This week I wanted to explore a very public place with lots of people, so I chose the Ohio Union. The question was, how to do this without creating too much of a disturbance? My interest in these site explorations has much less to do how people might observe or react to what we’re doing, and much more to do with noticing our own reactions and sensations to the spaces were in. I did not want to create scene.
So, I suggested that we take 15-20 minutes to do a “pass” of the Union, starting on the High Street side and ending up College Rd. My instructions for my dancers were simple: using primarily pedestrian activity, move through the space, tracking the spatial pathway and sensations/details/events that take place along the way. Here are few ideas that emerged:
Anna, Bita, and Mel each took their own journey through the space, stopping to notice flyers, chatting with friends they ran into, walking in patterns that matched the tile floors, etc. Immediately upon entering the Union, I realized how much there was to draw from. It was almost overwhelming. The Union is full of people, noise, colors, objects, smells, and seemingly endless rooms upon rooms. It became an obstacle course of sorts. Compared to working in a traditional dance studio of grey walls and marley floor, it felt like a treasure trove of choreographic potential.
All of my dancers reported noticing things they had never seen before in the Union. The simple instruction of noticing physical sensation allows for a totally different awareness and attention to one’s surroundings. Mel and Anna each picked up flyers for events they wanted to go to, events they would not even know about if they hadn’t participated in this activity. This brings up the simple idea of mindfulness. If we were to walk around our lives with this type of attention, it might be easier to find ways to be engaged, to respond to one another, to work ourselves out of social isolation, to take a break from the thoughts running around in our heads. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but it’s also not easy to implement.
I’m working with two senior BFA students who are about to graduate. Anna mentioned that this experience felt quite nostalgic for her. She said that she didn’t spend much time in the Union, but as she was passing through the space, she began thinking about opportunities she hadn’t taken advantage of during her time her. It was an important reminder that spaces are never abstract, even though I might be drawn to more formalist elements of a space as choreographer of abstract modern dance. We cannot encounter spaces beyond the scope of our own personal contexts.
This exploration in particular, reminded of something I wrote for Susan Petry’s graduate composition class on my artistic practice:
“I am trying to figure out how to make a practice out of collecting sensory experiences. How do I take that moment in the field with the wind and the smell of grass and turn it into something for others to witness? How do I create something from the rhythm of chopping carrots and slicing onions and the sense of sitting and waiting while I let them boil in the pot? I want to capture the sensations of daily experience.”
I’d completely forgotten that I’d written that until this past Sunday, but I realized as we were exploring the Union that we were doing it. I started this project with ideas about taking the skills we learn as dancers and infusing them into unfamiliar spaces, with an underlying idea that this process might transform spaces and into places and create meaningful social engagement where might it have been lacking. What is starting to emerge, however, is really the inverse of that idea.
This project is starting to indicate ways in which dancers can collect ideas, sensations, details, observations from their daily lives and bring them into the studio as embodied experience. It’s becoming less about transforming spaces, and more about allowing creative space of the dance studio to be infused with personal, social, cultural, and political dimensions of our world. The studio no longer feels like a neutral space, a blank slate, but a collection of experiences of the particular people in the room. That is where I want to start my choreographic process. The site explorations are just a means of preparation.
After doing this “pass” of the Union, we returned to the dance studio and try to craft something from the experience. I asked my dancers to draw a loose map of their experience.
From there, I asked them each to simultaneously move through map. My intention is not to recreate the experience they had in the Union, but to draw from it to make something new. Some aspects of course fall away, but an essence, maybe even a memory, of their experience continues. Here are two different iterations of that idea:
This week, we also started putting our varies studies together. It’s still quite rough, but here’s a look at how we’re tying to put these ideas together: