Many professional dancers studied their craft in a college or university setting where students are often expected to create their own work in choreography and composition classes. The environment is supportive and helpful, with feedback from professors and peers.
But as in all art forms, we improve with practice. Some choreographic skill is honed in those four years of study, but one’s craft is far from perfected at graduation. By then, the competitive world of professional dance can be overwhelming. Joining a company is an option for only an elite few; many end up making their own work, simply to have an opportunity to perform.
For Staycee Pearl, director of Staycee Pearl dance project, it is important that choreographers continue to receive feedback on their work. She says, “We all get stuck in our creative bubbles and we get other people stuck with us…we fall in love with our own processes.”
Pearl goes on to say that she normally receives constructive criticism before presenting a new piece, and that it can be equally helpful to have someone outside the dance genre offer their assessment.
After this year’s newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, Pearl spoke with many artists who were craving commentary on the works-in-progress they had just presented. She says, “People were asking for it, people who don’t have the resources to get it.”
As a leader in the Pittsburgh dance network, Pearl thought she might be able to help. Not by offering her own advice, but by holding an event that would allow dancers to showcase their choreography, giving them an opportunity to perform, but to also receive feedback from members of the arts community.
Mark Taylor immediately came to Pearl’s mind as someone to moderate the event. Taylor is the former director of the Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, and currently runs the Center for BodyMindMovement. He has had a relationship with Pearl since her early career, and she has always valued his opinions and advice.
In addition to Taylor’s longtime experience, Pearl notes his genuine quality. “He’s open-minded and gentle…he’s not going to tell you what to do, but he will give you things to think about.”
Taylor came up with the name of the event, charrette. He and Pearl have been using the following definition for the word: a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions.
Each event will follow the same basic structure. Taylor will begin by interviewing a choreographer, so the viewers might gain insight into their style and process. Then, the artist will present ten to fifteen minutes worth of material. To follow, 2 or 3 skilled professionals in varying genres will give their reactions to the work. Some of the professionals include Lenore Thomas, a printmaker and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Aaron Henderson, a videography also at Pitt (and former STREB dancer), and a few local dance makers.
After the initial feedback, Pearl hopes to have discussion between the choreographers and responders; the performers might ask questions and receive more direct feedback if they need or want it. The audience may also have a chance to comment. This is something Pearl is still considering.
On Thursday, July 16th, presenters include Anthony Williams, Moriah Ella Mason, Pearlann Porter, and the Slowdanger duo. For the Thursday, August 20th showing, we will see Darcinda Louise Shaffner, Shana Simmons, Jamie Murphy, Joan Wagner, Alexandra Bodnarchuk, and Ariel Stanton-Penkert with Marissa Guthrie. One of the choreographers will receive free studio time at PearlArts Studios to continue the development of their piece. They will then present their updated work at a later date.
Pearl cares deeply about the craft of movement, and explains that although choreographers often see their own creation thoroughly, it still might not translate to the audience. The “charrette” process will help to elevate the choreography representing Pittsburgh today.
Where: PearlArts Studios: 201 North Braddock Avenue, 6th Floor, in Point Breeze
When: July 16th and August 20th, 7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)
Cost: Suggested donation of $5, at the door