It's rare when a choreographer executes what seems to be a 180-degree turn in her craft. Staycee Pearl gave us "OCTAVIA" last year, a work based on Octavia Butler, a little-known African-American science fiction writer who was a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" recipient.
Last weekend at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, audiences found her company, Staycee Pearl dance project, headed along a totally new path with "... on being ...," which dealt with "post-blackness," a wide-ranging term that acknowledges a rich heritage but is not defined by it.
Therefore "... on being ..." contained a multitude of inspirational choices. The audience entered to discover the back wall of the Kelly Strayhorn stage, with a storage area on a large shelf in the upper reaches. One of Ms. Pearl's videos, larger-than-life, played over it all with hip-hop, blackface, "no homo" and more. Although the dancers were casually warming up, it nonetheless provided an impressive beginning.
Those allusions were most prominent only at the start. That gave way to choreography that seemed to morph in an organic but not necessarily African-American way. Jessica Marino began with a solo, using a basic first position from ballet but adding fluid yet marvelously weighted poses, almost photographic, that had a real luster to their finish.
All of the company members had a noticeable individuality, a hallmark of most Pittsburgh companies, with a determined Mariana Batista, the undeniable intelligence of Jasmine Hearn, the springboard flexibility of Seth Grier and the prowling power of Ethan Gwynn, much of it as yet untapped.
To Ms. Pearl's credit, they had a shared commitment to the movement resources, where phrases might break off, one dancer choosing solitude, then vice versa. It was as if the movement were unfolding with an effortless and harmonious intent, buoyed along by Herman Pearl's mesmerizing soundscape.
As for the content, Ms. Pearl enjoyed such a wealth of material, from whirling about to the N-word, that the movement started meandering by the end, not keeping the necessary contact with a stringent point of view.
While "OCTAVIA" had signaled a quick new outcome for a company that was just established in 2010, "... on being ..." revealed a real polish and professionalism, yet another level that should bode well for the future and for the Pittsburgh dance community at large.
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also blogs on www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.theater