This past weekend, Bita, Anna, and I met at the bridge where the Iuka Ravine intersects with Summit Street. Immediately upon arrival, we all instantly felt that this space offered a reprieve from our usual surroundings. The ravine presents a unique view of Columbus that is lush, green, and woodsy, as well as being filled with an old world opulence of brick streets, lampposts, and historical homes. We began simply, with solitary improvisation and an inward focus. Here’s some of what we discovered:
We don’t often associate nature settings with a sense of density or fullness. Usually those descriptions apply to the busiest and most populated spaces of urban life. Taking the time to breathe, smell, listen, and touch this space, however, we realized how truly dense it was. Air, sunlight, trees, leaves, bugs, dirt, bricks, litter, water, cars, the list goes on. Tapping into the variety of elements in this space offered a real opportunity for introspection and a chance to notice bodily sensation. Both Anna and Bita remained solitary during their explorations, focusing on their own internal sensations in order to assimilate the various stimuli they were experiencing. Anna mentioned that it felt so nice to be away from the spaces she normally inhabits: her apartment, High Street, Sullivant Hall, dance studios. In that moment I wondered why we would ever choose to make work inside a grey room with florescent lights, mirrors, and a smooth floor when we could choose to be in spaces like the ravine. It also occurred to me that the ability to take moments of reprieve, of rest and revitalization, in nature is often a privilege reserved for some. In urban societies, our lives don’t often intersect with peaceful environments unless we have the ability (meaning time & money) to seek them out. The opportunity to escape buildings, buses, garages, sidewalks, stores, signs, lights, is rare.
- “Neutral” Space
One of the other ideas that has been emerging for me in this project is the realization that so much of Western concert dance is created in spaces that are smooth, polished, and often colorless. There’s a perceived “neutrality” about dance studios that we often associate with a “blank canvas” as a starting point in the creative process. When we take the exploratory phase of creative development outdoors, or to any space that we don’t think of as neutral, we can see that space in anything but blank. (Dance studios aren’t really neutral either, they are only perceived to be that by those who are familiar with them.) There’s so much in the world beyond the studio that we can observe, relate to with our bodies, and draw inspiration from. With just a little experimentation, placing dancing bodies in sites outside the studio offers almost instantaneous choreographic material. I’m discovering that we can accomplish more in 45 minutes outdoors than I have ever done inside a studio for 2 hours. If nothing else, dancing outside is just a really effective choreographic strategy where we can embody the experience of our surroundings. At most, it’s offering a whole different paradigm of where we could be making dances and where choreographic ideas come from.
In some ways, the Iuka Ravine seemed so green and nature-filled, but we very quickly realized that the effects of human activity and design were almost overwhelmingly present. From the sound of the cars on the bridge to litter on the ground, the “inorganic” was everywhere. Interestingly, I found that when Bita and Anna’s movements were more linear, architectural, and shape-orientated, the more visually striking it was. Set against the backdrop of curving tree limbs, piles of leaves, and sticks jutting up out of the earth, the clarity of line in the body really stood out. Coupled with moments of pleasure and sensation (Bita lifted her heart towards the sun), the design of the body seemed distinctly human in a way that was quite separate from the organic matter of trees, water, soil, etc.
As I’m watching these dance explorations in new and unusual spaces, I’m realizing that there are so many different ways to view and frame the work. We’re so used to looking at dance either straight on, maybe a little bit above, but dancing in alternative spaces asks the viewer to look at dancing bodies from new angles. Between myself and the dancers might be a curve, a downward slope, or very little space at all. Before leaving the ravine last week, I asked Bita and Anna to take an improvisation down the stairs from the bridge. Watching from the bottom, their movement vocabulary of sweeping legs and leaning into the walls of the stairwell actually looked much more like floorwork than standing movement. When we get back into the studio next week, I’m going to ask them to translate what they did on the stairs to using the floor in the studio .
Take a peak at some of what we did!: