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Dance troupe turns Carrie Furnace site into site-specific venue 

"The place is epic and the dancers and musicians will be using it as an instrument ‘to play the furnace.'"

The Pillow Project's Taylor Knight at the Carrie Furnaces

Photo courtesy of Jordan Bush

The Pillow Project's Taylor Knight at the Carrie Furnaces

Call it site-specific dance on a gargantuan scale. The Pillow Project takes its improvisational "Postjazz" movement style and video wizardry to a whole new level when it invades the Carrie Blast Furnaces, in Rankin, on Oct. 12, for a daylong extravaganza titled The Jazz Furnace. 

Built in 1907, the Carrie Furnaces number 6 and 7 tower 92 feet over the Monongahela River. Until 1978, these were literal giants in the production of iron, at their peak turning out 1,000 to 1,250 tons a day. Now one of the few non-operative blast furnaces in the area still standing, the former U.S. Steel site will come to life once again — repurposed as an arts venue where a dozen dancers and as many musicians, along with poets, illustrators and graffiti artists, will transform the vast empty site into a multimedia happening. (The show follows Alloy Pittsburgh, an unrelated art-installation project at the site.)

Three years in the making, The Jazz Furnace, funded by a grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation, consists of two events. From noon to 5 p.m., patrons will be free to explore nearly the entire Carrie site, taking in what Pillow Project artistic director Pearlann Porter calls "mini-site-specific installations," with performers and artists scattered throughout. 

"The place is epic and the dancers and musicians will be using it as an instrument ‘to play the furnace,'" says Porter. 

The evening session runs from 7 p.m. to midnight, in the facility's hangar-sized powerhouse building. It will feature, on the hour, roughly 20-minute excerpts in-the-round from such past Pillow Project works as Backlit in a Whole New D, The Green Swan and Twenty Eighty-Four, re-imagined for the Carrie site along with live video, multimedia installations and performances by local bands Blue Redshift and Chaibaba.

"The place was hell with the lid off when it was going," says Porter of the Carrie site, now overseen by the nonprofit Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp. "We are using that to influence The Jazz Furnace. Dust and ash will fly. The Green Swan will become the dirty swan."

For Porter, this year's The Jazz Furnace is just the beginning. "We want to turn this into an annual festival," she says. "Something unique to Pittsburgh, honoring the history of the Carrie Furnace and Pittsburgh's steel industry."

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