CITY PAPER review

SPdp’s Octavia at the Kelly-Strayhorn

DECEMBER 5, 2011
BY BILL O’DRISCOLL

 


One drawback to covering dance as a weekly paper is that most dance troupes stage shows for one weekend only. And just as with rock concerts, CP doesn’t run print reviews of shows readers won’t have another chance to see.

So with exceptions, including Attack Theatre, that stage multi-week runs, we cover dance with previews only, and hopefully a blog post.

That troubles me when there’s a show as good as this one, the latest from Staycee Pearl’s young company.

The show’s a tribute to and evocation of the work of the late Octavia Butler, a noted science-fiction author and one of the few African-Americans or women to make a mark on the genre. (See Steve Sucato’s preview for CP at http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A103627.)

To evoke science fiction in dance would seem an enterprise fraught with risks – not least that of literalness. (The accompanying image, by the way, is a promo image, not something from the show.) But at the performance I saw Saturday, Pearl and her collaborators, including a company of eight dancers, avoided those pitfalls and then some.

For those unfamilar with Butler (as I am), the production set the tone smartly with a series of audio clips of interviews with her interspersed throughout the evening. These were brief and to the point: The first established Butler’s penchant for depicting strong female characters – a fitting introduction to the five-dancer group piece that began the show.

Like most of the rest of the hour-long performance, this sequence was set to a sountrack designed by Herman Pearl (Staycee Pearl’s husband). It included some live instrumentation and brief bits of an old Hendrix track, but mostly had an electronic feel, chirps and squeals setting a heady but quirkily rhythmic atmosphere.

The second piece was a marvelous solo by Jasmine Hearn, full of wary, sinous motion. Good place too to note Suz Pisano’s fabulous costume design: Hearn’s outfit was especially striking, with its bare midriff and poufy mauve train accenting her motions.

Later sequences were likewise exciting – all but a few featuring fresh, inspired movement giving passionate life to everything from Butler’s take on vampires to a piece on sexuality set to a particularly crazy beat. The dancers, also including Gwen Hunter Ritchie (formerly of LABCO), were excellent, with fine lighting design by Bob Steineck.

SPdp, which seems to have retooled significantly, with mostly new dancers, since its previous show, and Octavia is a great step in the right direction.

Keep an eye out for this work by the Kelly-Strayhorn’s resident dance troupe in case it surfaces again.

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