By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
“Sneaky dance” is what Pamela Komar, Director of Theater, Music, and Youth Programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, calls the type of public space works Netherlands-based performance troupe Arch 8 does. A blend of contemporary dance and parkour (also known as freerunning), it’s dance but more. Komar hopes Arch 8’s production of Murikamification (recommended for ages 7+), that closes the 2018-2019 EQT Bridge Theater Series, May 16-19 as part of the 33rd annual EQT Children’s Theater Festival, will have audiences seeing dance differently.
Founded by Portland native and award-winning choreographer Erik Kaiel after moving from New York to the Netherlands in 2003, Arch 8 gets its name from the Archaeopteryx, a genus of bird-like dinosaurs. Kaiel compares the once held thinking that dinosaurs were only reptiles to that of people’s conceptions on what modern dance is or isn’t. The “8” in the name is because only seven fossils of Archaeopteryx were found, “So the idea of being the 8th one is either if you came back to life or if you never landed… I like the poetry of that,” said Kaiel via Skype from Miami, where the company was performing their work Tetris that was shown in Pittsburgh in 2016.
The globe-trotting troupe’s latest outdoor public space work, Murikamification takes its inspiration from the fantastical literary works of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Not a literal interpretation of any of his stories or characters, Kaiel says the 45-minute Murikamification is more “an embracing of the playful surrealism” of his tales.
“Our idea of Murikamification is to transform cold, empty and unnoticed public spaces into warm communal spaces,” says Kaiel. “Where the performers belong to each other and create an environment that when the audience is invited to become a part of that world, they would like to step into it.”
A mix of choreographed dance along with structured improvisation, the work is adapted to fit each unique outdoor space it is performed in.
“It’s a bit like jazz music,” says Kaiel. “You have your standards and you know the path you are taking, but it can be different each time.”
Komar says it is the wandering aspect of the show that really excited her in bringing Arch 8 back to the EQT Bridge Theater Series. “It’s always fun to have someone lead you on an adventure that may have nothing to do with the space or everything to do with the space you are in,” she says.
As for the audience experience, expect to do some walking following the performers around the Cultural District. Ushers and festival guides will be along to help keep audience members together along the route and answer questions. Komar suggests coming early to the start point at the bronze fountain at the Cultural Trust’s Agnes R. Katz Plaza, 655 Penn Ave in Theater Square. Given the outdoor performances are rain or shine, she also suggests audience members be prepared for the elements, have an open mind about the experience.
And while all permissions for such a parade-like performance are made ahead of time, “You never know what is going to happen when you take a work out of the studio and into the real world,” says Kaiel.
He recalled one outdoor performance in Amsterdam where the performers were climbing on a fence that turned out to be on the property of the local police station and a police helicopter was scrambled to see who was trying to break in. Fortunately, things got straightened out.
Five performers including Kaiel will perform Murikamification. “The dancers are doing the sublime and I am the ridiculous portraying a lost tourist character,” says Kaiel. “I like to imagine the bodies of the performers are having a conversation with the architecture and reading the landscape of the buildings, alleys and other public spaces we are in.
And if you still need other reasons to attend Murikamification, Kael says “It’s like nothing you have seen before and because live performance still has a capacity to amaze and delight us in a way that screens don’t.”
Arch 8 performs Murikamification in seven showings, Thursday, May 16 – Sunday, May 19.Visit https://trustarts.org/production/59757/list_performances or call (412) 456-6666 for performance times and tickets that are $12 per person. Advance ticket holders will be contacted with detailed information prior to their performance time.