Bye, proscenium!

In mid-August, I performed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Performance Bridge as part of the Take it to the Bridge series (through the Corcoran’s partnership with WPA). The performance space is a 7′ x 7′ transparent plexiglass box overtop of the entry-way to the gallery, and it is visible from the lobby, the street, and from underneath. I created a performance installation called Procedures for Ground Loss Safety in which I instructed the audience on how they should prepare for when the ground underneath of them (physically and metaphorically) crumbles. I danced for five hours with a short break in the middle, and did a series of about seven 40 minute loops during that time. It was a structured improvisation, mostly built upon the sound score, which ranged from folksy Mitch Miller tunes, to modern space rock by Man or Astro-man? to the electronic experiments of Raymond Scott  to more modern atmospheric sound. In the bridge with me was a dirt floor and a small tree.

Photo by Sarah Anne Austin

I gave myself a couple of things to think about during the five hours. (More than a couple, but I’ll share a couple with you). Most importantly, I wanted to stick to my structure. I am one to be given a choreographic assignment and then do whatever I want. I don’t disregard the assignment, but I see the assignment as a springboard to creating movement, and allow a lot of influences in during this process. But I decided to be more specific about the structure I set up, and truly stick with it. This limitation was incredibly comforting during the five hours–I knew (essentially) what was coming next within the structure, and working within that structure led me to make choices I wouldn’t have had the structure been loose. I also really looked forward to arriving at certain sections of the work (like flirting with the tree), and seeing very clearly the multiple options I had: should I do something similar to what I did during the last loop? Should I start there and see what happens? Should I do something else entirely?

Photo by Virginia Levitt

I am also one to be heavily, painfully, and at times detrimentally conscious of the audience when I perform. This is why most of the work I make acknowledges the audience directly, because I often don’t want to pretend that performance is anything other than what it is–I know I am on a stage, I know you are on the audience. In the work I make, I’m interested in challenging an audience, I’m also hoping they have a good time, and this dictates a lot of my choice making. So at the Corcoran, I decided to not acknowledge the audience. The space that the bridge creates really does set up a little universe for the performer–being physically above and away from the audience helped this, as did being enclosed in a box that the staff actually locks to make sure the doors don’t swing open. And the choices I made were different–something about fully living in the world you create as a performer allows your audience to go there, too.

Photo by Virginia Levitt

So, I’m not really saying goodbye to proscenium dancing. But I am saying goodbye to some of the notions I have about that space. I’m looking forward to returning to it as a performer and choreographer to see what happens now that I’ve had this experience of dancing in the bridge.

If you have six minutes, check out this video I made to summarize the performance. And a big thanks to Ouida Maedel and all of Dance Exchange’s staff, the Corcoran’s staff, Stowe Nelson for sound design guidance, and  Sarah Anne Austin and my mom, Virginia Levitt, for taking photos during the day.

About Sarah Levitt

Sarah Levitt (Resident Artist/Communications Coordinator) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher based in Maryland.