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

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!