Jekyll & Hyde

By: Kellie Gormly
People know when attending a Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory Company (RERC) show that the production features all youths, rather than a Broadway cast of professional actors. But if audience members didn’t know that going in to Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical, which played Oct. 20 to 23 at the Byham Theater, chances are, they might not have noticed. Except for the young age of the mostly teenage cast, the production seemed very professional and not amateurish as one might expect with a student production. The only time the age factor showed was when characters portrayed a father and daughter, yet looked to be the same young age. The two-act play – based on the Victorian-era book, “Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by author Robert Louis Stevenson –  brought to life the London-set creepy story with perfect timing for Halloween, punctuated by lively and often intense music. It takes a special acting talent for the same person to portray such a split personality – the polite and nice scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil and violent alter ego known as Mr. Hyde. Talented teen actor Nick Cortazzo fulfills this challenge with passion and finesse, along with a powerful singing voice. He wears a ponytail when in Jekyll mode, and lets down his hair when switching to Hyde mode. The intensity of the Hyde character brought a spine-tingling element to the story, in which characters spoke in decent British accents. Complementing Cortazzo was Elena Doyno as Jekyll’s fiance, Emma Carew. She and her partner awed the audience during the tragic climax at the end of the play, when Jekyll turns into Hyde during their wedding and falls dead, with Emma crying over his body. The stage scenery was simple but fitting and evolving, with a beaker-filled mad scientist’s lab, flanked by two staircases, serving as a frequent centerpiece. This is where Jekyll conducted his ultimately ill-advised experiment seeking to prove that in every man dwells both a good and evil force. The Jekyll and Hyde story is perhaps the most poignant example in literary history about the dangers of flirting too much with evil. These few dozen students in the cast – including Sabina May, who does a fine job playing the supporting prostitute character Lucy Harris – are theater students at Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory in the West End. They all show great talent and potential. We would be remiss not to mention the unseen members of the cast: the musicians in the orchestra pit come from Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, the city school district’s arts-magnet school. A total of 133 students, according to the program, participated in Jekyll & Hyde. This show, which kicks off PMT’s four-show 2016-2017 season, should give PMT a good celebration for its 25th anniversary this year. The next shows playing at the Byham are: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (Jan. 26-Feb. 5); Dreamgirls (March 9-19); and Tarzan (May 4-14.) Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. For more information about PMT’s upcoming season, click here.  

Building an Organism, Part 2: The Space Upstairs

By: Jason Clearfield
901152_527427623970544_1506399_o“Jazz is a verb” or The Space Upstairs “Second Saturdays” at The Space Upstairs is an elusive event.  It's not supposed to be understood by words, but by experience.  It's therefore that The Space Upstairs' description is a postmodern puzzle: a multiversity for new theories and practice in postjazz. “postjazz”, eh? “The jazz goes on as long as it has to mentally,” says The Space Upstairs' founder, Pearlann Porter.  “It's beautiful to watch someone express something about themselves for the first time. “It's not performance as performance, but it's like seeing something in your house,” She continues.  “It's treating jazz like a verb, not a style.  It's willing to improvise and adapt to the movement. “Everyone can listen to music, anyone can move...This is about articulating your moves, your expression, the unknown about yourself....creating something. “There's something liberating and freeing about The Space...” The goal for the The Space Upstairs is the realization of a mood: approachability. “It feels like someone's living room ” she says.  “No stuffiness.” A 4000 square foot warehouse space, above Construction Junction.  There is lighting hung everywhere; hardwood floors; “residual energy of furnishings from Construction Junction.” “The vibe of the room is...the space speaks, it speaks jazz,” says Pearlann. “People come in expecting a “CJ” type place.  [But there's the] comfortability of furniture, and their visual senses are overloaded.  The switch!  Sometimes it happens when people come up the stairs...old typewriters, lamps, a chandelier.... “it's cozy.  It's a living room,” she says.  “You can't hold onto expectation very long. This idea of dance that's born there and lives there...it's like inviting everyone into our house. “it's like watching two people play like gifted children... What is postjazz? [embed]https://vimeo.com/73694924[/embed] “Postjazz” is an original discipline devised by Pearlann and incubated at The Space Upstairs.  Postjazz is an organic method of 'physicalizing music' as a jazz musician 'plays the moment', asking us to be fully non-fictional in how we move, where we are at, the circumstances we are in, and who we are. There is no importance or significance to embodying any physical particular technique or employing any traditional vocabulary of learned sequencing, postures and shapes. Instead, we ask to simply identify with and clarify our natural disposition within the music and further influence the sound through the motion we play.   A Second Saturday experience After this interview, I really had no concept of postjazz.  Pearlann is delightful to speak with, and her words expound a sensational opulence.  But it's a visual thing.  I think her theory goes beyond the limited scope of words.  I needed to see postjazz in person. Second Saturdays at The Space Upstairs has a pale of lounge-flavor.  It is shadowy, dark.  Lit by the evening tranquility of lamplight and spotlight. “Jazz is a verb.  There's a play, a relationship that influences a visual music,” says Pearlann.  “A relationship and an influence.  When a dancer walks in there, the sound doesn't change but the band switches.  If you're really with it, you can change the influence of your experience.” See, you walk into a bar or restaurant, you find a table.  But inside The Space there's only seats on the outer edge of a ring which overlooks a hardwood dance-floor. A Second Saturday may start at 8 o'clock officially, but its first hour is in anticipation: “Drop-in and stay for an undetermined amount of time, sit wherever you'd like, be in our space - This is our jazz.” Get a drink.  Sit on one of these nice, comfortable, plush sofas... Time builds casually; anticipatory, a little drifting notion.  First: music; a little warm-up.  Where do we begin: the drums, the keyboards... The Jazz man:  Newsies cap.  Old duster.  Smoky voice, tight little chicken legs and a big red light from overhead shining down.  He begins by doing a little ratatat, gesticulating.  His form is a combination of rhythmic speech, scat and a response to the movement of the dancers, the swing of the drummer and keyboard pianist. My friend leans over to me, “Is this bad?” I say, “No, it's cute.”  They're covering the Doors' “Riders on the Storm.”  It is improvisational, they are taking liberties.  A middle-aged woman bobs her head to the beat, glass of wine in her hand.  Otherwise, no movement.  Everyone sits tight.  It's 9:06pm. Then, the music stops.  Pearlann welcomes everyone, 'thank you for coming...' “Ah, they were warming up,” my friend says, relieved.  I suppose she was worried it'd be Doors covers til dawn. Pearlann implores everyone to make themselves comfortable.  Says, “We are about to begin.” [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSurhB12d6Q[/embed] Something must be said for the marathon in which these two jazz musicians played.  A rich tapestry of music sustained by athletes willing to go off one another for a four-hour stretch.   The percussionist was a wizard, able to sustain an energy from beginning to end with an incredulous ease which was matched by the enthusiasm of a keyboardist who sauntered, swayed, rocked, and stampeded through various levels of up-in-the-air and subterranean blues.  It was turbulent and in-control.  It was an organism.  An organism that really took shape with the dancers... Pearlann had described postjazz simply to me as, “trusting movement like a jazz musician would treat music.” When the first dancer started, his jagged impulsive switches in movement were jarring and impressive.  The dancer was erratic and smooth at the same time, like watching an electric current find it's stasis in water.  The impassive face of the dancer, mottled in steady concentration was like a cat, fixed on play-before-kill.  The living room suddenly became arena seats watching surgery.  This dancer was present and in real-time dissecting his every move to his every reaction to the brand new music being put into the aether. Green and red spotlights pour down from the ceiling above the dance floor, illuminating the insularly exploding movement of this single person's expression. The jazz singer, his name is Moe Seager, scats with an old school American gruffness. “feelin' a little bit groooooooovy” he groans. He is in step with the dancer and the drummer, tapping his foot.  He gives a ringing ba-ba-ba before he shoots back into his poetry, reading it in the rhythm.  The dancer ends and begins with every song phrase. “It's about speed, strength, movement not shape,” Pearlann said. Watching these dancers work is like watching a street vendor weave silk.  A lot of noise, but met passively.  There's an ear for the world, sure.  People walk by, traffic, noise...but in the focus is it met on a liminal plain: trimming smoothness. These dancers are resident artists.  Not necessarily classically trained, some never trained at all before coming under Pearlann's tutelage.  Their style is organic and full of personal decision. “If I'm doing something right, you won't notice you're doing anything at all,” says Pearlann.  “It needs to be obtuse in every direction.  How do I feel?  How do I hear this music?” There are not many people in attendance.  It is intimate, small, not showy.  That is intentional, perhaps explaining the latent softness with promotion. That's because The Space is about an intimacy: “On stage, the audience is a sea of blackness.  In the space, you see them.  When you really see someone they're willing to enter your moment. “You learn the person before you ever learn their name,” says Pearlann.  There's something beautifully frightening about that.” Second Saturday is an exhibition of these dancers.  A revolving door of the same four all night long.  Each dancer had their particular style and each of their styles was rooted in the same flowing movement that seems to dominate postjazz as a dance-form.  The night began well for each dancer, but there was something not quite affixed from the get-go.  Maybe one's movements didn't match to the music.  Maybe the pacing was off.  Was it the singer?  Some of the dancers held their pauses for too hefty a moment; it was too clear they were in their head rather than riding their body. Every Second Saturday comes to a point.  “The lean-in” , she describes: “Everyone leans...on the edge of their seat.  we build a relationship with [the dancers, the musicians].” The night is designed in such a way as to build collaboratively: music, dance, audience as one. Everyone is just waiting for the organism to happen.  And they keep stimulating it, injecting it with new dancers, beats, steroids, hormones...inductions of postjazz pills, new attempts at making the room come together as a transcendental living room—no longer just a single person's self-expression, but an entire collective groove, everybody nodding, tapping and moving in sync. People come up from the audience unprompted, and undenied dance along with the resident dancers.  Some of these volunteers are amazing dancers.  Some of them are pretty clearly amateur.  There is a verve, however.  There's a life that's being supplied.  It's combination of the museum-like surveillance of an audience watching from their cozy look-out posts, and improvisation sparking chances, risks. “Being free as you were once, and clear about that freedom,” says Pearlann, “it's beautifully jarring.” It's now 11pm and the crooner man sings, “Georgia on my Mind” as the dancer in a leotard and beanie moves with the ballerina's rapid full-flex of muscle meeting a hip-hop dancer's almost tantric fluidity.  It is a game of Red Light, Green Light where the pause is a sculpture and the movement is a new animal after every break.  She tumbles through the lighting and shows the balance of the body, articulating the stretch of muscles and composition of form. As the night falls towards its end, the audience has been skeptical, engaged, interactive and now immersed.  It's a very live event, “listening to music out loud,” Pearlann calls it.  “We turned everyone into dancers whether they know it or what.” The last song is an invitation for everyone to get up and dance.  More than half the people do.  We try what the dancers tried, try mimicking animals and wind and slogging on the floor and jumping like ballerinas.  Try imitating nature, somehow, with our strange-creature bodies. Pearlann had said, “Music is an art that literally goes through as every moment of your life probably has: a soundtrack.  To speak from that place, but out loud from our body is cathartic.  Everybody's already hearing the music in your head.” Check out Second Saturday has been going for 10 years.  $10 entry. As well as performances of Invisible Jazz Labs: once a month.

Building An Organism, Part 1: slowdanger

By: Jason Clearfield
How do you create a structure that you can pull metaphor from? An interview with slowdanger “Dance is the demonstration of life.” -Merce Cunningham “The body doesn't lie.” -Martha Graham13307467_1044765785603213_1332702838047981986_n Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson are founding directors of slowdanger, a multidisciplinary performance duo that fuses sound and movement into an elusive, but illustrative combination of interpretative dance, found material, synthetic instrumentation, physiological centering and ontological examination. A mouthful, huh?  Well, it's hard to put into words. “We know the classical [dance] forms and we can abstract these in our body,” says Anna. The effort is “cerebral at times, more about sensation” couples Taylor.  It's about “outside, filtering in and effecting insides.” slowdanger is an abstraction, sure.  The concept may be hard to describe, but allow Anna a quizzical maxim that might describe the impulse of slowdanger: what we make as the two for the space in between the two of us. She adds, “seeing the other as a mirror...” To which Taylor asks, “how do you create a relationship on stage that isn't one-dimensional?” And answers, “One goal is to not stop...” “Staying power is a big thing for a group,” says Anna, “a foundation with a good bit of wind behind us.” And Taylor adds, “to convey more symbolism.  Show relationship.  Slow casual effect.  Light response.” “Coming to conclusions together but separately,” Anna adds.  “A lot of time it feels like you're trying to gather smoke.  The second you can grab on, it's immaterial so it escapes.  You guide a direction.” slowdanger is “the physicalization of an organism that was memory, blurring individual identity and group identity.” “A group of humans moving together is powerful... “We don't have that in our culture, with social media we're heavily individualized...” [caption id="attachment_3813" align="aligncenter" width="656"]12747872-194875047538344-8155877145527414129-o_orig PGHPride June 2016[/caption]   The Use of Space [embed]https://vimeo.com/147945448[/embed] The goal of slowdanger's movement is “to break the moment of the audience.” “...a sculpture garden feel,” says Taylor. “which builds over time,” adds Anna. “A spectrum, within which we use space...” adds Taylor.  “We see space around us being alive...how can we complement or contrast?” “When a mover or dancer gets in a space it adapts the space,” says Anna.  “It's rooted in imagery” “...kind of like instagram.  If I took my hi-tension filter, how would this feel?” suggests Taylor. And Anna adds, “we're very process-created artists, each space or structure is open for us to use again” slowdanger takes its name from signs of the construction zone...being demolished, reconstructed. “Memory as the serial idea of human condition” Taylor explains. “A constant repurposing” Anna clarifies, “we learn so much in each blip” So therefore, “space” is an integral part of the dimension in which slowdanger not only acts and performs; but becomes.  A space is a transmutation of a place and a personal reference.  It is something that we feel, imagine, suppress and are reintroduced to; and somehow it's always supposedly there. slowdanger, as an entity, is about becoming a part of a space; working their movements, mind and body into the preternatural and instinctive nature of space.  To experience their interaction with a space is to experience their becoming a part of the space, interacting with what's there and to form a new identity, a new organism. Pittsburgh, for its storied past and rust-belt opulence of hazardous post-industrial worlds is a terrific place to examine this live history. “We can get away with a lot performing on the river, rolling down a sidewalk, a lot less restriction, bureaucracy,” says Anna.  One performance piece had them rolling “like logs” down the sidewalks of downtown for a full afternoon. “You're with [people] in this experience, you're here to inform them.'” “Take away the audience/performer thing, make a group” instructs Taylor.  “Bring out the sense of mystery.  People like a little danger” “Titillation!” Anna interjects. They are less about a message.  But mostly about establishing the environment.  About “memory”. “Memory is ephemeral,” Taylor explains, “We try to universally communicate this through our work.” “It's about circles, relationships 'we're all human or are we?'” imposes Anna, “[it's about bringing up] a feeling they might have sensed before...” [caption id="attachment_3814" align="aligncenter" width="656"]memory 3: swimmoon memory 3: swimmoon Feb. 2015[/caption]   The Memory series [embed]https://vimeo.com/185843938[/embed] The cumulative essence of slowdanger's artistic mission is realized in their main performance pieces, called “The Memory Series” (the fifth of which will be in December).  slowdanger describes their process on their website as  

performance as ritual practice to delve into patterns of the circular rhythm of life. Within this process, they use collected field recordings, writings, found objects and performative structures to create their episodic body of work, ‘the memory series’.  With each work that is put forth, a deeper understanding is found through the practice of making. slowdanger generates a thickness of memory through filtering veiled remembrances until they are distilled to their simplest form...

  “In creating how the unconscious mind and the conscious mind touch each other and set each other off...how the unconscious and conscious are touching and informing....we find intuitive, interpretation consciously.” “It's the idea of veils,” says Anna.  “Swirl the veil; it gets caught up and lifted.  Metaphors within simple things.  Veils as historic artist-tools represent memory in baroque paintings.  They are interpreted as Dream.” slowdanger purports to “generate a thickness of memory through filtering veiled remembrances until they are distilled to their simplest form.” There mission is to enact the tradition of dance as spiritual act: “Can we just stand still and emit energy from our bodies?” These dance pieces start out with the simplest structures, entering a story towards another's end, then song structures and an improvised movement to their own music. “Repurposing their own product so it remains constantly in process. This ever evolving process is akin to the construction zone where inspiration was drawn for the name, slowdanger.” Their dancers are given specific directives: an outline.  Anchors or checkpoints to keep the ensemble in one place.  Motifs are written and put into place. Then it is allowed to become what it is: “sharing your self.  Sitting there.  Process together.  Something to jump off from, then witness each other, guide each other in the moment,” explains Anna. “how do you create a structure that you can pull metaphor from?” The theory is rooted from many origins such as the Judson Church in New York (of John Cage fame) and performance artists like FKA Twiggs, Ohad Naharin's Gaga movement, and post-jazz, the theory from Pittsburgh's own Pearl Ann Porter of The Space Upstairs.  However, it is also strongly influenced by the Body-Mind Centering of Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen, an anatomical and physiological theory of movement encountering “the specificity with which each of the body systems can be personally embodied and integrated, the fundamental groundwork of developmental repatterning, and the utilization of a body-based language to describe movement and body-mind relationships.” “We are taking modern day pathologies and transforming them into mythic, auditory vignettes,” says Taylor. “Rebirth cycles,” says Anna.  “taking a character and obliterating the self in that character, until you're a shadow person, a vehicle for someone else's vision.  For example: portraying a tarot card.” [caption id="attachment_3815" align="aligncenter" width="656"]Ace Hotel PGH February 2016 Ace Hotel PGH February 2016[/caption]   Movement workshops  [embed]https://vimeo.com/159397377[/embed] Perhaps the most tangible form of interaction that slowdanger has are their open-level movement classes.  These classes fully utilize the acoustics and high ceilings of the once-church, now Neu Kirche center in the Northside.  The stained glass windows and hundred year old floors are also a part of that dancing identity. “it's important for the 21st Century people to move and experience nonverbally a visceral reaction,” says Anna. The classes are touted as a safe space.  No experience required.  It is guided movement and dance. “When you move your body, the things inside bubble up to the surface,” explains Taylor. “[There are things] in the body, which can be processed without having to talk” They describe it as movement therapy.  Think of it as a dip into the multidisciplinary, a physical splash to compensate desire, charged with the notion of finding “what this movement might evoke...” A class as much about mime and interpretation as it is about dance, for people with no dance background. “So clear, people can understand the qualitative aspects.” I took part in one of these classes, and I found that the core of it, the impetus; was to find the life of an organism: from primordial to transcendent.  But that was wholly what I interpreted.  Abstract movement is not something I come by easily, but the casual drift into the space, the lack of self-conscious worry and the freedom to interpret movement in liberal and personal ways was deeply invoking. “Art and process is soil and nutrients for the plant,” says Taylor.  “We're all here and maybe as a part of a unified endeavor we'll come to something together.”   Here are some helpful links: upcoming slowdanger event upcoming slowdanger movement session slowdanger's website slowdanger's two official EP releases: - can't go back - FEED YOUR DEMON The Lightlab website (a spin-off project of slowdanger's Taylor Knight and David Bernabo) Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen video All photos courtesy of slowdanger's website

Find more!

Reviews – Features