The Wood Street Galleries will host its fourth showing in the “5 Performances” series this weekend. The series’ aim is to bring dance and visual art together, an easy task considering the artistic collaboration happening in Pittsburgh already.
Another goal of the series is to present “up and coming local artists.” While all of the work presented has indeed been local, some of the collaborators have been making art for many years, perhaps without enough attention. This is certainly true for Mita Ghosal and Joan Wagman, both of whom will present group dances this weekend.
Both women are collaborating with Becky Slemmons, a visual artist who created the sound for the evening as well as some of the costuming, and the “hangings” in the space. Slemmons attended a residency where she visited the twelve remaining synagogues in Berlin. While there, she recorded the sound of pages turning during services, eventually using those recordings to create a score called PAGES. She says, “I did this to honor and to document the quiet perseverance and inner strength that I witnessed amongst the present-day Jewish community of Berlin.”
From the beginning, Slemmons envisioned dance performed to her sound. She eventually connected with Ghosal and Wagman who were also working on projects dealing with the theme of perseverance.
Ghosal grew up in Pittsburgh. She worked as an artist of theater and dance in NYC, LA, and Texas before making her way back to her hometown. Her quartet, Still(ness) Weeping, is her longest work (17 minutes) since she’s been back.
The piece deals with perseverance in the face of grief and mourning. Ghosal lost her sister just last year, and her father passed away when she was six years old. She says that as a child she didn’t really mourn, and that her sister’s passing “opened the door” for her to finally grieve for her father.
“Every dancer in my piece has suffered loss,” Ghosal says. “And everyone said they hadn’t truly grieved.”
Ghosal believes there often isn’t space for people to mourn, and that this might be because the process is “unknowable,” and inexpressible. In Still(ness) Weeping, her dancers reflect on their own losses as well as the universality of the notion.
Along with PAGES, Ghosal is using an array of other sound including cello, percussion, and vocals by various musicians. At times we will hear silence; in other moments, we will only hear Slemmons’ work. The dancers in Ghosal’s piece include herself, Joan Wagman, Denise Azzari, and Monica Gaydos. See below for dates, times, and cost.
Joan Wagman moved to Pittsburgh twenty-five years ago and has been active in the dance community through her work at Chatham University and in the concert world. Before that, she was a professor of dance at Youngstown State University.
In its early stages of creation, Wagman’s latest piece, RiseFallRiseFallRise, reflected on Jewish people as “an archetype of survival through difficulty.” When she heard Slemmons’ PAGES, she was further inspired by the human desire to “express our stories, often of hardship and recovery.”
Wagman’s 13-minute quartet uses mini-exercise steppers as a symbol of perseverance, and scrolls of paper as a way of imagining the documentation of our life stories. The work will also include hanging scrims that capture video projections reflecting similar themes. Included in the video will be images of Slemmons’ paintings, and photographs that mirror “rough elements and experiences in humanity.”
The work will be abstract, with no exact storyline to follow. Wagman says the piece “can be about what an individual or an entire society goes through.” In choreographing RiseFallRiseFallRise, the dancers improvised with their own experiences and cultures in mind.
Wagman’s cast includes Mita Ghosal, Ira Cambric, Denise Azzari, and Christian Bove. She feels that the group’s diversity of backgrounds brings multiple perspectives to the work.
Who: Mita Ghosal, Joan Wagman, and Becky Slemmons
When: November 13th at 8:00 p.m., and November 14th at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m.
Where: Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St., Downtown
Cost: $10 at the door, or HERE in advance