Thursday, March 12, 2009

Re-Choreographing the Day Through a Camera Lens

posted by Tom Pearson

Afforded a couple of week's of hindsight, I think I can finally start to get at some of the finer points of how the process and resulting performances of Undercurrents & Exchange have affected me. Marissa, Tara, and Zach have done a great job of speaking to our concerns and responses during the perpetual
cycle of rehearsing and performing daily on site. And though I shared choreographic responsibility with them and engaged in the same creative process, in many ways I felt very much outside of the work, filming and editing each day's performance for broadcast on our blog.I know that filming every day and sharing the videos has been a really great way for us to connect with audiences all over the world, and many have expressed their excitement at being able to follow along on this project. And, by the way, a big "thank you" to everyone who has followed this process and left their responses. The idea of doing work in the public sphere, free performances that put art into everyday spaces seems to naturally extend to the public space of the internet. And the same rules often apply. It was my job throughout the month to translate our daily performances and experiences for our blog and post them as quickly as possible to allow internet audiences to follow us day-by-day.

But, I also now wonder if my presence with the camera affected audiences reactions there on site?

Zach was the live link, unifying all the daily dances with his business man persona, and I was the behind the scenes counterpart with my nose in the camera each day. I wonder if the folks that began to recognize the performers through repetitive exposure also began to follow my daily presence, setting out the signs to announce that we were filming (a legal necessity), setting up the camera, filming, and then disappearing after? And though we have largely left this aspect unacknowledged as a daily fact of the performances, it must have also lent some sort of notoriety to the event, very similar to the way the photographers in Hong Kong did when we performed Strangers on Tong Chong Street. Just the fact that a camera comes into the space says something about the import of what is about to happen.

It became a beacon too, I think, for many of the repeat visitors who would seek me out to find the "best" place from which to watch the performance. In fact, I often I had a small group that would form around me to watch from my vantage point. So, I was careful not to telegraph too much, to wait and allow the performers to infiltrate the space, invisibly, and then emerge on their own terms. It was tricky sometimes. On occasion, I would shoot my B-roll for the day – the ceiling, the floor, the audience, some highlight of the space – sometimes in a deliberate attempt to scatter the focus so people couldn't lock into where they thought the performance was going to occur. My little pre-performance dance became a daily ritual too, I guess.

But as a choreographer and a performer, I began to feel little pangs later in the process. I was always watching my own work and the work of my collaborators through a camera lens, and I just wanted to be able to lift my head and see the larger picture, to feel the total energy of the space. That did not happen much for me, except at night when setting the next day's dance, anticipating how the choices I made in the relatively empty space at night would transform during the lunch-hour frenzy. And sometimes I really missed the feeling of performing. Though, again as a choreographer, I was afforded a sweet relationship to the material that was unique to me alone, the ability to revisit each day's footage as I edited it for the blog.

In a way, I became intimate with each choreographer's work as I "re-choreographed" it for life on film. Owing to the different nature of the medium, I had to make certain choices and edits to ensure I captured the true spirit of the day's work. What feels one way in a live situation does not often translate into film; and therefore, it's vital that accommodations are made, that close-ups, pans, and clips to simultaneous actions occur in order to accurately convey the intentions of the live work. In those late hours of editing and posting to our blog, my thumbprint was suddenly on everything. It made for very long days, and a very long month, but I think that the documentation of this process as well as the ability to share the performances worldwide on a daily basis, has been a crucial part of the mission for this work: to get it out of the small spaces and open it up to the public, to make offerings of art, make it available, and surprise people with how much there is to actually see in our everyday lives and our everyday spaces.

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