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Pittsburgh-based choreographer's latest celebrates 'Black girl magic'

"Circles: going in" dance
Kitoko Chargois
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Staycee Pearl dance project
Chandler Bingham is among the dancers in "Circles."

For choreographer Staycee Pearl, 2021 didn’t feel like the year to go heavy.

With the pandemic still with us indefinitely, and plenty more to worry about on planet Earth, Pearl decided this was no time to immerse the performers of her Staycee Pearl dance project in any trauma.

Instead, her new work, “Circles: going in,” celebrates "Black girl magic," that combination of invention and resilience that’s brought so much to her own life.

She said, for her, "Black girl magic" is how Black women and girls overcome everyday adversity.

“The magic is sometimes what people expect of us, because we’ve always had to make a whole lot of something out of nothing,” said Pearl. “We’re expected to be strong no matter what, and we’re expected to overcome no matter what, and there’s not always a whole lot of space for grace within that, and tenderness for us.”

The hour-long “Circles” features five dancers performing to a soundtrack of original, up-tempo club-style music mixed live by Soy Sos (a.k.a. the choreographer’s husband, Herman Pearl). There are three performances at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center starting Thursday.

Pearl says she wanted to create a space where her dancers — four women and one man — could be themselves. She says that while Black women originate much popular culture — from hairstyles to movement styles — they are often underappreciated or cast aside even as their innovations are embraced.

In “Circles,” “We’re reclaiming our Blackness,” she said. “Culturally, we sometimes have it just borrowed from us, but we can often be erased from the goodness of it. And this work, it’s my way of reclaiming all of that for ourselves.”

Pearl has long embraced challenging subjects. Her 2013 work “… on being …” explored racism and colorism. “sym” (2019), inspired by Octavia Butler’s novel “Fledgling,” plumbed the social dynamics of symbiosis. And just last year, Pearl was all set to debut “Skin and Saltwater” – a work addressing the legacy of slavery – with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre when the coronavirus pandemic intervened.

Her troupe has performed across the U.S., and in 2019 even toured Italy.

For “Circles,” the company’s line-up includes Chandler Bingham, Jessica Marino, Raven Marsh, Lindsay McGivern, and LaTrea Derome Rembert.

The soundtrack features work by Pittsburgh-based musicians including Madame Dolores, Yah Lioness, and Geña, along with Queen Jo, Ixa, DJ Haram, Kilamanzego, Kha’DJ, and DOTGOV.

The performances are at 8 p.m. nightly Thu., Oct. 28, Fri., Oct. 29, and Sat., Oct. 30. More information is here.

The show has a companion art exhibit, “Circles: reclamation,” also at the Center. It features work by Pearl, Bekezela Mguni, Kitoko Chargois, and sarah huny young. The exhibit continues through Oct. 31.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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