Take two very different local dance companies -- one highly experimental, the other more traditional -- and set them loose on Pittsburgh's streets, where they will perform for unsuspecting audiences. With luck, the result will be not only an uncommon dance experience, but a social experiment in how the public perceives dance.
MillerDANCE and The Pillow Project are each offering a series of free performances intended to bring dance into everyday life. The audiences will be accidental, consisting of whoever happens to be nearby at the time. Purposefully, neither dance troupe is publicizing the exact place or time of their performances, only the date and general vicinity they will take place. (Fans can, however, follow the Pillow Project tour on Facebook and Twitter, at "ThePillow.")
For veteran dancer and choreographer Mary Miller, City Dance/Traveling Dance is a return to her dance company's roots.
"For me, site-specific work has always been about having people look at where they live in a different way," says Miller.
The goal, she says, is "bringing people a change from their daily routine and sharing with them a form of communication and energy.
"If we are lucky, they may want to participate as well," Miller adds.
The project involves five MillerDANCE performers (and occasionally Miller herself) dancing along sidewalks near the company's Wood Street office Downtown. Miller says the 30- to 40-minute performances were inspired by the movement of Downtown pedestrians: The works will consist of dancers alternating between set movement phrases, improvised movement and walking. Musicians Jerry Jumba and Jim Siders will provide accompaniment.
This year marks the 25th year for MillerDANCE (a.k.a. Mary Miller Dance Company) in Pittsburgh. And Miller sees City Dance/Traveling Dance as helping to fulfill another longstanding goal: "to get people more comfortable with dance."
"When you go someplace in the city, you always see visual art and often hear music, but you don't very often see dance," she says. "I'd like dance to be as easily accessible as art or music."
While MillerDANCE's performances will be instantly recognizable as dance, The Pillow Project's Urban Experiment seeks to challenge how we define the art form.
The "experiment" in Urban Experiment involves accentuating everyday movements -- such as stretching, scratching or sitting -- to give them the artistic quality of dance. But company founder/artistic director Pearlann Porter hopes it will take onlookers a moment to realize they're seeing a work of art. A viewer may be walking down the street and see someone undulate an arm, for example -- then a few moments later, see someone else make the same movement. Viewers will have to make a "corner of your eye" recognition that the performance is taking place, Porter says.
Like Miller, Porter laments the fact that dance isn't more integrated into everyday life.
"Dance is the art of the human body moving, and we should all be experts in it on some level," she says. "The minute you start putting dance outside, however, people get really confused. They start walking away from it, or want to know the reason for it being there."
The Pillow Project's performances will run through November. They'll take place not only on Pittsburgh streets, but in outdoor cafes, parks and buses. The only music will be the sounds of everyday life.
Whether or not City Dance/Traveling Dance and Urban Experiment open people up to the possibilities of dance, each promises an adventure quite different from what you'll find in a theater.
MillerDANCE's City Dance/Traveling Dance will be performed Downtown at noon on July 9, 14, 20 and 31. The group will also perform from 5-9 p.m. on July 17 as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Gallery Crawl. 412-434-1169 or www.marymillerdanceco.org.
The Pillow Project will perform Urban Experiment at random times and places through Nov. 3. 412-225-9269 or www.pillowproject.org