While the Pirates played the Reds Saturday night, and the Penguins took on the Blue Jackets, the Wood Street Galleries hosted an equally eager group of fans (experimental dance enthusiasts) for the second installment of “LightLab Performance Series.”
Taylor Knight and Dave Bernabo co-curated the event, inviting local and national performers to participate in the laid-back but high-quality professional showing. The lineup of artists was quite impressive and ranged from new choreographers like Pittsburgh’s Jasmine Hearn, to veterans in the field like Jennifer Keller.
The show ran Friday and Saturday, with different programs each night. On Saturday, audience members snuggled into the cozy space, chit-chatting while the opening piece held off for all the sports traffic.
Bright red chairs and couches sat in a semicircle, while half walls condensed the long rectangular space into a smaller more viewable venue. The crowd seemed to include a sampling of different artists, not just contemporary dancers.
Bernabo, an analyst for Highmark who also works as a musician and visual artist, opened the show with a piece that toed the line between dance and performance art. His quartet included three photographers (live) and was inspired by archiving one’s work.
In four sections, Bernabo used pedestrian movement and ordinary props to bring a quirky and funny character to life. During his solo material, the three photographers followed him carefully around the space to document his work. All four of the performers were engaging in their own ways, making the piece a humorous and interesting way to open the show.
Dancer and choreographer, Jil Stifel, presented a duet with her Philadelphia dance partner, Emily Sweeney, who performed via video projection. Stifel and Sweeney have worked together for many years, most recently through long distance Skype sessions.
Sweeney created a video score that Stifel then worked on alone to prepare for the performance. Images of water, a flickering candle, and Sweeney herself moving in shadow were projected against the back wall. The piece was performed in silence, which added to the peaceful and magical quality it held. Stifel had a sense of patience that sometimes lacks in dance, and a simplicity that held the audience for each moment she was on stage.
Shantelle Jackson of New York City performed a solo with the most “traditional” dance of the evening. In “dimension study 1,” Jackson began with a haunting hissing sound in total darkness. As the lights came up slowly, the sound continued over recorded music made up of background noises like traffic and children's voices.
Jackson shook and stumbled in place, wearing boots and dark clothing. Quickly, though, she propelled her body through the space in large but controlled movement sequences and intensity in her eyes. The solo shifted when she changed into an all white costume and her body spiraled in circuitous patterns, more off-center. She finished with a deep audible exhale and a grateful bow, which gave the piece a cathartic feel.
To close the show, Jennifer Keller performed an older solo that has been revamped over the years. “Absorb” was choreographed by Mary Reich and performed by Keller seven years ago at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.
The piece took place in a small pool of shallow water, where Keller stood ankle deep and wrapped in newspaper (the costume her own new addition to the work). Perhaps the most unique part of the piece was the sound score, the U.S. Senate roll call during the Monica Lewinsky case, when one by one, each senator deemed Bill Clinton either guilty or not guilty. Although the scandal is now history, the subject of accountability, guilt and innocence is still relevant. And Keller’s strong, theatrical performance of the work will never disappoint.
Overall, “LightLab” was an impressive show as a new addition to the dance scene. Bernabo and Knight hope the series will continue to investigate the future of dance as it grows and changes through experimentation. With that in mind, they succeeded quite well.