Staycee Pearl's 'OCTAVIA' brings vision and beauty to the stage

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The late African-American science fiction writer Octavia Butler etched her way into literary history with award-winning stories that explored real-world issues of race, sexuality, community and family in other-worldly settings.

This Friday, eight Staycee Pearl dance project artists will bring themes from some of these fantastical-yet-grounded tales to the stage when they premiere "OCTAVIA" at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater as part of the venue's "KSTMoves" series. Another performance will follow Saturday.

The piece is one of two mainstage productions the young troupe presents annually at the theater in East Liberty since it was named its resident company, a privilege that includes rehearsal space, programming assistance and supplies. Artistic director, choreographer and visual artist Staycee Pearl also recently received a fellowship from the August Wilson Center for African American Culture that she hopes will provide her with support to create a fine art project related to "OCTAVIA" and Ms. Butler's views.

OCTAVIA

Where: Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Student matinee 10 a.m. Friday.

Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door, $15 for residents of 15206 and $10 for students and artists. www.kelly-strayhorn.org or 412-363-3000. Discounts available for those who purchase 10 or more tickets. Admission to the student matinee is $2.50.

Information: A pre-show mixer will be held 7 p.m. Friday, which will include a reading of Octavia Butler stories by Tameka Cage. A post-show discussion and dance party will follow the Friday performance. Carnegie Library East Liberty and Homewood branches will feature displays of Ms. Butler's books to coincide with the performance. Learn more about Staycee Pearl at www.staycee.com.

"I discovered her work when I was in my early 20s, and I just fell in love with it," Ms. Pearl said. "She comes up with things that I could never begin to imagine."

Resurrecting for audiences ideologies from Ms. Butler's writing intimidated Ms. Pearl at first, so she tried to learn as much as she could through library and online research, talks with enthusiasts of the author and a series of "Charlie Rose" specials on YouTube. Books also were distributed to dancers so they could familiarize themselves with their characters and Ms. Butler's style.

Audiences, however, should not expect to see literal re-tellings of stories.

"We don't want to be like the musical or the dance version," said sound designer Herman Pearl. "We don't want to be compared to her works. We just want to say that we love her works, and we're using them for inspiration."

Common topics, characters and narratives from stories will be brought to life through contemporary movement, ethereal lighting, multimedia and an original science fiction-esque soundscape by Mr. Pearl.

"We're treating it as a very sound sculptural kind of environment," he said. "The idea is very 3-D, very sculpted and constantly evolving and moving, so it's not like song, pause, black curtain. It just flows from one thing to the next."

Richly colored costumes by Suz Pisano will heighten the alternative universe vibe.

"I met with Staycee ... [and] we spent a lot of time together talking about the vision, the characters of the story," Ms. Pisano said.

But there's no need for audiences to be buffs of Ms. Butler's writing or sci-fi to take something away from the show.

"I think it's important work. I think they will get a lot of the ideas that we're talking about -- the community, the lineage, the symbiotic situations, all that stuff," Ms. Pearl said. "Mainly it's just about bringing all that beauty to the stage."


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com .


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