For most people, the Beastie Boys brings to mind a 1980s rap group known for their punk rock vibe, and songs like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)." Perhaps not many have heard their instrumental compilation, The In Sound from Way Out, which has a strong funk feel, some tracks even atmospheric and jazzy.
Pearlann Porter, Director of The Pillow Project, has been inspired by this album since it was released in 1996. She improvised to the music in her college dorm room, and even attempted to put choreography to the sound. Nothing felt exactly right. Until now, over 16 years later.
“Backlit in a Whole New D” is Porter’s evening length work, choreographed (or “jazzed,” as she would say) to the album that captured her dancing soul so long ago. Of this long process, she says, “I tried to choreograph to it a bunch of times, in different ways, and I never captured the musicality. It’s become increasingly more fleshed out, but the visual, feel and flow of it has been a process to figure out.”
The forty-five minute piece is completely non-narrative, and has what Porter describes as a Tarantino feel. "Spy vs. spy, or rat pack," she explains. “A show where you need a martini in your hand.” Actually, the performance will have the drinks available.
Along with the booze, each audience member will be given the option of 3D glasses provided by the group. During the creative process, Porter asked herself - What would happen if I watched a live, three dimensional dancer, through these glasses? The effect was actually less dimensional, and gives a different experience to the extensive lighting, or “luminography,” her work is known for.
Because Porter's work is largely improvised, the rehearsal process is normally only one week long (with much time spent outlining beforehand). This process was different, though. Because the show uses seven projectors, with light coming from all directions, working on the coordination of dance, music and lighting was key.
Still, the five dancers have no set movement, and so each show will be different. This “jazzing” of the music is different from simply improvising to the music. Porter describes this way of working as the company "playing the music with their bodies." Rather than pulling from a dancer’s bag of tricks, the method requires a more honest approach.
Porter explains, “I would say it’s like post-modern jazz. It goes back to the origins of jazz music. You didn’t have to be trained, you didn’t have to be like anyone else, you just had to talk about your experience.”
Like most work the Pillow Project presents, there won’t be a specific story to follow. But the piece will certainly evoke a visceral and honest response from the audience. When Porter’s dancers are jazzing, one can’t help but feel...something. Although difficult to describe, the word “intensity” comes to mind. But with a sense of calm. And cool. But hot. Am I not making sense? Just get to The Space Upstairs for the show and you’ll understand.
The Pillow Project presents: “Backlit in a Whole New D.”
January 25th & 26th, 8:00 p.m. & 11:00 p.m.
The Space Upstairs, 214 N. Lexington Street in Point Breeze.
Tickets are $10 at the door.
For more information: 412.225.9269, or www.pillowproject.org.
Concept and direction by Pearlann Porter.
Luminography projections by Mike Cooper.
Freejazzed by Riva Strauss, Zëk Stewart, Grant Haralson, Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.