This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflections: Family Portrait

Since the performances I have been having conversations about the piece that continue to deepen my reflections on it.

In a conversation with dancers Natasha and Kelli about three weeks after the performances, the "family portrait" section came up as one of the most interesting/provocative moments of the piece for them. This is the part when Natasha, Kelli, Tim and Nadia sit on the Westminster steps for an extended period of time (Amy is making her way around from the Weybosset side) staring straight ahead, almost sitting to attention, in a way reminiscent of a posed portrait.

N: It was "the most banal movement-wise, but it lasts for long enough that it stands out as odd in the context of people walking by."
K: "It was more startling, which I find to be odd, than the parts when we were moving more."
A recording of 'Family Portrait' from Saturday's performance, filmed by Sam Holland, can be seen in the clip below. This photo from an earlier post is also of 'Family Portrait'.

It is one of the moments that I find the most satisfying and delightful because of its 'oddness'. It lasts a little longer than is comfortable (just over a full minute); there is an expectation that something that should happen, but it doesn't. Yet I find that it remains interesting because of the ambiguous relationship set up between the four performers.

Friday, December 23, 2011

An Arcade Project in the Inventory

This is a piece that I was asked to write for the Inventory, the newsletter of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University. The full newsletter can be found here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Reflections from an audience member

These are some reflections from Mimi, an audience member who was generous enough to share her thoughts on the piece with me:
Going past the Arcade is a different experience for me now since seeing your piece; I have a connection to it. It has made me think about the theme of common property.  Experiencing your piece made me feel some sort of ownership of the environment I live in which I didn't have before. Perhaps a lot of people feel disconnected to buildings and urban spaces because they do not 'own' them, but your piece brings to mind how abstract the concept of property is. That is why I couldn't help think about your piece in the context of Occupy Providence. Here is a movement that is making people feel empowered enough to have more 'ownership' then they do. Occupying a public space allows people to become more engaged with those around them.
Back to your piece: although the Arcade is not 'public,' I felt that your piece made it so. I also liked how I, as an audience member, could interact within the piece. By interacting, I mean that when I had to follow the dancers around to each side, I felt that I had become part of the dance essentially. It felt initially strange, like I wasn't supposed to, but then I understood the importance of doing so.
I saw some skateboarders doing some tricks on the steps of the Arcade the other day. They had made a unique connection to the space in the same way your piece did. It's a connection that perhaps more the people who go in and out of Downtown PVD would never experience. What a gift I think!
The connection with the Occupy movement is an interesting one that had not crossed my mind at all- a pertinent example of the way in which audiences can find significances and associations that were not intended by the creator. It also speaks to the way in which context is crucial. Seeing this piece while the Occupy movement is constantly in the media allows for different connections than if the piece had occurred this time last year before the movement, or even if it had occurred in a location more geographically removed from the site of Occupy Providence (Burnside park is just on the other side of Wesminster Street, across Kennedy Plaza); like any work it does not exist in a vacuum but constantly informs, and is informed by, both its temporal and spatial context.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


"An Arcade Project" is featured on the photoblog of shellfishmeme with this photo taken during the performance on Saturday 19th Novemeber:

Photo by Mimi Roterman

Dancer response #1

Because we had not rehearsed the piece as a whole (that is through its 3 repetitions) until the day of the performance it gave an interesting liveness to intention in my own movement. I had never created a model to work towards but just fell in with what was there. The tension in my torso, the pace of my breath, the force in my legs changed every time (through the 6 repetitions of each day). Allowing for such un-predetermined shifts equally allowed my mind to wander: I could just be sitting on the steps looking over those people (the audience) staring at me instead of trying to look past them; think of the work i had to do the next day and miss my cue. I had a wonderful experience of straddling the edge of a rehearsed work and the very nowness of a performed one; which I believe is most suitable for sitting on a portico between an unused and inaccessible past (the arcade) and a trafficked and passing present (the street).

Photo by Seung Chan Lim

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coverage in the Indy

As part of a larger piece on modern dance in Providence, Lizzie Feidelson covered "An Arcade Project" in the latest issue of The College Hill Independent. The article can be read in an online, digital format below:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BDH coverage

Brown Daily Herald writer Maggie Finnegan covered the performances, and the story as it appears on the BDH website is embedded below. It can also be seen on the BDH website here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflections, continuing

In talking about the piece, I have had to try and articulate what it is in the choreography I created and directed that is interesting to me. Frequently I have described these moments to the dancers as being "a litte bit weird" or having a "weirdness" about them. In trying to unpack exactly what I mean when I say this, and to get at the essence of what it is that appeals to me, I would say the following: I am interested in exploring moments where the physical relationships between performers (those relationships created spatially between two or bodies) do not line up with the psychological (which could also be described as emotional, or social) relationships suggested by the movement; the disconnect between the two accounts for the "weirdness" and my interest in these moments.

To put this in a less abstract form, take as an example the vignette in "An Arcade Project" shown below (this footage was shot during rehearsal, hence Kelli and Natasha sitting down early and then leaving again):

Nadia and Timmy climb over each other repeatedly, and in between the climbing sequences they sit next to each other and stare straight ahead, deadpan. Their close proximity- their bodies physically impose on and interrupt one another- are at odds with the psychological distance of their detached stares. The physical interactions are entirely out of place in a social, physical space when two people might end up sitting near one another (such as waiting for a train, or sitting on the Arcade steps during a lunch break) but where their psychological, emotional, or social relationship is that of distance, of two strangers.

It is important to note that I do not want to make the infinite ways in which bodies can relate to one another into an essentualised binary; rather, these two categories (physical/spatial and psychological/emotional) are two ways of many in which relationships between bodies could be categorised and understood. Perhaps you could also say that they are two categories I am interesting in creating, setting them up in order to then create the disconnect between them that I find interesting.

Something else I have been reflecting on is that, ultimately, I am interested in creating experiences. These are inherently going to be different for everyone- for creator, performer, audience, and also different between audience members, between performers; it is not the creation of one universal experience, but the presenting of a situation in which one might have an experience. Taking a step back, ultimately, the creation of any piece of performance is the creation of an experience- or even the creation of anything. But I would like to make this experiential aspect more conscious, thinking of creating dance as primarily creating, or facilitating, experiences.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some documentation

Here are some more of the photos (and a video!) that I took during Saturday's performance:

Compelling in the fullest sense of the word- what does he see?

A spectator/photographer watches Kelli and Amy's duet

Tim makes a good base

A moment of stillness. What is up there?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Audience reflections (reflections on an audience)

I expected Saturday’s performance to feel different than Friday’s since a weekday downtown is very different from a weekend morning- there are significantly less people, since many work weekday 9-5 office jobs in the area around the Arcade. The tobacco shop is also closed on the weekend, and during Friday’s performance there had been a number of people walking across the Westminster portico going in and out of the shop, often navigating the dancers to do so. It was great to hear some anecdotes from the dancers about the way that people responded; one woman’s comment as she walked by them was “weird”. But there were (almost) no bodies moving through that space on Saturday morning except the dancers. 

On Saturday there was a larger audience composed of people who had specifically come to see the performance. However, defining the audience solely in this way is misleading. I talked to someone from the Brown Daily Herald who is covering the performances, and one of the questions she asked me was “how big was the audience?” 

My response was that estimating the audience size was not really relevant for a lot of site-specific works, including this one. It is a question that brings up some interesting ideas regarding how we conceptualise and define an audience. I would say that the common conception is inherently defined by proscenium performance, where there is a designated space for spectators. This spatialising of the audience defines and dictates their role in relation to the performers. But at the Arcade on Friday and Saturday, in addition to those who came specifically to watch the performance, were people who may not have even known about it, but they stopped for a few minutes to watch, or maybe just turned their heads as they drove or biked by (or maybe just made a monosyllabic comment walking past).

In addition to the dancers on both porticos, the audience on Weybosset St can be seen in these photographs: taken from Westminster Street:

The idea of blurring process and product is again relevant here; we have had an audience of some kind every time we have “rehearsed” (performed) at the Arcade.  Additionally, there was no clear space in which the audience should position themselves, or any clear directions as to when or where, or even if, they should move between the two facades, like the dancers were.

Actually, this audience movement was the most successful aspect of the performances for me. One of the most gratifying moments was when an audience member, who is a friend of mine, said to me “we got really excited when we realized that we had to be an interactive audience.” On both days, but especially on Saturday, the audience was fantastic at moving between the two sides of the Arcade- often multiple times. It is not so much that I feel it was a “better” choice for the audience to move (since as I discussed in an earlier post, the difficulty created in being able to see everything was intentional), but that I deeply appreciated their willingness to actively participate in the piece, entering their bodies into the performance space, and contributing to the performative, place-making movements of bodies through space.

One issue that I was aware of was that I did not want to lead audience members into thinking they should move when or where I did- this might have been the case since I knew many of the audience members/many knew it was my project. But if that did happen, I feel it was only in a few instances- most of the audience movement was happening independent of my movements.

Once the alley was discovered to be the shortcut through to the other side, most audience members used this route to get from one side to the other, often beating the dancers there if they had gone around the long way. This also meant there were some interesting moments when a dancer would pelt at full speed through the alley as people were walking through it.

A couple audience members felt able to go up onto the porticos and get close to the dancers, but for the most part they stood back to observe. It is interesting that most of the people who went onto the Westminster portico while the dancers were there were those on Friday who went into the smoke shop- people who I do not think would self-identify as an audience of the project. Those that might self-identify that way tended to stay further away (just to be clear, I would identify all as audience members). While there was a practicality to this- being able to see the whole picture- this says a lot about the sacredness of performance, and also about the privileging of seeing the whole picture (seeing “everything”) over seeing details, fragments.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Performance #1

Despite some early morning printing drama (I did decide to print and distribute some hand outs), the first performance was a success! It was unbelievably rewarding to see it happen- the dancers did a fantastic job, especially considering this was the first time they had looped it three times without stopping between cycles. The audience consisted of both people who had intentionally come down to watch and people who just stopped en route to wherever they were going. Perhaps some of the most interesting members of the audience were those that were driving or biking by, and slowed down to watch.

warming up

I have already had some positive feedback about the piece, and look forward to having more in depth discussions with those of the audience that I know more personally, and to hopefully reading some feedback from those that I do not.
Here are a couple clips from today's performance:

Thursday, November 17, 2011


In thinking about what, if anything, I wanted to include on a handout to the audience, I was forced to really think about what I want an audience member to take away from the piece, as well as about the nature of performances, and the framing or presentation of performance. Even having a handout in the first place frames the piece in particular way, acting as the equivalent of a program in a proscenium theater piece. To have a piece of proscenium dance without a program is radical- it is expected that we will be told what we are seeing, who we are seeing, and in those pieces of information perhaps lies the suggestion of why we are seeing it.

I have ended up making a hand out (whether I will actually hand it out remains to be seen). One side provides a revised version of some of the key ideas that I posted several months ago on this blog at the beginning of the project. They provide a broad sweep, a vague setting of a scene, for some of the deep theoretical pools that I am drawing from and dipping into. My hope is that they will provide a broad swathe of ideas from which audience members may pull whatever and however much they wish, in order to contextualise and complement their experience of the performance. The other side of the page is blank, and invites any form of commentary or reflection. Getting feedback was definitely one of the more persuasive reasons to make a hand out, as I am curious to hear a little about how people respond- feedback will push my thoughts further, allow for more reflection, and ultimately influence the trajectory or my thinking and future making.

Here are the two sides of the handout:

On a more practical level, right now it is forecast to be 43F and sunny tomorrow at the performance time- excellent news as far as the sun goes, but I'm going to remind the dancers one more time to dress very warmly!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pasts and futures

Relating to one possible future of the Arcade, one of my trusty Providence sources sent me this article that talks about the start of some new plans for the Weybosset facade- the remaining facade of the old Providence Bank Building- that stands on the lot adjacent to the Arcade. The Arcade is mentioned:

Clarke Schoettle, executive director of Providence Revolving Fund also noted some other work being funded in part by the fund in the area, according to a Press Release from the Mayor’s Office:
“At this time, the Revolving Fund is also financing the restoration of the old Custom House Tavern Building for offices and a restaurant and is assisting with the conversion of the old Providence Gas Building for residential and commercial use. With the combination of public and private investment, we are seeing the regeneration of Weybosset Street. It’s a great thing.”
Schoettle also mentioned the Fund’s contributions to the restoration of the former Ritz Camera on Orange Street into the newly opened Congress Tavern, and some momentum on getting the Arcade reused.
 Relating to one of the pasts of the Arcade, I discovered that the GoogleMap street views of the Arcade show it as it no longer is. We often think of technology moving faster than we can keep up with, but here is an example of technology not keeping up with the changes in our built environments. The Arcade is depicted here as it was, not as it is, with Google Maps archiving a place but simultaneously having agency in affecting perceptions of the Arcade- keeping its pasts present. If someone used the street view to find their way to the Arcade, they might be under the impression that it is open.

(My other favourite example of the Google Maps street view's contribution to the entanglement of pasts and presents can be seen with the street view of Point Street/Wickenden Street in Providence. The I-195 that used to have an overpass over Wickenden Street has now been completely removed, but it is still show in the street view)

I cannot tell if the Arcade was still open when these street view photographs were taken, but the buildings on the lot had already been demolished. If it was after it closed, it cannot have been too long after, since there are still coloured banners hanging from the porticos, and the names of the shops on the windows:

Westminster portico with coloured flags

Letters and logos on the windows of ground floor shops and (unfortunately illegible) signs on the stairs. The door to the tobacco shop that is still there can be seen standing open. 

A bench that is no longer there can be seen on top of the marble steps. Lettering 
for __a's Kitchen on ground floor window.  

Photo that I took in September showing the marble steps without the bench


Friday might have been our last rehearsal before the performances this Friday and is proving difficult to find a time that works for all of us to meet to go over it once more. Friday was the first time we were really able to run and get used to looping it, but the dancers did such a great job! We refined some timing issues, and pushed to really get it to a place where they were really performing it, not just doing the movements.

Adj, who will be the photographer at the performances, was able to come down and see it performed once all the way through. Although we had met previously to discuss the trajectory of the piece, it was impossible to give her a full sense of what the piece consisted of, so I was glad she was able to get a sense of it for herself before Friday and Saturday. There are a few parts that I pointed out to her as things that I would be interested in having photographed, but I am essentially giving her artistic license to capture what she wants. It is documentation, yes, but Adj's photographs are not intended to act as documents, providing evidence of the performance. They represent it, but like my photographs, like my blog entries, they mediate it- they do not, cannot, stand in for the piece.

It was certainly different to have someone (other than myself) taking photographs, and getting up close to the dancers, interrupting. Of course, the issue of photographing dance specifically is always an interesting one- the movement, the essence of what is happening, is stilled, fragmented. A visual representation of something that is about transcending the visual- to watch dance is to experience something visceral, kinetic, embodied. As Susan Sontag insightfully puts it in On Photography,
a set of photographs which freezes moments in a life or a society contradicts their form, which is a process, a flow in time...Life is not about significant details, illuminated in a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.
And yet while this freezing, illuminating, interrupting of time's flow needs to be recognised, by doing this the photographs offer another understanding of the project. Maybe sometimes we need details to be illuminated and fixed forever. They are a product in their own right- another facet in the outcomes of this project.

We also had an interruption of another kind on Friday. In the last few minutes of rehearsal, three men in suits walked by us on Weybosset Street as the dancers were lined up on the steps up to the balcony. One of them, catching sight of the dancers stopped and asked, "What is this?" I replied that it was a site-specific project. At this point I was not sure of his motivation for asking, but that soon became clear as he ordered the dancers to come down from the steps- his reason was that they could get hurt, it was private property, and he represented the building owners. If I had more presence of mind I would have asked him for his contact details, since was he not the kind of person I had tried for over a month to get in touch with? But as it was, I didn't, and motioned the dancers to come down, whilst he continued to point out that it was private property, and eventually continued down the street to catch up with his companions.

Interesting that it took so long for this to happen. Interesting that we elicited this response when there are people up on the balconies all the time for a variety of reasons. Interesting the brusqueness with which he addressed us, seeming to dismiss what was happening without asking anything further about it. Interesting that he felt able to wield his power instantly upon hearing my reply. Interesting that something similar might happen again on Friday or Saturday, with no way of predicting or controlling it. Such is the nature of undertakings not comfortable ensconced in a theatre. Here performance spills outside of a space designated as being for performance where is safely contained, and the way a site is being used does not line up with its perceived and acceptable function.

My main concern is that I do not want the dancers to be put in a position where they are being targeted, and I want them to feel that they have a way to deal with this kind if situation if it arises. My instructions to them are to move off of the steps or the portico if someone explicitly tells them they cannot be there, but to continue their movement tasks exactly as they had been doing once on the pavement/sidewalk. This would add another whole element of unpredictability to what the performances are going to be.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A piece, emerging!

In Saturday's rehearsal we put together the entire piece, more or less. Up until this point the connections and transitions between the vignettes had only existed in my head and journal scribblings, and had not yet been communicated to, and embodied by, the dancers. Now the dancers have an understanding of the piece in its entirety (bar one last little tweak that will allow the piece to loop), and can begin to develop their performances and get the sequences inscribed into their body (and by body, I mean mind and body).

The (non-linear, non-narrative) sequence of the work involves the dancers moving between the two porticos of the Arcade at various moments. Sometimes vignettes are happening simultaneously on different sides, or even between the two sides. This means that no one person is able to see everything. Fragments are caught, perhaps glimpsed for a fleeting moment as a dancer disappears around a corner, or is seen through the long stretch of the Arcade. There is no "whole picture" to be seen, or to make sense of; there are just fragments, overlapping in time and place, to be experienced as they happen.

This is at odds with the traditional experience of performance where everything is neatly presented to the audience: a stage provides clear boundaries that direct the focus (although these boundaries are often played with, for example when a performer masquerades as an audience member); lighting is designed to illuminate and highlight performers, again directing the focus; seats with a partial view are often offered at a discount in a theatre setting because the audience member is denied seeing (knowing) everything-- the whole picture will not be visible.

How much, if any, of these values will be brought to the Arcade by the audience for this project? Will some people experience frustration or disappointment at not being able to see (know) everything? Anger? Will this work challenge anyone's idea of what could be referred to as "the visibility contract" between audience and maker/performer/presenter?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Conflicting memories

When I arrived in Providence in September 2007, the Arcade only had a few more months of being open. I have no memory of it being open, only closed; an empty building next to an empty lot.

So I was rather surprised to find out when talking to my friend, Lauren, that I had been inside the building before it closed. She remembers that during our freshman year at Brown that, as part of an early foray downtown, we stopped in at the Arcade together, apparently at my suggestion:

Memory is a funny thing. Even after hearing her talk about this, I have no recollection of that event. Our memories do not line up, and in the space between them is a sliver of uncertainty, and hence of possibility, regarding the past reality. The implications of conflicting memories reach beyond the specifics of this example- they challenge the very concept of being able to know "what actually happened", of being able pin down and approach facts, truths as objective realities.

The invisible choreographer

So far in this process, my presence has been mediated through this blog and I have been present in the recordings of my conversations with people about the Arcade. However, I have been largely absent from the visual documentation. 

As we have been rehearsing at the Arcade, I have been the one taking photographs and recording the dancers. However, the week before last, Natasha recorded me sketching out a phrase that I created on the Weybosset portico of the Arcade, and that I may end up teaching to some of the dancers:

Last week, Natasha again did some documenting, photographing me working with Tim and Nadia on the Westminster portico:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An invitation to "An Arcade Project"

Things are moving along, and the project is happening even more than it already was. This week I emailed out invitations to the performances, which are set to happen in about two weeks, and printed flyers which I am starting to distribute. Below is a copy of the email I sent out, and of the flyer that will soon make its appearance at various places around Providence:

Dear friends and colleagues,
I would like to invite you to the performances of "An Arcade Project", the placed-based choreographic work I have been developing over the last few months in collaboration with five dancers. The performances will take place on Friday 18th November at approximately 11:30am-12:30pm and Saturday 19th November at approximately 10:30am-11:30am (rain or shine). They will occur in and around the Providence Arcade, which is located at 65 Weybosset Street and 130 Westminster Street. As there is not a formal beginning or end to the performances, you should feel free to arrive at the time that is convenient for you and stay for as long as you wish.
In addition to the flyer attached, more information about "An Arcade Project" can be found at the project blog:
I hope to see you at the performances!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


As rehearsals at the Arcade happen more frequently, I am constantly reminded of how blurry the line between process and product is in this undertaking. As far as passers-by are concerned, these "rehearsals" could be performances. Every time we are down there we are intervening in the same way that the performance is designed to; our rehearsals are really a series of performances.

We now have a series of ways in which the vignettes connect, and the challenge is to now get used to those relationships so that the dancers can really feel comfortable in remembering how they relate to one another, and start to really play with the performance of them. The dancers have come up with so much interesting material at the site, and my challenge is to now bring our and highlight in the piece as a whole those moments that make the individual sequences so powerful.

In a sort of similar experience to what happened a week and a half ago (although this was less surreal for me), we were again on the Weybosset portico when a man standing in front of the doors observed, in a somewhat surprised manner, that the Arcade was closed. He said that it had been such an icon in his childhood, and when I asked, he said that had been in the 1980s shortly after its re-opening. He said that he had worked in the pizza shop at some point (or perhaps I misheard him and he said he went to that pizza place a lot). Unfortunately, I can't accurately remember the details he was telling me, and did not ask him if I could document his words in any way.

Today was the first really cold day that we were down there (~45F), but it was a beautiful crisp, clear and sunny day:

Sunlight on the railing of the second floor balcony, Weybosset side. Photo by Timothy Simonds, 28th October 2011.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Old Curiosity Shops

This article appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of "Preservation: The Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation," and I came across it a few weeks ago in the RIHS Library. As it is a fairly accessible publication, I decided to seek it out elsewhere to avoid paying $0.50 per photocopied page. Unfortunately it was not available online, but I was able to access and scan it in the Brown University Rockefeller Library.
In the article Edith Pearlman recalls the Arcade as she had known it as a child. As an author by trade, Pearlman uses language effectively and evocatively, creating a visceral, sensory experience of the Arcade that is full of vibrant and captivating details.

In addition to her beautifully descriptive prose and fascinating anecdotal details, it should also be noted Pearlman's representation of the Arcade is nostalgic and romanticised- which fits the article's context of a preservation publication. The place is tangled up in a personal nostalgia for Pearlman, as many of our childhood places are. But I feel that the context of the article widens her personal lens on the Arcade, representing it more universally as a site of nostalgia, a place of another time, a place belonging to an earlier golden age on which, it seems, rose tinted glasses are being focused.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A lived place

On Monday I had some time to work just with Natasha at the Arcade. These are the thoughts that she shared with me after working down at the Arcade:

I really want to go back and photograph that one spot where the flat glass of the door on the second and third floors meets the curved glass of the window. 
my biggest observation was the solidity and height of the columns. and as I mentioned yesterday, the feeling of both protection and vulnerability or blindness that one has standing on the platform, looking out on the street. even with your back to the arcade, there is a discomfort, as the entrances to the balconies are behind you and people can be (are) up there! in addition the building behind is glass, so your reflection is revealed to those on the street before you are.
the building was built before the buildings around it. I imagine it once felt more like my favorite place to hang out as a kid- the temple to music in Roger Williams Park.

And this is a version of the phrase she came up with in connection with these thoughts about the space:

The people that Natasha refer to as being up on the balcony are those that make the Arcade their shelter at night. It is a popular sleeping place for those without other places to go, and when we were there on Monday we could clearly hear sounds of occupation on the second balcony on the Weybosset side. This use of the Arcade is something that I have been aware of since the start of this project, and have tried to be conscientious of. It is important to realise that the "lived" quality of the place is not just a chic way of describing the fact that people eat their lunches on its steps, but a reality in the fullest sense of the word for some. Our presence down at the Arcade could easily become intrusive, and I would not want that to be the case. This is part of the reason that I don't want to be rehearsing down there in the evenings, and have scheduled the performances for the middle of the day. I do not assume that the people who regularly use the Arcade space as a shelter would be willing to talk to me about their experiences, but if the occasion arises, I would definitely be interested to hear their thoughts- they have a very different understanding of and engagement with the Arcade than myself, or anyone else I have talked to.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Alternate realities

Last week I discovered that the Arcade is, in fact, still open. We were on the Weybosset portico experimenting with some material last Wednesday (19.10.11) when two women walked purposefully up the steps towards us. After a moment of wondering if their purposefulness was directed at us, I realised that they were heading into the Arcade. Or at least trying to. They were visiting Providence (we did not ask where they were from, but English was not their first language- a guess, probably inaccurate, on my part would be that they were from eastern Europe) and had come to the Arcade because it was recommended in their guidebook as a place to shop. They were quite surprised to hear us say that had been closed for a few years, and asked where else in Providence they could go to shop. So, somewhat incoherently, I gave them directions to Westminster Street and also the mall.

This occurrence left a resonance. It was a moment where the past identity of the Arcade as a vibrant shopping location (whether in reality or in utopic visions of the city), and a site touted in guidebooks for visitors to Providence was brought into the present, where identity of the Arcade is as an empty and derelict place. It was not so much an overlapping of identities as a collision; incongrous and seemingly incompatible, the past and present identities of the site reverberated through and against one another. This collision highlights the tensions that exist between pasts and presents, beween projected identities and realities of a site, and in this case this tension resulted in disillusionment for these two women. (Perhaps this disparity between the promised and delivered experience of the Arcade was also felt by some visitors when the Arcade was still open). But it is in this moment of collision, of conflicting realities, that a questioning of these realities is allowed. In this moment, the seemingly stable temporal sequence of the Arcade's history broke apart into fragments of uncertainty, fragments of possibility: as the women walked with such purpose up to the doors of the Arcade (they were almost ready to reach out and grab the door handle before I could say something), I believed for a split second that they were going in, that the Arcade could, in fact, be open- we just hadn't noticed. In that second another reality seemed possible.

Possible for me, that is, because it was a reality for the women, for whom the Arcade existed as an open, functioning shopping location- until we shifted that reality by saying it was not. What if I had told them that it had, unfortunately, merely closed early that day? Would that have preserved the existence of an open Arcade in their imaginations? Maybe. But it is possible that there are still people out there with a guidebook of Providence from pre-2008, where the Arcade is featured as a centerpiece of the city. If so, the open Arcade is a present reality, existing in those individuals' imaginations. And it is a reality that exists alongside and in dialogue with the closed Arcade that I know; these realities are not incompatible. However, sometimes they do collide. And in the space of that collision we are privy to an intersection of realities that reveals something of the complexities of a place's existences and identities, which reach far beyond what we can fully understand, organise, or control. And yet we still try to do just that.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dancer reflections

The title of this post is a double entendre. The first meaning concerns the thoughts of the dancers after our second rehearsal yesterday, when they had more experiences with the space to reflect upon. Here are some impressions that they jotted down at the site.


stairs on weybosset side seem shallower then westminster, wet, upstairs feels higher up then i expected. Don't want to look down. Scared of heights. Can feel the floor sloping and buckling from age. Columns are just the right circumference to circle half of them with my arms. Keep touching things...wood is softer and warmer, columns are colder and harder. Unlit star hanging out front. What color was it when it was lit?


fascinated by the responsiveness/flexibility of the building material...the once-straight lines of the upper balcony railings and edges, in particular, having become impossibly serpentine with age; surprised at the capacity of wood and metal to relax into such soft contours.the scale of the space strikes me as indicative of belonging to a different era - in my mind's eye, I compare it to the scale of the mall (the corridors, the storefronts) and I understand how vastly our notion of what constitutes a sufficient amount of space has shifted since the time of the arcade. The more I gaze at the columns, the more they seem like robust, stoic, flat-footed figures standing upright in space, with us dancing around their feet.I see suspended white globes, reaching their arms out into the streets below, beckoning.I see the peeling skin of paint grown old, endless shades of gray...stone, different stone, the sky on this rainy day, more stone.There is a lightness inside threatening to spill out...if only it were set free.

The second meaning of the post title references the section that I worked on with Nadia and Amy today. They are each on one of the porticos, facing into the Arcade, and one dancer's movements are mirrored by the other across the length of the building. The duet riffs off of the prominence of reflections at the Arcade. The glass doors and store fronts under the Arcade porticos create a wall where the activity on the streets in front of the Arcade is refracted and reflected, and I found this multitude of reflections- of cars, of pedestrians, of buildings, of myself- largely defines my experience of the space. Some of the photos from 12.9.11 capture these effects.

Interestingly, the Arcade was originally doorless, open, existing as an extension of the streets, and the glass was not added until the renovations for the 1980 re-opening. The experience of the space would have been very different pre-1980 without this reflective canvas, even thought the choice of glass for the doors was a clear attempt to maintain the open quality of the building. But perhaps the glass assists this flow of interior and exterior in its own way; while the glass materially creates a divide between the inside and outside of the Arcade, the reflective effects blur them, creating a montage where, for a person standing on the portico looking in, the interior and exterior blend and shift into one another. The duet I created for Nadia and Amy riffs off of this reflective experience, as the dancers shift in and out of being the original and the reflection without really knowing which is which.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Yesterday we worked down at the Arcade again, despite the heavy rains and ever-shortening days. As well as revisiting some of the things we had explored last time, we started to link some of the vignettes together. These photos show Nadia and Kelli exploring what it means to do some of the phrases we made in the studio on the Weybosset portico. Inherently, the material changes - both logistically (some of the spacing has to be altered) and psychologically (it means something very different to catch your weight on a stone step rather than on a studio floor, for example).

 I have asked all of the participants to do a free-write capturing some of their impressions and ideas about the place, and because I am working with an amazing set of people, they said they would be happy to. Here is the first of them from Amy:

Winding, circular, rusty, ornate, level changes, dim, dark and light simultaneously, dirty, downtown, a big deal back in the day, expressive, lost in the crowd. Should be better taken care of. Has its own personality. Will forever link the arcade to Elise. How do I make dance relate to architecture?

I also asked the dancers to take some time to pay attention to the space and experiment with using their experiences of the place to create some movement material. They came up with some great material, and I had Nadia teach what she came up with and played with some compositional ideas.