The experimental and multimedia dance scene in Pittsburgh continues to grow, bringing in “fresh” voices and new audiences. Opportunities for small local performances seem to be at a high.
Janera Solomon, Director of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, isn’t one to shy away from the unusual. In fact, shows at the KST celebrate the unconventional, just as “Fresh Works” did on Friday night.
For one month and 80 hours of rehearsal space, choreographers, Jil Stifel (along with her husband and sculptor, Blaine Siegel) and Maree ReMalia took over the Alloy Studios to create work culminating in an evening of performance that explored the theme of space.
In the first piece, an artistic collaboration between Stifel and Siegel, the duo asked themselves the question: “How can performing a sculpture transform the practice of performing?” The work, “Objects for Dance,” will be presented in full this winter at PRACTICE gallery in Philadelphia.
To recreate the gallery feel, walls were set up to form a small blue box that held the installation. Instead of sitting and watching the dance from chairs in the audience, we were free to roam around the box as the dance happened.
Beautiful fabric in colors ranging from oranges and yellows to pinks, reds and creams were strung from wire and draped on top of Stifel and ReMalia. The movement began slowly. A hand reached outward, and eventually a foot, a leg, a torso. The dancers took their time as they moved out from the tresses to explore the rest of the space.
The two eventually made their way to a long braided rope arranged on the floor. In a humorous moment, they wrapped it around themselves, and around an audience member. Luckily they chose Mark Taylor, former Director of the Dance Alloy, who played along without a hint of shyness.
As the piece continued, Stifel and ReMalia moved to the wall, forcing audience members to change their perspective by moving out of the way. A deeply satisfying moment of unison occurred as they manipulated their own body parts, flinging themselves against the wall in stops and starts.
The humor came back near the end when an alarm sounded and the dancers ran frantically about the space, pulling nonsensical masks over their heads that appeared to be made out of the recycled trash Siegel uses in his art. When the alarm stopped, Stifel and ReMalia crept back into the depth of the fabric, feigning embarrassment over their movement tangent. Their bodies disappeared and the lights went down.
“The Ubiquitous Mass of Us” was second on the program, a 30 minute segment of a work choreographed by ReMalia that will be performed in full this June at the New Hazlett Theater. ReMalia says the work was inspired by her personal experience traveling abroad, and more specifically, how we change based on our location. The piece featured 9 performers and included a mix of trained dancers, seasoned improvisors, a non-dancer and a theater maker. Somehow the assembly of characters complimented each other perfectly.
Siegel collaborated on this piece as well, creating prototypes for the actual set in June. The performers weaved in and around stacked cardboard boxes and Styrofoam before eventually destroying much of it.
The dance was chaotic, loud, energetic and hysterical. To begin, Paul Kruse entered the space tapping rhythms on the back wall. This led to stomping and clapping from the others. Adil Mansoor, whose background is in theater, used text to frantically instruct Stifel and Taylor Knight in their movement sequencing. “BE MORE CREATIVE!” he suddenly burst out.
A short phrase of intricate floor work by Stifel, Knight and Joseph Hall broke up the comedy, but only for a moment before all nine dancers were screaming and pushing boxes to the front of the stage.
In another quiet moment, Kruse and multimedia artist, Dave Bernabo, shared a duet of simple gesturing and twitching. The silliness returned when Hall came running onto the floor, much like a gymnast attempting a tumbling pass, and performed a roundoff. The dancers applauded; the audience laughed.
One at a time, each performer showed off their best moves, and the others attempted to recreate them. Picture a mocking phrase of quick balletic feet by Anna Thompson, or an equally sarcastic kick of the leg by Moriah Ella Mason. When ReMalia forgot what to do, the dancers encouraged her, whispering the instructions in deadpan seriousness. At the height of their banter, chaos ensued and the entire cast ran furiously around the space, throwing boxes while yelling until the lights blacked out.
Although the evening was far from traditional, the audience was willing and excited to go along for the non-narrative ride of experimental dance. The well directed and well executed humor made each piece truly memorable.