We recently sat down with acclaimed visual artist Barbara Weissberger to talk about her collaboration with Staycee and Herman Pearl in sym.
sym is our latest dance project and is inspired by Fledgeling, a novel by African American Sci-fi writer, Octavia Butler. sym explores the symbiosis which exists between the Ina, a vampire race and their human symbionts. Look out for Barbara’s work, which will be incorporated into the costumes and set designs as well as through projections during the performance! Below, Barbara shares some of her sym photographs and the story behind them.
sym premieres at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater April 12 & 13, 2019. sym was commissioned by the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Pittsburgh, PA. More information and tickets here.
“My practice is very studio-based. The studio is a very important part of it, and I think of the studio as place of eccentric invention where the inner life is externalized. I manifest that by making very improvisatory installations in the studio, and they're completely temporary. They get broken down, parts of them are recyclable, and they include sculptures that I make and found objects. I make them to be photographed, and then the installation disappears, and the photograph is the artwork that goes out into the world.”
“sym is the first time that I have worked with dancers—in fact it's really the first time I've worked with other people. I do sometimes insert parts of my own body into my photographs, usually in a way where they’re somewhat slightly camouflaged. When I do my other work, I work very slowly and very methodically, so this experience couldn't be more different than that—especially when all four dancers were moving in front of the camera. It was very fast and very spontaneous and an incredibly dynamic and active experience. Working with them I felt as if I was sort of welcomed into the choreography of the four dancers because I also had to move around with them with my camera. It was a really exciting and new experience for me. It was also interesting to watch how quickly all four embodied the work. As soon as they were in front of the camera, the movement began and I could see the symbiotic relationships from the book take shape.”
“Coming out of the book and thinking about symbiosis in the book, I was really struck by the interdependence of the characters, and also by the way that interdependence is hierarchical. It’s something that I talked to Staycee about quite a lot. We discussed how through these relationships, the book talks about power in a really complicated way. One of the images in the book that really struck me was the way that the Ina and the symbiots live collectively and just the sense of the intimacy of their shared space. It seems to me that there's a physical closeness among the characters that really reinforces the interrelatedness of all of their complicated cross relationships. That image really carried through for me when working with the dancers to make the photographs.”
“The other thing that I thought a lot about in making the photographs was the vampiric theme of the book. Part of the imagery that I've created, which will be used as projections are photo collages that I’ve made by printing the photos on very thin paper and sewing the paper together. I thought about the sewing and the way that the thread pierces the paper as a kind of vampiric gesture. Some of the thread is red or dark purple, and that also has a visceral quality and an intensity that has kind of the right resonance for me. There's some fabric in there but all of the images of of Jessica and LaTrea are all printed on paper. That's why the holes are so visible because when you poke the hole with the needle it really leaves a mark which is sort of great in thinking about the vampires.”
There are many after-school programs out there, but what sets PearlArts Studios' Contemporary Funk Program apart from the rest is the emphasis placed on the community which is built by dancers and movers alike. Contemporary Funk is a fun fusion of hip hop and contemporary technique for ages 8-13. This 6 week program will take place at the Thelma Lovette YMCA from Feb. 19-April 4.
Our young dancers will gain the ability to move freely and expressively while learning and honing technique. Our program is championed by three pillars which help build the young dancers' experience:
When our dancers look in the mirror, it reinforces self-confidence. Throughout class we encourage positive dialogue about our image, create goals through determination, and develop mental and physical skills to boost self-esteem. In one 8-count of dance we can reveal a bold, confident, and expressive person that will feel empowered by the end of every class.
2. Boost in memory/Cognition
The number one concern about after school programs is mental enrichment. Studies have shown that physical activity in early childhood years can support the development of strong motor skills and cognition. Contemporary Funk is built to allow students to have a good time, and investing in a dance program can give the students a boost in memory, supporting their overall learning.
3. Professional Teachers at an affordable cost
There are always 2 teachers in the room to support all the different levels of dancers and their various needs. Both teachers are graduates of Conservatory and members of professional performance unions. Lead instructor LaTrea Rembert is currently a member of STAYCEE PEARL dance project, a professional dance company that has toured all over the country. Support staff member Genna Styles is the Director of Education and a specialist in instruction. The 6-week program is only $50 dollars for 12 classes and snack. This can be paid in two payments if necessary.
To register a child in Contemporary Funk, click here for more information.
With the start of another season of Adult Ballet Club just around the corner, our instructor Andrew Blight has compiled 5 tips for anyone interested in learning the art of ballet. Adult Ballet Club is a 9-week class geared towards beginner and intermediate dancers. Andrew takes students through the basics and more! Each class ends with 30 minutes of learning choreography for the Adult Ballet Club Showcase held at the end of the 9 weeks. Sign up here!
Without further ado, here are Andrew's Five Tips for Beginning Adult Ballet!
1. Stay positive!
Some amount of frustration is to be expected in any ballet class. Feeling frustrated is not an indication that there is a fundamental problem or that you're just not cut out for ballet. Remember that failure is a step on the road to success, and even the best ballet dancer in the world experienced the same frustration you'refeeling (probably worse).
2. Focus on yourself
Comparing yourself to other dancers in the class is not helpful, and when you do that you're not being fair to yourself. All students in an adult ballet class are at different levels, some have had years of ballet experience as children and are just getting back into it, or maybe they're regulars in yoga or pilates classes. No two people are coming in on an equal footing. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were the week before.
3. Cultivate selective amnesia
We do a lot of different things in a ballet class, some easy, some challenging, some fun. If you carry the frustration from a challenging exercise into one that's supposed to be fun, no fun will be had. It can become a downward spiral. If you have a hard time with a particular exercise, don't worry, it'll be over soon. When it's over, you should forget it like it never happened. You'll get another chance at it in a week.
4. Go for it!
In ballet class you learn by doing. There's really no other way. If you don't have something, if you're not ready and you're not even sure what leg to start on -- do it anyway! Just get out there, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be. Doing something poorly is the prerequisite to doing it well.
5. Have Fun!
We have set aside this time, in this place, to dance. We're listening to music, we're moving through space, and we're together. A ballet class is like a party with a purpose. There's fun to be had so let's have it!
About Andrew Blight
Andrew received his early ballet training in Los Angeles, his hometown. His first teachers were Cynthia Young, and Charles and Phillip Fuller, at Le Studio, school of the Pasadena Dance Theatre. He also received full scholarships to study with the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, San Francisco Ballet School, and Houston Ballet Academy. His professional career began at the Louisville Ballet, where he was noted for his portrayal of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, and the pas de deux Little Improvisations by Antony Tudor. In 1996 he was invited by Patricia Wilde to join the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre where he danced until 1999 when he founded The Move, a company dedicated to bringing new and contemporary works to the stage.
With interim: THROWBACK we celebrated seven years of STAYCEE PEARL dance project & Soy Sos. The night featured a performance of several of our works throughout the years. See below for highlights from the night!
Catch us Friday, Nov. 17 at Ace Hotel as we celebrate 7 years of STAYCEE PEARL dance project (SPdp) and Soy Sos with interim: THROWBACK! We'll be performing excerpts of several of our pieces from throughout the years including FLOWERZ, CirclePop, ...on being…., encryption cipher, Playground, and ABBEY: In the Red. Click here for event details and ticketing information. We sat down with longtime SPdp dancer Jessica Marino to talk about the show as well as her experience dancing with SPdp. Jessica has been with STAYCEE PEARL dance project since 2011.
What can people expect to see at Friday’s performance?
They can expect to see a taste of what we were living over the course of the last seven years. The work that we do is very often inspired by something that is happening at that time in that moment so it’s kind of like going back in time and touching on some of these topics that were really important to us across this span of time. Come out, have a good time with us because we’re fun people and let’s just celebrate the last seven years of important work--not just because it’s important to us, but because it’s important that we share it with you
6 years is a long time, How have you grown as a dancer within STAYCEE PEARL dance project?
I feel like my artistic voice has been able to grow within my experience here. I met Staycee at a time where I was just really starting out and she’s been a pinnacle part of me growing as an artist. She’s really great about giving us material and letting us take the time to investigate it for ourselves, and then she takes it and curates it from there in several of our processes. Being able to have that opportunity is something that I really am grateful for.
Take us back to you first day dancing for Staycee Pearl. What was that like?
We were working on Octavia at the time. I just remember walking into the studio, and seeing a cast of seven really strong beautiful women, doing really fierce choreography that they had already been working on for several months and trying to jump in and keep up. I just remember feeling like-Oh my God, I gotta keep up and I really gotta get it together and learn this material quickly and keep my technique in check. I just remember feeling excited, but anxious, but also inspired to get better so I could fit in.
To date, what has been your favorite production and why?
That’s a really tough question because another thing that I really appreciate about doing Staycee’s work is that it all feels very different as far as the process is concerned. I really enjoyed the opportunity to revisit on being as a duet. ...on being... was a work that we did that focused on a conversation about Post blackness. At the time it was a term that was being used in a lot of academic settings referring to this post civil rights time period but what we discovered through that process is that when talking about identity and race, we also were talking about other ways that people identify so sexuality or gender and even religious--really it uncovered a lot of conversations about who or how we identify ourselves. So it was a socio-political work because we were talking about these topics. Revisiting it gave us an opportunity to really dive back into the material and spend more time with it and that’s really the only work we’ve done that with, that I’ve been able to go back and like reinvestigate through that material to present it again. I would say that was really fulfilling.
Has revisiting these pieces for interim: THROWBACK dredged up any old memories?
One thing is I’m getting to perform something that Staycee had done before I joined the company, so that’s cool. But I’m also getting the opportunity to see other artists perform material that I had performed that I’m not actually doing this time around. So I’m realizing certain moments that I hold really precious and letting that go and letting the artist investigate the work how they choose to has been a good exercise in letting go and letting things evolve how they do. But also I’m really enjoying how the artists are approaching it and how it’s different.
What’s one thing that people don’t know about SPdp?
That Staycee Pearl has an online shopping fetish that allows us to have new costumes for almost every show that we do. Well that’s an exaggeration because she doesn’t only shop online, but she’s really good at finding a good deal too.
STAYCEE PEARL dance project throughout the years. Watch the video below for a sneak peek of the works we'll be performing.
PearlArts Studios frequently hosts ballet classes taught by Andrew Blight, so it was a natural transition to Adult Ballet Club, a six week workshop that teaches the fundamentals of ballet and expands on them with technique and choreography. Beginning Monday, July 10, Adult Ballet Club will culminate in a showcase where participants can share their new moves with friends and family. We sat down with Patrice Collins, who has previously taken ballet classes with us, to talk about her experiences with the class.Read More
We are 2 days away from our Premiere of ABBEY: In the Red at the August Wilson Center May 25-May 27. As STAYCEE PEARL dance project dancers have been gearing up for the performance and getting their choreography down, Herman Pearl (Soy Sos) and the musicians have not only been rehearsing, but laying down tracks to create a digital album of the music of ABBEY: In the Red! Produced, programmed, and engineered by Soy Sos With arrangements by Ben Opie and also featuring Anqwenique Wingfield, Ben Barson, Paul Thompson, and Elisa Kohanski. Listen to the music and download your copy today here! Don't forget to get your tickets for the show!
Album Download Link: https://tuffsoundencoding.bandcamp.com/album/music-from-abbey-in-the-red
Sunday, May 7, we're holding a Jazz Brunch and Performance at Ace Hotel featuring STAYCEE PEARL dance project dancers and vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield and Trio+. As the lead vocalist of ABBEY: In the Red, Anqwenique has been working alongside Soy Sos, Arranger Ben Opie, Ben Barson, Paul Thompson, and Elisa Kohanski. We recently caught up with Anqwenique to get the 411 on what her experience with this project has been like and what we can expect to see and hear at the Jazz Brunch.
What do you have in store for us at the Jazz Brunch Sunday?
I’m really excited about the brunch. I think it’s going to be a really beautiful day, and Ace Hotel is such a beautiful venue. I’m working with Trio+ and these guys are like my brothers. For this show, the audience should definitely expect to see a sneak peek of how the dancers, musicians and myself have been working together as an ensemble. It’s not a replacement of the show, but you’ll definitely hear some pieces from the actual show. There will Joe Sheehan on keys, Jason Rafalak on bass, and Ryan Socrates on drums. Me and these guys have been playing and singing together for a long time, so I’m excited to dig back into some of our old repertoire to supplement the Abbey Lincoln music. There will be a good mix of things: we’ll have the Abbey Lincoln music and some things from that era, but you’ll also hear some more contemporary works that Trio+ and I have done together as well. I love working with dancers, and I love watching a dancer while I’m singing and trying to figure out how to match their movements somehow. It’s never perfect, but it’s still that attempt right in the moment that’s something really beautiful. I love working in a multidisciplinary fashion. I think that it’s just really wonderful to get a group of artists together who all do different things and to just find all of the possible intersections and possibilities that the art can take.
How did you get involved with ABBEY: In the Red?
Herman (Soy Sos) and Staycee both reached out to me and were really excited about this project. I was kind of familiar with Abbey Lincoln--Of course I would listen to Max Roach, and I heard a few Abbey Lincoln songs, but never really just studied it. When I started to really research and listen to Abbey's music and immersed myself in it, I was truly, truly enthralled with the content for lots of different reasons. As a vocalist from a classical background, things like good diction are really important to me or things my ear grabs a hold onto, so I was just like wow, she has so much great diction in her singing, and I can really understand the words, and not just understand them, but I could feel the intent, and I felt what she was evoking. That was one of the things that really pulled my attention. Once I started to immerse myself, there was no going back.
What have you learned about Abbey Lincoln throughout this process, whether musically or about her life?
One thing I was really fascinated with was her acting career. She had been in For Love of Ivy. Seeing clips of her in this movie, seeing some of her acting skills, and seeing her in the early to mid 60s and the kind of stuff she was doing there, it just really reminded me of early Nina Simone. If you watch videos of Nina Simone early in her career, she had a very different messaging and a very different aesthetic, which was at the time a standard for female performers. So you had your hair pressed, you had the beautiful makeup, you had these wonderful, beautiful gowns, and I think that was a tv standard in those days. Watching Abbey, you see the metamorphosis and the changes in the evolution of her as a musician, but also of her as a person and her views of the world. Seeing that shift happen--watching old videos and things like that--was really fascinating.
Also, knowing the era that she was coming out of and the other singers that were around--Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and just knowing that she sang all the old standards that were sung during that time, and yet she still made a choice to break away from that and what came of that is just so beautiful. I watched interviews where she said that the professional and musical relationship that she had with Max Roach really just changed her and gave her a different kind of voice. It’s so clear and evident when you listen to the music of their collaboration: her voice is so free right when she sings this work, and it’s so raw, but at the same time, it’s so impeccably executed. Her intentional bending of pitches and the diction and all of those things are still incredibly intact, but there’s still this freedom that exists in the work too that really appeals to me. For me and my career as a classical musician and also as a jazz musician, singing all different types of music, I always am trying to find that freedom for myself as an artist within the context of having good technique. It’s not an easy thing to do and she just hit it right on the head.
In terms of subject matter and technique, Abbey Lincoln’s music is very difficult, how do you tackle the process of singing her music?
I think there’s no substitute for the amount of time you spend with the work. When I’m preparing for rehearsal, I practice as much as I can, but really it’s having that sit-down alone time with the music without the other musicians--just me sitting down at the piano, plucking out my notes or just listening and immersing myself. It’s like spending time with a new partner. It’s like you got a new boo-thang, and you don’t want to hang out with your friends anymore. You have to hang out with this person because it’s very important that you get to know them. What’s also really important for me, because I’m a classical musician, is I read music. In this kind of process, even though it’s jazz music and not classical music, having the sheet music is really helpful. I can see the notes on the page and what the other instruments are doing and hearing them at the same time, I feel my way through and how I fit in. That’s one of the most helpful parts of my process.
What is one of your favorite Abbey Songs and why?
I really love Garvey’s Ghost. I love the fact that it doesn’t have text and that it’s only the vocals. I love how literal this idea of there being a ghost is and just how haunting the melody is. I also love in Garvey’s Ghost how in the switch from the A section to the B section in Abbey’s recording, she automatically switches into this more operatic tone, which is right up my ally. When I first heard that, I felt really at home in making that switch and exploring those different sides of my voice. I also love--I’m going to give you two songs because I’m hard headed--I also love Freedom Day, and I really love our arrangement of Freedom Day. Our arrangement has this house kind of back-beat that’s very different from the original recording. It’s very different from Max Roach’s style, and I’m really excited to have this fresh beat underneath this very important classic song. Another thing I love about Freedom Day is that at the top and the bottom of the song, it begins and ends with this very sort of dense wailing that Abbey does. And I just love the text:
Freedom Day, it's Freedom Day. Throw those shackle n' chains away/
Everybody that I see says it's really true, we're free.
So it’s a celebration, even though it feels like a tentative celebration, but I think that’s very real and consistent with our experience as black people. We find the celebration in whatever the circumstances are and that celebration is always tentative because as much as we want to celebrate freedom, we know that it’s still an ongoing fight, it’s still an ongoing process. There’s this sort of pain woven into it and I’m really just trying to explore that and bring that out intentionally.
More information about STAYCEE PEARL dance project and Soy Sos' production of ABBEY: In the Red can be found here.
Here at PearlArts Studios. we're working on a sound and movement extravaganza! STAYCEE PEARL dance project and Soy Sos will premiere ABBEY: In the Red at the August Wilson Center May 25-27. Inspired by the life and music of Jazz vocalist, composer, and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln, the performance will feature live music. Sound designer/producer Herman "Soy Sos" Pearl has brought together a knock out ensemble consisting of vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield and musicians Ben Opie, Ben Barson, Paul Thompson, and Elisa Kohanski to re-imagine a number of Abbey Lincoln's songs.
On Friday, April 21, 8 PM we are holding an ABBEY Listening Party at Tuff Sound Recording. We invite you to come listen to Abbey Lincoln and related jazz artists on vinyl. Come see where we work and play and sip on refreshments as we engage in conversation about the music and the process of creating music for ABBEY: In the Red. To give your ears a sampling of what's to come, Soy Sos has picked out three Abbey Lincoln Songs.
1. Straight Ahead
2. African Lady
3. Driva Man (live)
If you like what you've heard so far, come on over to Tuff Sound Recording Friday, April 21st! You can learn more about ABBEY: In the Red here,