Catch these 3 must-see outdoor dance performances before we pirouette into autumn

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs at Hartwood Acres. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

By Karen Dacko, NEXT Pittsburgh guest writer on August 5, 2021

Outdoor venues rule, as the movers and shakers of Pittsburgh’s dance community brisé through August. On tap are unique, site-specific offerings from Gia T. Cacalano and Staycee Pearl, plus a classic revitalized by Susan Jaffe.

Bloomfield Garden Club Salon Series, Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. Limited capacity. Buy tickets.

Gia T. Cacalano never repeats choreography, not even for two performances of the same show. However, that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh’s foremost exponent of movement improvisation will just run in circles and wave her arms when she takes to the stage on Aug. 14-15 as part of The Bloomfield Garden Club’s Salon Series.

“Structure and form are essential — improvisation without structure is a big mess,” Cacalano says, noting that somatic work, sensory awareness and improvisation impact her spontaneous movement choices. “Sometimes I have to pause, or be soft or be up then down or in a corner — that creates dynamic.”

Cacalano, who trained in ballet, modern dance, Butoh and body therapies, launched into preparations for “The Box” during the early months of the pandemic. While her solo is a meditation on self-imposed limitations and embraces themes of isolation, the title derives from the performance space at the Union Project — a cement slab with four pillars.

The creative process is “overwhelming and freeing at the same time,” she says. “I’m passionate about my work. I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘done.’ There will always be something else.”

During the outdoor event, which takes place from 3 to 5 p.m., also includes presentations by photographer Adrie Rose and ceramic artist Janet Watkins, Cacalano will lead a 10-minute embodied practice on the lawn, incorporating sensory work and meditation. “Meditation is not just sitting still,” she says, adding participants should wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.

Photo courtesy of Staycee Pearl dance project & Soy Sos.

Inside Out at Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.  Limited capacity. Free.

Staycee Pearl dance project & Soy Sos is “back on the rails,” says Co-director Staycee Pearl, whose national and international visibility was ascending prior to the pandemic. “Getting in front of a live audience is huge right now,” she emphasizes. “It almost seems novel.”

On Aug. 21, the contemporary dance troupe performs from 12-5 p.m. for the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Inside Out Series, its second appearance in the multi-tiered sculpture courtyard this summer. 

For this event, Pearl is creating a 15-minute, site-specific version of “sol.” (2019) that “hits the highlights” of the original work as it celebrates soul music and a culture defined by “Blackness — our stories, music and fashion,” she says. It repeats four times during the afternoon with sound designer/co-director Soy Sos providing musical sets between the dance performances.

“‘sol.’ references the sun,” says Pearl, and “the brightness of the soul,” but it’s also the title of the movement practice, training system and philosophy she developed to enhance the performer-audience connection and applies when creating choreography.

The performance work was inspired by the modern African club scene and childhood memories of Harlem streets. With a score designed by Soy Sos and colorful costumes, it aims to capture a pedestrian vibe and bring the audience to its feet.

“We’re planning to include a dance party with a surprise MC,” says Pearl. “It’s a nice way to end the summer.”

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Ballet Under the Stars at Hartwood Acres, 4070 Middle Road, Hampton Township, 7:30 p.m. Free.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) annual Ballet Under the Stars returns from pandemic hiatus as part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series, and Artistic Director Susan Jaffe is readying her 30 dancers for the Aug. 22 showcase at the Hartwood Acres Amphitheater.

Earlier this season, Jaffe mesmerized audiences with her choreography to Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro,” but is now dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on “Paquita,” a grand pas de deux showpiece choreographed by Marius Petipa, which she frequently performed during her tenure with American Ballet Theatre.

“I love staging classical works,” says the former ballet superstar, who expresses an affinity for “Paquita’s” stylized arm gestures paired with pristine classical ballet technique. Infrequently seen here, the ballet entered PBT’s repertoire in 1981.

“‘Paquita’ is a big challenge to all levels of the company,” Jaffe says, crediting répétiteurs Marianna Tcherkassky and Steven Annegarn for their assistance. “Classical dance done well shows the level of the company and it’s my mission to show PBT at that high caliber level.”

When strategizing repertory programs, Jaffe opts for depth, dimension and eclecticism while considering the audience demographic. Hartwood conjures “family,” “children” and “picnic” imagery, she says, noting that “Paquita,” with tutus aplenty, should delight the “little women.”

“The Quiet Dance” by Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham is a reflection on his late father’s aphasia that provides depth, while Helen Pickett’s energetic “Three — 4, 6, 8” offers the excitement of a world premiere and August Bournonville’s Neapolitan romp, “Napoli” (1842), effects a joyous finale.

“I can’t wait to experience the audience experiencing ‘Napoli’,” she says.

Karen Dacko is a dance writer and critic whose work has been featured in Dance Magazine.

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Categories: Show Previews

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