Pearlann Porter, co-artistic director of The Space Upstairs, a dance incubator in Point Breeze, asks a lot of questions about what it means to perform.
“If you invite people into your house, and you’re creating what you create, and you’re welcoming them and you address them and you talk to them, is that a performance?” she says.
With “The Sessions Upstairs,” a monthly event beginning Oct. 13 at 8 p.m., Porter hopes to address these questions through a night of what she calls “post-jazz dance,” which emphasises improvisation reminiscent of jazz music.
The Sessions Upstairs. 8 p.m. $12. 214 North Lexington St., Point Breeze. www.thespaceupstairs.org
“It really blurs the line of ‘what is a performance,’ and ‘what is performing?’” she says. “Every session has an agenda, and this session’s agenda is just starting the beginnings of experimenting with this idea that John [Lambert, Porter’s partner and co-artistic director of The Space Upstairs] and I have of creating a new American jazz dance and it’s this improvisational post-jazz method that we employ.”
According to Porter, this experiment also includes lighting, color, confessional-like spoken word and music. All of this, she says, is to explore a new level of vulnerability in The Pillow Project’s—Porter and Lambert’s dance company that calls The Space Upstairs its home—work after organizing a similar event called “Second Saturdays,” which influenced what would become The Sessions Upstairs.
“You’d come to like this big living room setting at The Space Upstairs, and these events of live dance and live music would just kind of partner and play with each other and people could come and go as they please,” she says. “It was a way to reveal our process.”
Porter says that, eventually, after 10 years of putting on Second Saturdays, it got easy and she and Lambert yearned for more.
“I wanted it to be hard again. I wanted it to really challenge us and bring our work into the next place,” she says.
So, after retiring Second Saturdays from a monthly event to a “special one-off happening,” Porter and Lambert created The Sessions Upstairs to show their creative process in a new way.
“Me and my partner together, we wanted to push ourselves to a different vulnerability, a different way to create intimacy at our events,” she says.
Porter says that The Sessions Upstairs scale down the feeling from Second Saturdays, which people eventually believed were deliberate, choreographed works instead of organic, on-the-spot creations.
“It’s not really about being a performance, it’s about being an experience, and you’re getting a chance to see that a little more up close, a little more explicitly and it kind of takes everything into a much smaller moment from Second Saturdays, which became these great big happenings,” she says.
The Sessions Upstairs not only helps Porter and her dance company grow, but also helps its audience see life in a new lens.
“It might help them look at things in a different way next time they see something, not even just [something of] ours, thinking the thoughts that go behind something and the process of creating and organizing something together,” Porter says.
Although The Sessions Upstairs doesn’t definitely answer the question of “what is performance,” Porter says that the event gets at the heart of what The Space Upstairs is about.
“The Sessions is going to be a complete representation of where we’re at and what we talk about every day,” she says.
Amanda Reed is a Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer. Contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.