Yes, you can go home, especially if you bring a gift. North Hills native Shana Simmons, daughter of noted Pittsburgh choreographer and performer Karen, had avoided dance altogether and headed for North Carolina’s Elon University to study communications.
Near the end of her first semester, Shana happened to step into a jazz class there with Linda Szabo to fulfill an arts requirement. The resulting experience led her to call her mother almost immediately and declare, “I like figuring out how my body moves and I think I want to dance.”
Shana took a number of classes, auditioned for Point Park University and was accepted, graduating with a concentration in modern dance, although she admits that she was such “a blank slate” that she took as many classes as possible.
After a four-year stint in New York, Shana opted to attend Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance to gain a degree in choreography. There she saw a two-day multidisciplinary improvisation where viewers could choose between four two-hour tours. Impacted by the bombardment of the arts on the senses, she enjoyed how it was “served to you.”
However, England’s expensive cost of living proved prohibitive and Shana returned to Pittsburgh. Since then she has choreographed several works as an independent artist and presented at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and New Hazlett Theater.
But she never forgot the effect of that intense improvisation and decided to build one here. It will be on display at the Union Project on Negley Avenue, a “fantastic” choice given the group’s community and artistic involvement.
There will be two outside spaces. Inside the building, artists will set up in five other areas, including the catacombs, a pottery studio, a closet space (for spoken word artists), the balcony and the main hall. Each of the performers will have one hour to present their work in a loop, depending on the length of the piece.
Audience members can devise their own loosely-structured tour of the facility, aided by guides and maps. Cocktails and food will be available during the VIP performance at 6 p.m. with Continuum Dance Theater, speed painter Sasha Mirzoyan and collaborations between David Gerard’s impressive-looking brainchild, The Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra and what amounts to the house dance group, yes, Shana Simmons Dance. general admission will begin at 7 p.m.
That will just be the start of 13 commissioned works as the general admission audience enters shortly before 7 p.m. Delve into the Murder of Halls and Mills, an interactive murder mystery piece by the Murphy/Smith Dance Collective. Improv will abound with The Pillow Project and the veteran combo of Gia T. Cacalano and Jeff Berman, while AMaisTwoOrMore will perform When the Wind Moves (maybe outside if the wind is indeed moving on a hot and humid night?). Then there will be an independent dance group, For the Girl Who Sleeps in Snow (maybe too cold for outside?).
A moving audience can sample more from the likes of Theatre Sans Serif, Elizabeth Hoover and something called tripWire. And therein lies the problem for Shana, because “I’m not going to be able to watch.”