Dance fans can stay socially distant during The Pillow Project's Thought Pockets pop-up performance | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Dance fans can stay socially distant during The Pillow Project's Thought Pockets pop-up performance

click to enlarge Thought Pockets by Pillow Project - PHOTO BY AARON JACKENDOFF
Photo by Aaron Jackendoff
Thought Pockets by Pillow Project
In a time when live performances have been put on hold or moved online, Pearlann Porter of The Pillow Project realized her modern dance company could still bring one work to the public — Thought Pockets.

“It was socially distant to begin with,” says Porter of Thought Pockets, a pop-up performance that spreads dancers out along alleyways, streets, and other corners of Downtown Pittsburgh. Using an approach Porter calls “durational performance installation,” the dancers move unusually slow over a period of hours. By doing this, Porter says the dancers become part of the landscape, much like a public mural or sculpture that passersby can walk through or past.

“It's not meant to be a performance that you sit and watch and applaud,” says Porter, who runs The Pillow Project along with fellow artistic director John Lambert. “It's just present.”


For the latest edition of Thought Pockets — happening from 1-5 p.m. on Fri., Aug. 21 in the Strawberry Way corridor — Porter says they did not have to change anything in order to comply with COVID-19 regulations, which forbids large gatherings and suggests people keep a safe distance in public spaces.

“Everyone is six-feet apart in the middle of the street, there's plenty of room for it to happen,” she says. “The only difference is we'll all be wearing coordinated masks.”

Besides the benefit of being able to perform it during a pandemic, Porter says Thought Pockets still fulfills its original mission of making modern dance more accessible and introducing it to “those who would not necessarily buy tickets to dance performances.”

“It's a way to give back,” says Porter, "and allow there to be a little beautiful movement Downtown when there isn't a lot of public performance happening.”


Porter says that, while the pandemic has made performing indoors difficult, she and her company have plans to return to their venue, The Space Upstairs. Currently, they're working on a new full-length improvisational performance called mirror/360. Funded with a grant from Investing in Professional Artists, a program supported by The Pittsburgh Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and the Opportunity Fund, Porter says the new work will combine dance and speech.

Porter says The Pillow Project will continue to present online programming and is in the process of figuring out how to welcome audiences back to Space Upstairs. One approach they are considering is creating experiences tailored for super limited audiences of around two to three people.

“We are in a rare position to do something truly intimate,” says Porter. “We're experimenting with different ways to present work.”

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