Former DX intern and DC area dancer Alison Waldman writes about her experience in the Artisphere installation of Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds.
But I was not one of the four performers of the company commissioned to create and perform this piece as a nod to modern dance legend Merce Cunningham’s 1968 Rain Forest, which was inspired by the original Silver Clouds exhibit at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York.
I was but an audience member. But still, I danced.
This was not my first time experiencing Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds exhibit. A few weeks ago, I attended a dance-making workshop with Dance Exchange at Artisphere, which kicked off the Dance Exchange’s commission and was designed to help frame the piece they created. Here’s more on what went down at the workshop from Dance Exchange artist Matthew.
So tonight, I was excited to see what Matthew, Shula, Kate and Thomas created from the workshop’s ideas, sound bytes and movements.
In fact, Thomas was my partner for the last part of last month’s workshop, during which we shared a story we mentally shaped about or among the clouds through our playtime in the installation. Thomas shared with me a very poignant thought about the silver clouds’ identities, and some sadness he felt for them, and together we started to construct a story about crowds, loneliness and how humans depend on others even when we don’t realize it.
While the story didn’t have a chance to blossom much in the workshop setting (we only had 10 minutes), it certainly made me see the clouds in a new light—as characters in the story in my mind. And as I watched Thomas perform tonight, I wondered if he was thinking of that story, too.
That shared experience with Thomas wasn’t the only thing that made tonight’s showings special. I also attended both the 8:00 and 9:00 showings.
While every dance performance is inherently different, I knew these showings would be particularly variable. With a mobile audience, a tight space and, of course, 150 floating silver clouds manipulated by ground fans, anything could happen. The two showings had similarly-sized audiences, about 40 people, but with very different energies.
The 8:00 audience was more the observing type. Though they interacted a bit among the clouds as encouraged by Artistic Director Cassie Meador and musician David Schulman upon introduction, they were heavily focused on watching the four dancers, letting the clouds bounce on and around them as parentheses of the show.
The 9:00 show was attended by a much more curious crowd—people so entranced by the clouds that many of them had their own little dance with the clouds and let the performance play in the background of their own playtime. (I have to note that it’s not coincidental that much of the 9:00 crowd was filled with familiar faces I recognize from classes, auditions and performances in the area—fellow dancers.)
As a dancer myself—who had the privilege to dance among the clouds myself at the workshop—I wasn’t surprised by the inclination of this crowd to interact more with the clouds physically. The clouds cannot help but invite a sense of wonder in every person who experiences them.
But whether they intended to or not, each and every person in the room at both performances, whether they were a commissioned Dance Exchange dancer or not, was dancing with the clouds in some way. And it was beautiful.
“Dances happen when bodies and objects are in relationship with each other,” says one particular definition of dance (this definition I just last week stumbled upon via former Dance Exchange artist Sarah Levitt in a short video she produced, Dances Before Dances.
So, as I observed the sharp choreographic movements of the dancers move around and in between audience members, I saw that definition in true fruition. The soft floating of the silver clouds really can’t help but make everything and everyone appear to be dancing – because they are. Even as audience members stood still watching the dancers perform the choreography, or stood aside watching others play in the clouds, I saw a dance taking place between each person, each individual cloud, and the group as a whole.
A single cloud floats on a curious pathway and pauses beside a still observer who is captivated by the dance and unaware of its new silver neighbor; A duet.
Numerous clouds pillow behind dancer Matthew as he runs in tight choreographed circles, swept up by his wake before they dissipate into their own aimless path; A quick dance.
An audience member sits against the wall, almost completely swallowed by shiny silver, and every few seconds you catch a glimpse of her in open gaps; An ensemble.
I’m glad I decided to stick around Artisphere after the 8:00 showing to watch the 9:00 version. After being fairly engrossed in the performance and the choreography in the first show, I relaxed in the fascinating Artisphere lobby with a glass of wine, and re-entered the space for the 9:00 show. This time, I allowed myself to step away from the choreographed performance witness the mini, just as beautiful, dances taking place throughout the entire gallery between strangers, friends and floating silver clouds.