Preview: Pillow Project to fire up Carrie Furnaces with jazz dance

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For decades, the Carrie Furnaces produced more than 1,000 tons of iron per day along the Monongahela River. Now it's a phantom of its former fiery self. Since the mill closed in the 1980s, trees and vines have overgrown much of the rusted relic. Graffiti artists have left their mark on it, too.

Choreographer Pearlann Porter wants to bring a renaissance to what remains through dance, music and art. On Saturday, her dance company The Pillow Project, in partnership with the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, will present "The Jazz Furnace." The daylong performance and art event will feature the troupe's unique flavor of improvisational jazz dance, along with live music, video projection, art installations and more.

The Jazz Furnace

When: Noon-5 p.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday.

Where: Carrie Furnace, Rankin.

Tickets: $10 for students with valid student ID and $15 for adults. One ticket gives access to both sessions.

Information: or

"I don't have the vein in my family as a steelworker, but my art can touch it," Ms. Porter said. "I want to connect to it somehow."

The idea has been percolating for three years and was conceived when a colleague recommended the defunct steel mill as a location for a future site-specific work.

"This is just so off the grid of anything I've ever done," Ms. Porter said.

In recent years, The Space Upstairs in Point Breeze has been the home for most of her work. The intimate performance space is suited for just a few dozen spectators. "It's coffee tables and couches, and the dance is happening in the corner of the room," she said.

"The Jazz Furnace" will be the first macro-scale performance The Pillow Project has done since shows six years ago at the Alfred E. Hunt Armory in Shadyside.

Through site tours, research and talks with the Carrie Furnaces' historian, The Pillow Project has planned two sessions on Saturday for audiences to explore at their leisure. From noon to 5 p.m., people can tour the site as dancers and musicians perform inside and outside the buildings and equipment.

"We're literally getting up in the furnace structures and scaffolding," she said, as well as dancing atop piles of rubble and in some of the old break rooms.

Caretakers of the site and former steelworkers will be present to answer questions about the history and what it was like working there. Art from a multi-artist installation by Alloy Pittsburgh colors the space and will remain through Oct. 26. Pittsburgh food trucks and arts and crafts vendors also will be on site.

"The acoustics of the place -- empty tubes and cauldrons -- we're playing it like a big giant pipe organ," Ms. Porter said. "Even if you can't see a musician, you'll hear him. It's about exploring and finding."

From 7 p.m. to midnight, the gutted powerhouse building will be filled with musicians and dancers, lit by candles and other energy-efficient light sources. Dancers will share six works, each snapshots of larger pieces The Pillow Project has done.

"We're having an epic concert in there," Ms. Porter said.

"We want people to reconsider these leftover relics of Pittsburgh's past. ... The idea is that someone could look at it and say, 'I could get married here, I could do something here or I have an idea for a play.' "

Ms. Porter hopes to hold an annual fall performance at the Carrie Furnaces, eventually turning it into an international festival for avant-garde movement and dance.

"We want to make it into this yearly arts festival that will be our Jacob's Pillow."


Sara Bauknecht: or Twitter @SaraB_PG. First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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