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Choreographer Staycee Pearl interprets the work of lauded science-fiction writer Octavia Butler. 

"Her work is so rich it begged to be told through dance."

click to enlarge Staycee Pearl Dance Project
  • Staycee Pearl Dance Project

In her short stories and novels, writer Octavia Butler used science fiction as a medium for social criticism and addressing the issues of humanity. Through her tales of shape-shifters, immortals and extraterrestrials, Butler mirrored such ills as racism, sexism, slavery, poverty and intolerance.

Butler, an African-American woman in a field dominated by white males, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and in 1995 was the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."

Local choreographer Staycee Pearl's latest dance work, Octavia, delves into Butler's life and writings, shedding light on the real-world lessons contained within her works.

Born in Pasadena, Calif., in 1947, Butler was an extremely shy child who was dyslexic but a voracious reader. She became interested in science fiction because of its limitless possibilities. A protégé of noted science-fiction author Harlan Ellison, Butler wrote more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories before her death in 2006.

Pearl's 60-minute multimedia work will be performed by the Staycee Pearl Dance Project, Dec. 2 and 3 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. Octavia is not a linear narrative about Butler; rather, Pearl says, "It is an abstract representation of her work juxtaposed with her life." 

Pearl creates a series of dance vignettes by using characters and excerpts from Butler's Lilith's Brood novels (formerly the Xenogenesis trilogy), her Patternist series, along with 2005's vampire novel Fledgling. Interspersed are video and audio recordings of Butler talking about her own creative process. 

"There is a lot of crossover between the science-fiction aspect of her works and the real-world situations she puts her characters in that I find fascinating," says Pearl. "Her work is so rich it begged to be told through dance."

Octavia is set to a soundscape created by Pearl's husband, Herman "Soy Sauce" Pearl. The audio is tailored to the movement of the work's eight dancers, which Staycee Pearl describes as "indulgent" in style. Anchoring the soundscape is the little-known Jimi Hendrix song "1983," whose sound Herman Pearl manipulates to help create the work's otherworldly landscapes.

Also contributing is area spoken-word artist Vanessa German, who will perform prose especially created for the work.

 

Staycee Pearl Dance Project presents OCTAVIA 8 p.m. Fri., Dec. 2, and 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 3. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. $10-25. 412-363-3000 or www.kelly-strayhorn.org

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