host Committee should email duane@kelly-strayhorn.org for more information.

The National Performance Network and Visual Artists Network (NPN/VAN) believes artists and arts organizations are essential for creating a just and sustainable world, and we believe communities deserve broad access to art and culture that reflect their own experiences and inform about the experiences of others.

We seek to provide risk-taking performing and visual artists with the resources needed to develop and tour new work, to ensure arts leaders have the skills and opportunities to be change-makers in the arts presenting field, and to influence cultural policy for more just and artist-centered practices.

Kelly Strayhorn Theater (KST) uses the arts as a catalyst for community revitalization and plays a key role in the transformation of East Liberty and nearby neighborhoods. In its 16th year as an organization and 10th season of original programming, KST continues to demonstrate its commitment to Pittsburgh artists and audiences, supporting the presentation of risk-taking new work by emerging artists and arts organizations.

KST is also building community through art with the newly formed East Liberty Community Arts Fund, supporting ambitious temporary art projects. The first two projects – Deavron Dailey’s The Arms of East Liberty and Bob Ziller’s 15 Minutes – are now on display at 5906 Penn Ave. in East Liberty.

KST operates two professionally equipped venues along the Penn Avenue arts corridor. The historic Kelly Strayhorn Theater (formerly the Regent Theatre, 1914) is a 350-seat multi-arts venue and the last survivor of East Liberty’s nine original theaters. Noted Pittsburghers and KST namesakes Gene Kelly and Billy Strayhorn are among the 80 area artists honored in the theater’s Gallery of Stars. Just blocks away, KST’s Alloy Studios play host to intimate performance events and provide creative space for artist residencies, Alloy School dance classes, and performance rehearsals, as well as community art and music programs.

Major funding for KST Presents is provided by The Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Benter Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Allegheny Regional Asset District.

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