Pillow Project kicks off summer with ‘Pale Blue Jazz'


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Pearlann Porter, The Pillow Project’s founding artistic director, says her dance company’s summer lineup is “getting very intimate.”

Pillow Project summer season

-- “A Pale Blue Jazz,” 10 p.m. Thursday-Monday, The Space Upstairs, $15, $10 students.

-- “A One Night Stand on Broken Piano,” 9 p.m. July 26, The Space Upstairs, $10.

-- “Second Saturdays,: 8 p.m.-midnight, the second Saturday of each month, The Space Upstairs, $10 suggested donation.

Information: www.pillowproject.org or 412-225-9269.

 It has downsized its works since presenting “The Jazz Furnace,” a large-scale multidisciplinary performance and art event, at the Carrie Furnaces in October.  Now it’s back to the up-close-and-personal ambiance of The Space Upstairs in Point Breeze, the troupe’s primary home, to showcase its composed-yet-spontaneous movement style in which jazz is a verb, Ms. Porter says.

The group will open its summer season tonight by revisiting “A Pale Blue Jazz,” an hour-long work based on her feelings about the universe and inspired by Carl Sagan’s TV show “Cosmos” and the 1977 Voyager mission.

“I grew up on the ‘Cosmos’ VHS tapes,” Ms. Porter says. 

Although portions of the work have been performed since 2009, this will be the first time it will be done in full. Ms. Porter, who will perform with Beth Ratas and Joshua Manculich, says she has waited until it felt right to insert herself into a work.

“I have such an intimate relationship with this.” 

She commissioned four tracks of music that PJ Roduta, David Pellow and Pulsar Li nailed in one take. Overhead projections generated by technology from 1977 or earlier will accompany the work’s three dancers as they move about The Space Upstairs.

“It’s going to be as vast and empty as we can make it,” Ms. Porter says.

In July, The Pillow Project will continue to scale back toward more intimate performances with the first of four installments of “A One Night Stand on Broken Piano.” The new series explores the relationship that unfolds between one dancer, one percussionist and a broken baby grand piano.

“It’s like an artistic one night stand,” she says.

The idea for the work arose when Mr. Roduta began strumming the strings on a broken piano he and Ms. Porter found at Construction Junction, a nonprofit salvage retailer below The Space Upstairs. His musical experimentation ”inspired this idea I’ve had cooking for a long time,“ she says. 

The work will feature a new percussionist at each installment and will not be entirely choreographed. Ms. Porter will dance in the first installment. “I want to just arrive and let that moment be that.” 

“A One Night Stand on Broken Piano” will take place in what Ms. Porter calls “The Space Downstairs,” the lounge below the usual performance space. The lounge’s small size will allow audiences to, in a sense, become part of the performance.

“The audience is literally going to be connected to the instrument in a very unique way,” Ms. Porter says. 

The four installments will be spaced out to capitalize on seasonal temperature changes. Ms. Porter wants to explore the effect the changing environment will have on the piano’s sound and the audience’s experience in the intimate venue.

The public also is invited to The Space Upstairs the second Saturday of each month for The Pillow Project’s signature “Second Saturdays” series. These nights of what Ms. Porter describes as jazz happenings and improvisation are a time for people to simply relax and enjoy the spontaneity of the moment.  

 

 


Mary Hornak: mhornak@post-gazette.com

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