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Spectrum Dance Fest features workshops, performance and ‘Mr. Gaga’

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By Megan Tackett
Sopris Sun Staff


For choreographer Stacee Pearl and her company dancers, this weekend’s Spectrum Dance Festival is all about work and progress, so it’s fitting that a work in progress is exactly what they will be showcasing Saturday, Sept. 30 at the Launchpad.

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“Wherever we are, that’s what you’ll see,” Pearl said of the modern-dance debut’s status.

The piece will be the culmination of a weeklong in-house residency sponsored by Dance Initiative, an arts-focused nonprofit that co-facilitates the Launchpad and produces the Spectrum Dance Festival. For Dance Initiative founder Peter Gilbert, the work that happens during a residency often outweighs the final performances in terms of the organization’s priorities.

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“The whole purpose of the residencies at the beginning was to bring artists here so that the community could see them working and get a real flavor for it. And then the dancers — the local dancers — could work with them in workshops and of course watch them perform,” he said of the program’s infancy. “Now, what’s become really important is the opportunity for the [visiting] artist to have their group together for a period of time where they’re not distracted by everything that’s going on in [their home cities].”

In a more urban environment like New York City or Pittsburgh, where STACEE PEARL dance project (SPdp) is based, the logistics of finding rehearsal space and time that works with everyone’s schedules can be difficult. Carbondale, with its collection of arts-enthusiastic locals and organizations, offers a unique reprieve from that milieu, Gilbert explained.

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“In New York City, just getting four or five people together in a space that they have to rent — that can be very expensive. And some dancers live where it takes them an hour and a half to get to where the studio is,” he said about the reason for the residencies. “Here, they can basically live together, so they’re ‘working’ when they’re not working. It’s very productive.”  

It’s also changing Dance Initiative’s mission.

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“Somehow, the presentation side of it is sort of diminishing,” Gilbert said. “We just wanted to show people different genres of dance, and now, I don’t think that’s as important as giving the opportunity to these artists to create new work that in my mind is a contribution to the art of dance.” Pieces that emerged from past residencies have since been performed all over the United States and as far away as Turkey, that Gilbert knows of. And, as is the case with SPdp, sometimes smaller partnerships evolve into later residencies.

“This is our second time here,” Pearl said. “The first time we came and did a workshop; that was back in January of 2016,” she elaborated. “And then we got to talking to Peter, and he was like, ‘You need to come back here and do a residency,’ and we were like, ‘Yes! We’re doing a residency.’ So that’s how we got here.”

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Saturday’s audiences will get the premier experience of Sym, which is short for Symbiont. Pearl found inspiration for the narrative and future choreography from her and her husband’s shared favorite author, Octavia Butler.

“[The term sym] is pulled from a book that my husband and I love,” Pearl said of “Fledgling,” Butler’s 2005 science-fiction novel. “It’s about vampires, but it’s also about social justice,” Pearl continued about the novel’s plot. “There’s a lot of violence in it, unfortunately, and the bringing down of communities — all that kind of stuff. But it mirrors a lot of what happens here on earth, as earth is now, as opposed to vampires running around it. It’s kind of interesting how it does that, so we’re pulling some of the elements from the book and using those pieces to make the work,” she said.

Pearl’s husband, Herman Pearl, has a greater role in the piece — and the company — than emotional support and a mutual love for Butler’s writing: he is the head sound engineer and owner of Tuff Sound Recording and co-founder of PearlArts Studios, which houses SPdp, where he develops soundscapes “to serve as a component of contemporary dance,” according to the PearlArts Studios website. He joined his wife and SPdp dancers in Carbondale for the week to work on creating the ambiance for Sym.

“So what we’re doing, we’re developing new audio for a new piece,” he said. “[Sym] is more building off of one story, which is Fledgling. But it’s not literal — it’s just a jumping-off point.”

That “jumping-off point” gives Herman a lot of room to play: “I’m using radio and live manipulation of sound, and we’re developing this sound with some other collaborators back home. But I’m trying to push myself into some new directions here. And the space is gorgeous,” he said of working at the Launchpad.

In addition to premiering Sym Saturday evening, SPdp will also perform Flowerz, a “house music and culture inspired piece,” as Pearl described it, “so it has house movement in it.”

While the SPdp presentations serve as natural highlights for the festival, they’re not the only way participants can interact with dance. There will be a kick-off party Friday evening starting at 6 p.m. at the Launchpad, with a 7 p.m. showing of “Mr. Gaga,” an acclaimed documentary about Ohad Naharin, a renowned choreographer who created the “Gaga” movement language.

“We’re just having a little sort of happy hour — I wanted to call it a Gaga Hour, but everyone says, ‘Peter, that’s so silly,’” Gilbert said of Friday’s festivities. “So we’re just having wine and stuff like that here at the Launchpad, and we’ll screen “[Mr. Gaga”]. And there’ll be a few pop-up performances,” he added.

Patrick Mueller, artistic director at Control Group Productions in Denver, will be performing with his wife and fellow dancer Kristine Whittle. Additionally, “we asked Stacee Pearl’s dance company members if they wanted to do something,” Gilbert said. “I have no idea what they’re going to do!”

Both Mueller and Pearl will also be teaching modern-dance technique workshops Saturday, and several of Pearl’s company dancers will teach house and hip hop throughout the day. The festival comes to a close Sunday at 12:45 p.m. after two aerial workshops taught by Meesh McGlone, owner of Apex Movement in Denver and Spectrum Dance Festival veteran.

Festival ticket prices vary, depending on how many activities in which an attendee wishes to partake. Friday’s movie screening, for instance, is only $5 — and is likely going to be much more fun than watching it at home on Netflix. For those wanting to get the full experience, which includes admission to both Friday’s kickoff party and Saturday’s SPdp performances plus three workshops of choice, the Full Spectrum pass is $45.

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