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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Movement beginnings

Over the last few days, I have met for the first time with the dancers to introduce them to the project, and to start experimenting with process and generating some movement. They are six wonderful people that I am so excited and privileged to work with, and they each bring a valuable set of knowledge and insights to the project. Here are some thoughts on the Arcade from the performers that came out of our first few rehearsals:

Before this project I had never heard of the arcade. Up until this point, my relationship with providence has been more or less college hill, leaving only to go the mall or out to eat. When Elise first described this project to me in the spring, and the possibility of using the arcade as the space, I imagined (and I can't really say why) an old, abandoned, grandiose building in ruin: a building that closed before my lifetime. After reading the blog and hearing Elise speak in our first meeting, I realized that the history of the arcade is very recent and alive. I listened to a few of the recordings on the blog and started to equate the stories and feelings around the arcade with places from my childhood. The arcade seemed to be a place for adventures or for tradition and comfort. I have not yet gone to see the arcade, but there are very poignant places in my past with these same ideas attached to them. For this reason, as of now, my connection with the arcade is purely emotional. 


First thoughts--I have a foggy recollection of going to the Arcade a couple of times when it was still open, when I first arrived in Providence in 2007. Thinking about it now, I realize that on some level I've begun to question the truth of this memory...maybe I merely imagined entering. The building has been closed for the majority of the time I have lived here, and so my sense of it as an inaccessible space has begun to cloud over any recollections of walking in and meandering along the central corridor. And yet, at the same time, I recognize now that I have regarded the arcade expectantly throughout the period of its closure, awaiting what seems to be an imminent reopening. My memories of the space, be they real or imagined, are of skylit yet dimmed grandeur and shops that felt subtly anachronistic even though they peddled modern foods and wares. Somehow even then I felt as though I was trespassing, as though I didn't quite belong in the structure in much the same way the structure itself didn't quite belong amidst its surroundings. 

The arcade is, from the outside, a solid monumental structure. That is sits on a narrow cobblestone street rather than on a stately lawn situates it firmly in an older time. From the inside, it has at once the impact of an open aired courtyard (due to the mezzanine level and open double story topped by skylights) and of a hallway. In fact, being in the middle of a rather long city block with only alleyways on either side, the arcade served a a more appealing warm indoor street or shortcut between streets. I grew up here, and knew it as I grew up. As a home to shops my mother would take me to, as the site of choral concerts in winter, and as a place to spend my lunch break with friends when I worked downtown in my early twenties.


I wanted to introduce the dancers to some of the research materials that I have been gathering, and see what would happen if they were asked to integrate movement with sound. The directive in this improv exercise (I did this with all the dancers in small groups, this clip shows Kelli and Amy) was to listen; both to the recorded conversations that I played as a soundscape to their movement, and, perhaps more importantly, to each other. Here, I was interested in them paying attention to the relationship between themselves and the other person. Spatially, but also emotionally and psychologically. 

Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the feedback that I got from all the dancers concerned the way that it was hard to listen equally to both simultaneously. For most of the dancers, the experience was that their focus was weighted towards one or the other at a given time, although it shifted between the two. For others, however, the soundscape was just that. A soundscape more than intelligible words, where the breath and rhythm of different voices was their overriding impression as they focused on being in movement dialogue with one another. 

The concept explored in this exercise is the kernel for future work, as eventually I want to be exploring the dancers' spatial and psychological relationships not only to each other, but to the site. This, ultimately, is what place is about- it is a meeting place of spatial/physical relations, emotions and memories, the material and the human, where the lines between these categories blur.

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