On Stage: Pearlann Proliferates in Another Direction

December 6, 2015
Pearlann Porter with John Lambert and glasses.

Pearlann Porter with John Lambert and glasses.

I’ve enjoyed finding new ways of describing Pearlann Porter’s The Pillow Project. Alliteration was my “P” game some of the time, but pursuing (there it is again) her trajectory was always intriguing. She says she’s bringing the Pillow to a close and moving on with an encore performance of Paper Memory. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (I always knew there was another underlying “P” connection!)

"Paper Memory" writer Taylor Knight with inspiration.

“Paper Memory” writer Taylor Knight with inspiration.


On Stage: “(a) Long Here”

April 29, 2015
Taylor Knight.

Taylor Knight.

More than any of her other Projects for the Pillow, Pearlann Porter convincingly is saying “Welcome to my world” with her latest, now on view at The Space Upstairs.

She has always changed the relationship of The Space, converting it to the subject at hand. But this “Time” you may get a healthier glimpse into the workings of her mind.

I arrived at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, perfectly midway through the installation’s 16-day run.

Yes, installation. That is what the director, dancer and artist is calling it. I found her hard at work drawing parallel lines on a large piece of paper with a crayon.

The rest of the rectangular papers lined the black chalk wall. Pearlann had calculated how long it would take her to work through a full box of 64 crayons and still finish on April 30. (It looks like she’ll save white for last.)

Most of the installation lay along the fringes of her own great, Great Room atop Construction Junction..

There were some nifty large multiple image photos by Aaron Jackendoff in keeping with the dance concept. Some collectibles were placed in still life arrangements — a couple of dusty manual typewriters, keys askew, a slide projector (one of Pearlann’s favorite anti-technology gadgets.)

A large sign saying “Pittsburg.”

You could see some former productions on old T.V.s (like Beth Ratas strikingly striped in Fripp Out/The Book).

I particularly loved the juxtaposition of Eighty Hours — a large black canvas, partially covered with grains of white rice. It was next to One Second, with one grain of rice.

Aaron Jackendoff with dance portraits.

Aaron Jackendoff with dance portraits.

Pearlann wore down a pencil in One Hour and Forty-four Minutes (the same time Apple earns $14,246,575 and there are 64 gun deaths in the U.S.).

There are more facts, some fun, some not.

By now you get the idea — time in so many configurations. Everyone can add to the mix during some integrated activities.

But take time to peruse the installations of this artistic hoarder (and aren’t we glad?). Yes, she saved the pile of clocks, so artfully arranged among the trunks that they once occupied.

As I see it, Pearlann has also become the latest variation on modern art master master Jackson Pollock (think splatter paintings). Why? Because movement, mostly repetitive, is a major part of her art work, which dominates The Space.

But there is more. Can we say obsessive?

Not so much with Accumulation of Nows, performed by mover Taylor Knight and music-maker Anna Thompson. When I saw it, there were 8 Taylors, one live and the rest recorded. They all entered through a door and used a chair and the floor. Fascinating — as he were dancing with shadows of his former self — well-planned and mesmerizing.

Pearlann had one more interation, as performer in Un/Re. A duet where she held a large tree branch and Bekah Kuczma was wrapped in a diaphanous cocoa of tulle, the two performers created a sweet tension as they gradually switched places…in a way.

Although there was no need for it, the evening concluded with improvisation as suggested by the audience. “Half way done.” “Slack.” “Godzilla.”

And, as Pearlann put it, we’re “all out of time.”



On Stage: Making Something Out of Nothing

September 18, 2013

Gia T.It’s fun to watch dance at the Wood Street Galleries, most of all because those terrific installations provide a fascinating and often interactive landscape for movement. Gia Cacalano and friends recently refurbished a blank Wood Street Gallery, long and lean white box, with their own film, score and improvisation with impressive results. Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the details.



Dance Bites: Gia T., Stein l Holum, Brain Dance

July 21, 2013

MORE THAN A TRIO. Gia Cacalano was only supposed to do a quick turn and leave the evening to Ravish Momin’s Tarana. But the evening went above and beyond. Ravish is a Carnegie Mellon graduate with a B.S. in Civil/Environmental Engineering. He bases his music on Indian influences, including rhythmic speech, but with a more contemporary use of meter and syncopation. On July 13 at Wood Street gallery, Tarana, which varies in size with collaborative artists, was a duo with Rick Parker, noted jazz trombonist in New York. It was so much more, however, via a smart use of electronics. Perhaps inspired by Ravish’s background, Gia appeared with scarves wrapped around her bodice both at the beginning and later in the performance with large, satisfying chunks of dance. She responded to the sophisticated musical backdrop with pirouettes that swirled into deep knee drops and a use of open hips, with dramatic tensions that took her performance to another level.

Suli Holum

Suli Holum

PLENTY OF HEART. Stein l Holum Projects is a New York duo, the latest artists tagged by Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s janera solomon. As is her method, she brought them in for a workshop, culminating in a sneak peak at Dance Alloy Studios. While The Wholehearted was a work-in-progress, only excerpts, it was a terrific tour de force for the talented Suli Holum, nominated for a Drama Desk award in 2012. The tale, written by co-director and writer Deborah Stein, is that of a former boxing champ, set to make a comeback but hampered by an emotional past. With KST’s Joseph Hall expertly guiding the Q&A, the audience offered a penetrating feedback, where the artists listened intently. And the production company itself transformed the Alloy space into a boxing ring, with projections, lighting, original music, choreography, live video work — and possible tips for KST in the future. Put the KST’s workshop series on your calendar, well worth the time and modest admission.

A FRICK PARK WALK. Ella Mason has joined the Pittsburgh dance community, forming Yes Brain Dance Theater, and is in the midst of a series of site-specific works. This one, the second in the series, Of Snails and Lips and Walking Sticks, took place in Frick Park, opposite the museum and heading down the trail to the bottom and out again. With a morphing group of dancers (the thoughtful Jasmine Hearn, Beth Ratas, Taylor Knight, Anna Thompson and more) and musicians (percussionists Dave Bernabo and Ketan Bakrania nuanced and effective, with cellist Gordon Kirkwood soulful) at hand, Ella lead the walk herself, gradually unraveling a knit skirt like Hansel and Gretel’s crumbs. Over 25 people and several companion dogs followed her as we had about 10 “encounters,” including a trio improvising on a fallen tree, a conversation/hand dance that descended down the hill, a scene around a giant pile of sticks, a treehugger and cello and a group of creatures that didn’t seem to be snails in this particular environment. Watz the German shepherd playfully nipped at Ella’s skirt to everyone’s delight. Then we all exited up through Tranquil Trail, punctuated by human statues, and gathered around Ella and Gordon and Watz for closure. It was a cool walk on a hot day.

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On/Off Stage: Gia T.

April 18, 2013

Gia CacalanoGia Cacalano’s first love was visual art (her father was a painter). When she finally moved into dance at age 15, it was ballet that captured her heart. But over the last ten years, she has been wooed by the wonders of improvisation.

But lately she has been widening her dance arena and headed to the International Improvisation Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University. “Hopefully it’s the first of many to come,” she says with her trademark enthusiasm.

So Gia hopped on a plane and, when she landed, jumped right off and into rehearsal. During the week-long stay, she shared cooking and cleaning and movement with the others.

Funded by the university, the Festival was the “baby” of brother Michael Caccialano, who brought in some icons of the improvisational scene including Maida Withers of George Washington University and post-modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin.  India’s Tanusree Shankar (yes she’s related to that Shankar), talked about her students, some of whom walk two hours to get to her studio.

The transfer of knowledge was very rich with films and presentations every day of the week. In an open space Gia Cacalanoon campus, a pianist set up a loose score for people to come in and out of a group.

Gia led master lessons for students and performed the piece she had performed at Wood Street galleries, Complex Stability, but “changed radically.” Musical partner Jeff Berman provided a more structured accompaniment in rhythm and dynamics, so it was still “open, but a little more aligned with time.”

She came back to Pittsburgh with more information, ready to share it with Pittsburgh. Perhaps some ideas filtered into The Frequency of Structure and Flow, recently presented at Wood Street.


Dance Beat: PBT, Gia

February 20, 2013

In the Upper Room with Luca Sbrizzi and Kumiko Tsuji

PBT TEASE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be treading mostly familiar ground during its 2013-14 season, anchoring things with full-length ballets like Swan Lake (Feb. 13-16 with orchestra), Don Quixote (Apr. 11-13 with orchestra) and The Nutcracker (Dec. 6-29), all in the Benedum Center. The season will get an unusual launch, however, with An Evening of Twyla Tharp, although both contemporary pieces, In the Upper Room and Nine Sinatra Songs, previously have been performed here. Nonetheless Twyla’s trademark slouch, coupled with her own musical zest, should give the PBT dancers a spirited send-off into the season (Benedum, Oct. 25-27).

The only new wrinkle so far will come from Julia Adam, who has choreographed for San Francisco Ballet (where she was a principal dancer) and Atlanta Ballet, among others, and is currently Artistic Associate at Ballet Memphis. She brings a cross-cultural fusion of ballet, modern and Israeli folk dance set to traditional Klezmer music in Ketubah, a Pittsburgh premiere that was commissioned by the Houston Ballet in 2004. Set to music by The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas, it follows a Jewish couple from first glance to wedding night. The work will be part of the annual August Wilson Center program, titled 3×3, along with an encore presentation of Dwight Rhoden’s Smoke ‘n Roses, featuring Pittsburgh songstress Etta Cox. A third choreographer has yet to be determined, but it will definitely be a world premiere (Mar. 7-16).

Don Quixote with Ying Li

Subscriptions for 3, 4 or 5-ballet packages can be purchased by calling 412-454-9107 or going online at www.pbt.org. Single tickets go on sale in September 2013.

Gia T Presents - January 26, 2013 FlierGIA TEASE. Gia Cacalano returned to her current home away from home, Wood Street Galleries, for an evening-long (and welcome) partnership with Philadelphia dancer Wendell Cooper that served as a preview for a European trip where they would conduct workshops and perform.

It turned out, though, that Mr. Cooper was a skilled videographer, creating a radiating link of light that played constantly during their performances.

Ms. Cacalano began with The Property, a childlike creature (inspired by her daughter’s first beach experience) with whirling legs and an awestruck demeanor. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, she tugged at it, but gradually became more daring as the piece progressed, skidding across the floor as she fell.

Mr. Cooper was a “man of one-way tickets and no savings account” in his gender-bending [Bodied]. Cutting wide swathes of movement across the gallery floor, the viewer didn’t know which direction would come next.

Despite their differing approaches to improvisation — she a winsome flower of hidden tensile strength (you could imagine her completing a marathon), he a lush outpouring of muscular movement — they forged a connection on a deep level together in their duet.


On Stage: Growing Old With The Pillow Project

January 30, 2013

Pillow Project 3D It’s almost ten years since Pearlann Porter launched her dream-y Pillow Project. Since then I’ve enjoyed an overrun of P’s, along with the environmental direction that Pearlann has taken. She has also defined jazz in a number of ways. Currently she is immersed in total improvisation, although the movement itself is much more varied, as if Pearlann is moving back to the middle ground a bit. And you have to notice that the dancers are maturing and starting to add their dreams to Pearlann’s mix. What a fun ride it has been! Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And enjoy the slide show (click on a photo to start) — just imagine the projections MANY times larger.