Saturday, August 20, 2016

Make Room

I spent the last week of July living in my own home again - yay
And taking the ferry to Governor's Island to create and rehearse a piece of immersive dance theatre under the direction of my lovely friend Roseanna Bell.  
She applied for and received a week long residency in an empty house of Governor's Island as part of a program called 'Make Room', produced by a company called Barton Booth which is all about giving artists quite literally the space they need to produce work.  For dancers especially this is often the hardest thing about creative endeavours - to rehearse a play you could in a pinch make do in an apartment, or a small rehearsal space.  To rehearse a piece of choreography or to improvise or hold a dance class you kind of need a decent amount of space.  And that doesn't come cheap and the demand  often outstrips the supply.
So this program is a wonderful thing and wonderful use of the large empty former officer's houses on GI.

It was a hot week.  The kind of hot where everything seems burnished.  I do well in the heat.  Also because we were going to dancing, sweating, rolling around on a dusty floor anyway the thing that often makes city heat the toughest - trying to maintain any level of composure and presentability - was a non-issue.  Dance clothes, every day.  

Ross wanted to create a piece that was inspired by the struggles of creating a piece.  I know right.  So meta.  She had that as a jumping off point and once we were in the house we were able to expand on that, taking further inspiration from our physical surroundings (this bannister is inviting me to utilise it in some improv, this room is very live and conducive to percussive movement, this glass door could pretend to be a mirror).  We used every space except the kitchen which acted as backstage, including the staircase and the porch terrace that wrapped around two sides of the house.  

Along the way we also picked up a Southern/Colonial vibe thanks to the architectural style, which ultimately contributed to the costuming and the choice of music for the finale.  Apart from that we had no sound other than that which we created ourselves - some vocally, some with breath, some with clapping, stomping and in my case banging on the walls.

The piece had five dancers and each of us had a different journey throughout the house - there were rooms that were never entered by certain people, or certain dancers who never interacted until the very end.  I can't speak for everyone but I really enjoyed giving myself a character and giving that character a specific journey - this was very much a piece of dance theatre not just choreographed dance, with an element of improv and storytelling so Rosi gave us reasons for why certain moments happened and allowed us to find our own reasons for certain others.  Why do they run up the stairs? Why does she shout? Why does this stretch of wall hold fascination? What does she see in the mirror? 
It was a kind of creative freedom and energy that I wish I had more of in my life - the whole week made my spirit soar and I was positively vibrating with ideas and creative impulses by the end of every day.  I'm so grateful to Rosi for having me be a part of it and for allowing me to contribute where I could, and making it such a collaborative and affirming process.  We were really proud of the end result and had some great reactions from audience members - I also learned a lot about how immersive pieces can work.  It helps to have at least a couple of people who understand the conventions of that type of theatre because they know to follow the performers without getting in the way, and to take their cues with as little guidance from us as possible.  There were a number of people we encountered who had never experienced anything along these lines - during one performance I finished a vignette in a room alone, the other dancer having finished hers and moved on to her next space.  Some audiences followed her out leaving me to finish unwatched, but this particular group waited for me to finish and then continued watching me.  I silently gestured towards the door.  Nothing. I made eye contact with several then looked pointedly at the door.  Nothing.  I moved behind them and held my arms akimbo while walking slowly toward them.  Nothing.  I went to the door and gestured one more time.  Still nobody I left the room and shut the door.  My next moment was meeting Rosi in the hallway and moving together into the next room to join the others. Before we did that, she opened the door I'd just closed - they had finally got the message because they all streamed out and went down the hallway.
Come on guys.

It is an amazing feeling to dedicate almost all your time (I still worked for Troy in the mornings) to doing the thing you live for, and it only gets better when you add a ferry ride, free run of a huge space, sunny days and working with good friends.

Mystery bruise sustained some time while wrestling my bike up the steps to Sam's building while simultaneously trying to hold the heavy outward-opening door open - it's a very poorly planned situation.

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