SKIN + saltwater

  • Choreographer: Staycee Pearl
  • Music: Original music by Herman Pearl (Soy Sos)
  • Costumes: Staycee Pearl and Janet Groom Campbell
  • Lighting: Kristina Kloss
  • World Premiere: March 24, 2022 by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh
  • PBT Performance Date: March 24-27, 2022 at August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh

Program Notes

As they see their homeland disappear beyond the horizon, a young couple plunges into a magical aquatic existence. SKIN + saltwater imagines their love extending beyond time, brutality and worldly limitations. It begs the question: how does our humanity relate to the natural world and what affects that perception?

I am moved by literary and cinematic magical realism and often imagine fantastical alternatives for a variety of life’s situations. I then give myself a moment to see the beauty and truth of our worldly condition. It is in that spirit that I imagine a mystical world below the sea – a magical world where a future of certain bondage would certainly be avoided by simply escaping overboard into the ocean. With SKIN & Saltwater, I imagined a couple in love who decide to end their captivity and jump. They live eternally in a supernatural underwater world where they are free and embraced by pure and powerful love.

As SKIN + saltwater began to take shape, I considered culture, Blackness, otherness, woman-ness, and systems and concepts that have historically brought about violence and separation. This rumination got me thinking of the physical characteristics of skin and the truth about skin color and how it’s evolved into not just division, but the birth of what some consider a superior class. The truth is, as humans there is more that makes us the same than makes us different. With SKIN + saltwater, we honor the sameness that makes us all human.

– Staycee Pearl



The score for SKIN + saltwater uses innovative musical techniques to create a haunting and soulful throughline for the ballet. It was composed by sound engineer Herman “Soy Sos” Pearl, husband and creative partner of choreographer Staycee Pearl. The music and choreography were created simultaneously, with each consulting the other as their respective work took shape.

Pearl utilized a unique composition process that tapped the brilliant musicianship of the ten artists in the ensemble. The instrumentation itself is uncommon as well, with two musicians each on flute, bass and drums, one on organ and synthesizers and another on a Rhodes electric piano. Each of the musicians recorded their tracks alone in individual studio sessions
with Pearl.

The process started with a centerpiece sound – Pearl’s concept was that each musician would improvise their own musical response to that original sound, and the recordings of those responses would become the basis for the ballet score. He edited and mixed and layered the tracks on a digital audio workstation (DAW), building the composition first with the flutes, and then adding on drums, keyboard and bass. This layering effect, of different instruments and, in some moments, of multiple layers of the same instrument, creates the beautifully atmospheric and dreamy sound of the work.