During our most recent classes and discussions, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I contribute to the manipulation of space around me.
I manipulate my environment with the bodies, objects, and other physical entities that I put in it. We form associations and connections for the things we see in the world, and I think these predisposed notions establish expectations for certain objects. For example, when I walk into a room with chairs in it, there’s an expectation that someone might sit down. The chair also creates some sort of landscape, or maybe a boundary or pathway. On Sunday morning, Liz Lerman and John Borstel led a session on their Critical Response Process, which is a choreographed or systematic way to have an in-depth conversation. We got to put this system into practice after watching a piece that the lovely Emily Wolfe is currently working on. Before she started dancing, Emily asked everyone in the room to arrange themselves in one line, kind of in the shape of an S. The way in which Emily arranged the individuals in the studio serves as an example of putting physical things in a space to set expectations, create a landscape for movement to happen in, and ultimately craft the audience’s experience. Because there was a line of people in the middle of the room, the space was divided into two halves. Before Emily began her movement, I wondered how she would cross the threshold of people, and whether her movement quality would shift in the traverse from one zone to the other. I wondered whether these two sections might be symbolic of some sort of duality. When Emily started dancing and as she moved throughout the space, my view of her was frequently blocked by the other audience members in the room. This made me curious as to whether I was supposed to be seeing her or not. My viewing experience of this performance was moderated by the way Emily asked us all to sit in the room.
Another way I can sculpt my environment is with language and dialogue. The words I use and the way I choose to use them establish the tone for all of the interactions in that given space. Liz and John spoke a lot about this during our Critical Response Process session, but it’s also omnipresent in the way the other facilitators and artists at Dance Exchange communicate with us as participants of the institute.
They encourage us to listen to our bodies, to take agency and consider what we need each day, and to support one another in our individual journeys. This kind of communication creates an atmosphere conducive to open expression and vulnerability. The discussion of how someone contributes to their own environment is a prominent topic at Dance Exchange and at this year’s institute. When I enter any new community, I want to be cognizant of my appropriateness so that I can make space for mutual learning on both ends of the partnership. On Sunday afternoon, we had the great pleasure of working with Allison Orr and Krissie Marty, the Artistic Director and Associate Choreographer of Austin-based Forklift Danceworks. They spoke to us about listening and taking the time to build relationships with the individuals involved in a new collaboration. Krissie shared that she learned how much expertise is around us all the time, and how the work in making dances with new groups of people is in illuminating their individual skillsets.
That evening we watched a screening of Andrew Garrison’s documentary, Trash Dance 2016. The film follows Allison and Austin Sanitation workers in the making of this fantastically unlikely dance. In the beginning of the film, the sanitation workers that they interviewed express a lot of hesitancy and confusion about the prospective project. Despite their doubt, Allison is persistent and shows up to their workplace each day, dedicated to hearing their stories and passionate about engaging them in the dancemaking process. I think her dedication and enthusiasm about the project inspired the sanitation workers to agree to the performance. I also think that the language Allison uses and the way she uses it creates a safe and supportive environment for everyone involved in the process. The performance of Trash Dance and it’s public reception ends up filling the men and women in the project with a sense pride in their craft and magnifies their appreciation for the transformative power of art. The question that comes up for me in relation to this type of work is whether or not we, as artists, have the right to enter these new communities, and how we can do so in an appropriate manner. The past two days of dialogue and movement at the institute have made me aware of just how much I contribute to my immediate environment. I realize that my contributions can influence the way other people interact, which can then shape the communal experience, specifically when working collaboratively. What I’m taking away from our most recent conversations at the institute is that I want to be more attentive to the way I’m crafting the space with the bodies, words, objects, and motions I infuse it with.