Slick Meets Surreal in ‘Circles: going in’ [REVIEW]

STAYCEE PEARL dance project & Soy Sos
Circles: going in
August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Pittsburgh, PA
October 28-30, 2021

By Steve Sucato

The long-awaited world premiere of STAYCEE PEARL dance project & Soy Sos’s Circles: going in, felt like the stylistic culmination of years of choreographer Staycee Pearl finding her voice. Not that the evening-length fusion of dance club vibe and contemporary, hip hop, and modern dance movements styles represented her choreographic voice in totality, but it is where she and the company are now with their art. A place that looked, sounded, and felt right.  

SPdp & Soy Sos’ performance of Circles: going in, Friday, October 29 opened on three of its cast of five dancers grooving atop three white boxes strategically placed across the rear of the stage. Two more dancers, sans boxes, danced in front of them. Butts shook, hips swiveled, and the dancers strutted about with diva-like attitude and swagger.

Something was amiss with this hyper-cool music video-looking scene, however. Cracking a crazed smile like a character out of a horror movie, dancer LaTrea Rembert began frantically rubbing his eyes and face as if to rid himself of something unseen and unwanted while others in the cast walked slowly across the stage behind him in silhouette.

Were his actions the outpouring of inner demons or perhaps the outward manifestation of anxieties many of us have experienced brought on by the global pandemic, social injustice issues, or any of the many other ills of the world?

Psychological themes have cropped up in several of the Pearl’s past works, but this time its use felt more insidious, like an unnerving twitch in the flow of the work’s feel-good music and dancing that otherwise dominated it.

STAYCEE PEARL dance project & Soy Sos in “Circles: going in”. Photo courtesy of the company.

An abstract work that seemed all about mood and moments, rather than any particular narrative, Circles: going in carried the audience along on whatever ride its dancers were on. At times like one long, stylized vogueing session, the piece had its good and a few meh moments. At the top of its good (if not great) ones, was the performance of Jessica Mitcham in her final production as a member of STAYCEE PEARL dance project & Soy Sos.  With gut-punching energy to her dancing, Mitcham was the very definition of fierce. She commanded attention from the audience, and when she got it, everyone around her seemed to disappear. She also shone in other ways such as in a slow, twisting and sensual solo, and in a section where she donned an afro wig and laughed out loud at the audience seemingly with a hint of condemnation.

Mitcham wasn’t alone in fabulous performances in the work. Rembert with his adroit dance and acting skills, and cast members Chandler Bingham, Lindsay McGivern, and Raven Marsh all brought it. Pearl’s choreography gave each dancer moments in the spotlight throughout the piece that were slick and meaningful.

For his part, company co-executive director and music director, Herman (Soy Sos) Pearl’s thoughtfully crafted soundscape for Circles: going in was the driving groove to the work. At times, however, the cacophonous mix of club beats and piercing atmospheric noises was assaulting to the ears.

The company honors longtime dancer Jessica (Marino) Mitcham during bows. Photo courtesy of the company.

All tolled, with its dance club vibe, social dance-infused choreography that had the dancers moving in circular patterns, vogueing and grooving, as well as slipping into surreal and dark emotional states, Circles: going in left unexpected and lasting impressions in a good way that makes one want to revisit the work again. Perhaps its one failing was that, like a conversation that had run out of things to say, the piece could have ended sooner than it did.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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