Dance review

'A Pale Blue Jazz' reaches for the stars

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The audience could get lost in the stars during Pearlann Porter's revamped "A Pale Blue Jazz" at The Space Upstairs. Ms. Porter has been exploring Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" now for over three years in various formats with her company, The Pillow Project.

On Friday of the current run, which ends tonight, she pared it down to its core values -- the awe-inspiring wonder of the universe and the basic need to communicate with each other.

For that she needed only herself and two companions, Beth Ratas and Joseph Mankulich. Gone was the audience participation component with rhythmic instruments. In its place was a hazy, evocative score by PJ Roduta, David Pellow and Pulsar Li.

The Space itself was encased in black, as if the audience sat in a void, all the better for the performers to manipulate Mike Cooper's original starry design of pale blue dots on an old-fashioned projection machine, one that remained a wondrous effect.

So this "Jazz" might have been inspired by "Cosmos," a PBS series noted for its groundbreaking special effects. But Ms. Porter has been noted locally for her use of low-tech gadgets -- a few light bulbs, a spotlight or two and Mr. Cooper's creative contributions.

Most likely, Ms. Porter was inspired by Mr. Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space."

At its best, "A Pale Blue Jazz" was still a mesmerizing dance meditation. And it still struggled to maintain focus with the blanket of heat that collects in The Space Upstairs during the summer.

During the course of this scientific and philosophical journey, Ms. Porter preferred working alone, reaching for those stars and the awe-inspiring majesty of it all. It also paralleled not only the solitude of space, but the loneliness of the creative artist.

On the other hand, Ms. Ratas and Mr. Mankulich reached for each other, caught in a web of humanity. Their relationship was sometimes haunting, sometimes sensual, always overwhelmingly intimate and poetic.

This production also gives audience members a chance to go on their own personal journey. It's one of those works where the viewers can tune into the present and the ongoing action or connect to individual memories they might relate.

Whatever the outcome, "A Pale Blue Jazz" contains thought-provoking concepts, the kind that linger long after the performance.

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