This past week I met with Mel and Bita to explore the doorway to the 2nd floor balcony of Sullivant Hall (pictured above). After taking some time in the studio to warm-up and center their bodies, Mel and Bita improvised in this space for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, we discussed what I had seen and what they experienced.
Something that immediately emerged when Mel and Bita began improvising was an aspect of performance. Simply removing improvisatory activity from the privacy of a studio and placing it in a public, albeit relatively familiar and safe space, gave it an instantaneous performance quality. As a viewer, I felt acutely aware of it and felt the need to make eye contact with people flowing in and out of the rotunda. Bita and Mel oscillated between occasionally relating to to these people, but also often ignoring them. The ability to maintain a connection to the improvisation despite the distractions is probably a mark of an experienced performer. My question after experiencing this is: Is this fourth wall an integral aspect of improvisatory performance? Or is it merely a habitual response to being seen when engaged in dance activity? To return to my post last week, perhaps it is a mechanism of safety. How does being seen, and all that is implied with being seen in a racialized, gendered, sexualized society, affect an individual’s physical experience in this process?
- Materials of the Space
The objects, materials, and textures of the space itself became fruitful fodder for both movement exploration and for ways that Mel and Bita could relate to one another. Even though that space contained a wealth of options, Mel and Bita seemed primarily interested in the pane of glass separating them from the space of the rotunda. Even more interestingly, the glass seemed to hold particular relevance as an obstruction from being able to touch each other. The small distance between a hand on one side of the pane to a hand on the other side created a thematic tension between connection/disconnection. In addition, when viewing the pane of glass from Mel and Bita’s perspective, one can see ongoing reflections moving back and forth between the glass of the door and the glass of the rotunda.
Bita and Mel both started experimenting with sound, primarily vocal. The accoustics of the rotunda provided an excellent environment for sound play, and Bita especially felt in tune to the sounds she was hearing. The hum of the building fan, the sounds of people outdoors, birds chirping. Mel and Bita even began speaking to each other as if through the distance of a phone. Again, an element of separation despite the their relative proximity to each other.
After our improvisation, I asked Bita and Mel to “name” this experience with this space. I am interested in how the words we use to label a space affect our sense of place within them. Lucy Lippard, in her book The Lure of the Local, discusses certain aspects of naming and ownership of place: “Indigenous names tended to locate resources for common good-pointing out the place where a healing herb grows or the water is bad…Euro-American names tend to be less about what is there than what it looks like or who was there (Lippard, 46). The names we circled around were View, Tower, Lighthouse, and Reflect.
From there, we took our discoveries back into to the studio to develop some set material. Working primarily with ideas of connection, separation, and reflection, this is what we came up with (below).