Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Site Specific Settings

I love site specific performance. And there is certainly a relationship between Duncan dance and nontraditional performance spaces. Natural, outdoor settings make a great venue for tunic-draped dancers, and when Karin Carlson asked me if I was interested in sharing any work for her Silk Road project, of course I said yes.

I first met Karin several years ago when she came to a Duncan workshop I taught at Dance Discovery. There were about five people in that workshop—two adults and three teenage students who drove up from San Antonio. It was a mixed group but we had a great time exploring basic Duncan work as well as creating new compositions based on natural dance movement principles.

When I put together my first site-specific piece in Austin as part of the Frontera Fest’s Mi Casa Es Su Teatro in 2007, I asked Karin to participate in an outdoor structured improvisation set in a field in East Austin. That piece, Rooted, consisted of five dancers, two men and three women (and the first time I ever put men in tunics), and each dancer created movement based on a score of planting, uprooting, traveling through space, and re-planting in another location. This is a movement metaphor that I often come back to, as it resonates with the transitory and migratory nature of contemporary culture—not surprisingly, it is also a theme that came up in the Talk to Me Movement course I co-facilitated with Peggy Lamb for Truth Be Told at the Lockhart work facility in the fall of 2007.

The pieces presented in the Silk Road worked with a wide range of different themes and movement metaphors and ranged from solos in silence to group works with recorded and live music as well as text. Choreographers set their pieces at different places along the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, and audiences gathered just across from the downtown Austin YMCA. Yelena Konetchy and I set the stage with our tunic-draped skips, and then the audience followed a swath of silk fabric to the first large sculpture of yellow metal rectangles before following a path that wound down to a small bridge, a side ditch drain, and back up to another metallic sculpture.

Site-specific dance work puts movement in conversation with space, with landscape and architecture, and puts art in dialogue with life in a way that integrates creative expression and daily experience. The art into life aspect of this kind of performance work enables audiences to look through a creative lens at other aspects of life as well, and when we bring creative purpose to lived experience, we discover that intention can actually transform circumstance. Plus, it is a lot of fun to encounter dance and performance in unexpected places.