Sunday, February 22, 2009

Undercurrents: Daily Choices

posted by Tom Pearson

Friday's dance from Undercurrents and Exchange utilized the plasma screen by the North Corridor and linked the video component of our work to the daily live presentations. We discovered that putting a dance near the area of highest traffic (the corridor leads to the food court), but without blocking the way, we forced people to make a choice, to either stop or to keep walking. But, there was no ignoring the fact of the performance you had to walk through.

As you'll see in the video, many folks did continue briskly on, sometimes self-consciously, between the camera and performance. But what you don't see is the large crescent of audience members who formed, at a safe distance, in front of Zach and the screen.

Something about the localized activity near the most interstitial of spaces in the Winter Garden allowed them to hit the pause button on their fast forwards. I would postulate that several other hooks grabbed their attention as well: the use of multi-media, the upbeat and funky electronic score by Kris Bauman, and the hip-hop echoes in the movement. These components are the right combination of the familiar and extraordinary that made some re-negotiate their propensity for dismissive-ness. Though as Marissa said a week or so back, it's nice to figure out all the hooks we can give people for any given piece and then try to get away with using as few as possible.

It's great when our theories work. I felt like today really amplified something in a tiny corner of the space and made a larger number of people realize what they are often passing over to get from one place to the next. Still, they have to make a choice about that, and though many choose not to veer from their prescribed routes, those few that did, got a big payoff.

There is still something that feels very guerrilla about our performances. Even though sanctioned in the space and presented by arts>World Financial Center, every day is a new contract with the inhabitants, and is our responsibility to make the terms clear. There recognition factor has made that a little easier in the last week. When we started, we certainly knew what we were up against in this space, doing work that tends to be invisible, then arrives, animates an area, and disappears again into the crowd. It's a much different set of intentions for the work and a different set of tools that we use. That's why we have really sought to saturate the site, not only with the consistent 1pm daily performances, but with the weekly evolving art installations (more on those from Zach coming) and the video shorts which continually show on the plasma screens, even when we are not around.

With all of this, there's a bit of a giddy feeling that you sense from people when they see us and recognize "the dancer" (Zach), or 'the mermaid" (Marissa) or "the red-headed lady in all the movies" (Lizzie). Zach said last night that it must say something about us that we've had a true stage set up in the Winter Garden all week which we had permission to use, and never once stepped foot on it.

And, the work seems to be having a cumulative effect on the population, a general expanding awareness of our activity, which we'd hoped would happen. We gather more and more acceptance from the denizens of the site each day. Some are repeat audience members, others just happen to be in the right spot at the right time. But with each new group, we see a little more of a swell. Daily small victories. The rehearsals at night are something else entirely. The inhabitants in the off-hours are in the space to enjoy it, and when they see us run-through a work, they are very vocal and appreciative, often approaching us afterward. I think of the lunch-time work crowd as the busy rabbits, always late, late , late... and us, providing a rabbit hole into Wonderland that the adventurous few choose to go down.

Part of the reason for choosing to do such short dances, other than the fact that we have to create a new one each day, is to make them easy to stop for. Part of the topography of the Winter Garden is the well-worn paths from hurried feet. Our site-specific dances are meant to fit into this culture of rush here, rush there, get your lunch, scarf it down, get back to work, and we hope that they provide little moments of tenderness, delight, breath, levity, amplifying that which is human in the space.

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