Monday, December 10, 2007

Interpretations: Follow-up

Posted by Tom Pearson
[Originally published on]


Donna Ahmadi performing in
"Strangers on Tong Chong Street"

Now that we are all back home, the next few blog entries will focus on follow-up thoughts and media from the performances of "Strangers on Tong Chong Street" in Hong Kong. The piece was created and performed by Tom Pearson and Zach Morris for the Swire Island East Urban Dance Festival in collaboration with and also performed by: Donna Ahmadi, Elizabeth Carena, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, Tara O'Con, and Mayuna Shimizu. Original music was composed by Kris Bauman, and costumes were designed by Zach Morris and created in consultation with Karen Young.

Our last entry, "Interpretations" touched briefly on the issue of qualifying site-specific dance for our audiences, press, sponsors, etc while in HK. This was the first ever festival to feature site-specific dance in Hong Kong and required quite a bit of frame work and an educational component to explain the series. The Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, partnering with Swire Properties did an exhaustive interpretation campaign, featuring program notes, an installation display with explanation and video clips, online audio tours, and announcements at the pre-event cocktail in order to clarify for audiences what they were about to experience. Zach and I were brought over early to teach master classes in site-specific dance composition to local artists. We appreciated the research that the presenters put into this (not to mention bravery in undertaking a festival of this sort) and the framework they devised for the event, and we want to share below the audio tour for our work and what I think is a wonderful explanation of site work for the audiences in Hong Kong (from the program notes).

From program notes (culled from descriptions set forth in an article by Camille LeFevre):

What is Site-specific Art?

Site-specific art is performing and/or visual arts created to exist in a certain space. The artists will take the location into account while planning and creating the artwork. Outdoor site-specific artworks often include landscaping combined with permanently sited sculptural elements. Indoor site-specific art may be created in conjunction with the architecture.

Liz and Tom inside the Urban Dance Festival interpretation display.

A video screen inside the display showed examples of site-specific
works by Collage Dance Theatre and Third Rail Projects as well as local groups,
and clips such as the one above flooded YouTube.

About Site-specific Dance

A dance is site-specific when the choreographer receives the spatial dictation, directions for audience placement and theatrical inspiration from the site itself; in turn, the site becomes the framework for, or map of, the dance. The site-specific choreographer also generates the work's movement vocabulary and its content out of their excavation of, research into and interpretation of the site's unique cultural matrix of characteristics, whether architectural, historical, political, economic, social or environmental.

Dance shows that are created in specific sites can humanise the city while re-evaluating its architectural and artistic heritage. Through site-specific dance, people walking through the spaces learn to look at a location, a street or a corner in a new way, rediscovering a particular venue.

Many people take for granted that a space has one use. Stairs are meant for us to commute between different floors. Beds are made for sleeping and dreaming. But if the function is not the primary concern, how else do we connect to the space, what else might be essential? An abandoned hotel, a laundromat, an escalator, a police academy, a space that is never considered for a dance performance and is for a specific use that is generally agreed upon, consciously or not. Buildings use architecture and rules of socialisation to guide the public in a very limited and predictable flow of movement. Site-specific art is a perfect medium to explore the vast under-realised potential that a space has for movement and meaning.

No comments: