Dance isn't always a statement. Sometimes, movement and music are means for exploring answers to questions that might always seem fleeting.
In the Staycee Pearl dance project's new work "... on being ...," the question is both timely and timeless: What does it mean to be black -- or any race -- yet create work free of racial or ethnic identifiers?
The piece will premiere this weekend at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty.
The dance stems from the concept of post-blackness, a term coined in the 1990s by Harlem-based Studio Museum chief curator Thelma Golden and conceptual artist Glenn Ligon. It refers to the search for black identity in the 21st century and the personal liberation that can come from shedding the burdens and pressures of behaving, looking or making art in ways that reflect one's race.
"It's been a research project for us," says artistic director and choreographer Staycee Pearl. She studied the conversations about post-blackness in art, plus read books about it, such as "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What it Means to be Black Now" by Toure.
"It got me interested in thinking of my own work and my own situations with my work and creating what I did," Ms. Pearl says. What does it mean, for example, if an African-American artist's work does or doesn't represent the rest of the race?
Ms. Pearl and her husband Herman, her collaborator and sound designer for the production, held salon sessions to incorporate others' views into their research. Talks started among close friends and colleagues about their views of post-blackness and art. Then they broadened to include discussions of people's own experiences with racial identifiers, sexual orientation or gender. One session included teenagers, who discussed racial issues at school. Some felt teachers treat some students certain ways because of race.
"That was so revealing," Ms. Pearl says. "They talked about racial issues within the race, how young men only want to date biracial girls and all these things. My mouth just dropped open."
Dancers generated movement inspired by these conversations. Choreography is performed by five dancers, a mix of men, women, blacks, whites, gays and straight people. The diverse cast makes the topic of identity become layered and go beyond just the subject of race, Ms. Pearl says.
"I hope that people get a sense that, if they weren't open to these conversations, they'll now be open to them."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.