Sunday, April 25, 2010

Process Overview

Photo by Alz Ng

We have been negligent updating the blog. After morning planning sessions, 8-hour rehearsals, and then evening debriefing/decompressing Tom and I found ourselves with no time to sit down and ruminate on what we were doing. Apologies for that.

Here’s a very abbreviated summary of our activities from this week.

  • We spent Monday and Tuesday researching and learning about Bethanie’s physical/historical/cultural topography. This included a great visit to the BNP Paribas Museum of Bethanie.

  • Having some background on the site, we started addressing the physical space. First by doing a site observation to identify the site’s overt (or hidden) architectural facets, and then beginning to explore this architecture. These explorations included guided improvisations, and choreographic exercises focused on identifying ways to repurpose space, physically engage with specific architectural elements, and create movement sequences borne from them.

  • We played with some general choreographic images including a wall of hands (coming out of carved openings in the banister), an endless processional (taking advantage of Bethanie’s striking corridors), and creating a “Kerry conveyance,” by which we had one of the cast members emerge from a tiny, shuttered offering alcove.

  • We continued these explorations by creating gesture-based phrases borne from our research and explorations.

  • We then adapted these phrases to the site…having the entire ensemble do their individual choreography on Bethanie’s front façade.

  • We continued choreographic explorations by creating active verb-based phrases on certain areas of the site. Duets or trios created movement scores based off of actions/tasks related to healing or sickness: i.e. to comfort, to bandage, to salve, etc.

  • Groups did rigorous exploration in the chapel area, discovering a number of ways to climb up the walls, creep over pews, and fall off of them again.

  • We spent Wednesday and Thursday focused on compositional concerns.

  • We discussed “Unities,” a term Tom and I use to talk about the various ways create focus for the audience. We looked at where and how we’d already employed Unities, and other potential applications.

  • We also spent quite a bit of time focusing on audience vantage points and creating an intuitive audience flow.

  • We spent a good deal of Thursday and all of Friday refining, editing, and reworking the chorographic passages in preparation for the performance.

I learned so many things during this process, but there were three aspects in particular that stood out for me.

The first was a purely practical consideration: With Bethanie’s narrow corridors and verandas, how would one ensure that an audience of 40+ can see everything.

The short answer is you can’t.

More precisely, with our short creation period, this was the one challenge that we didn’t completely solve. Our biggest problem was that we had too many people who wanted to see the show. A fantastic problem to have! -- a poverty of riches.

We’d initially hoped to limit the audience to around 30 people per show in order to deal with these sightline issues. We’d also toyed with the idea of putting certain sections on a loop and allowing the audience to roam freely around the performance area. This would have alleviated some of the congestion if we’d had time to experiment with making this intuitive for the audience. However, we were again faced the issue of limited time and Bethanie’s narrow corridors, which could easily have become traffic jams in the making. In the end, we opted for a promenade format, where the audience moved as group from outside of Bethanie, through her corridors, to the chapel, and then out again.

The creation/discovery of this pathway was the second big thing that stood out for me. In every site-work, there’s this moment where you’ve got some solid material, you understand much of the site’s topography, and you’re starting to understand what the site is saying to you and how you’re responding—but you don’t yet understand how it all fits together. You’ve yet to unlock the internal logic of the piece and how it will settle onto the site.

Our early explorations and creations were borne from the site’s topography.That was our first point of entry or organizing principle. We started honing this when we refined the organizing principle to relate to our title "The One You Love is Sick”. But it finally gelled late in the week, when something clicked and the logic, through line, and pathway through the site and the piece became clear.

I think this was articulated beautifully in one of our participant’s written responses to the site. Kerry Liu wrote: “…I feel like I’m a tiny cell going through a body, entering from the blood vessel to the lung and finally I come to the heart of this building.”

This idea of Bethanie as a body or vessel that we were progressing through became the final idea around which we structured the piece:

The whole ensemble started outside, struggling in our individual phrases against Bethanie’s hard, rough façade. We came together to watch Kerry toiling to make her way down Bethanie’s front steps, and eventually be lifted and cradled by Lawrence who carried her inside, the front doors swinging open as they approached. We made our way as a procession into the central corridor, each having moments of collapse then being aided back to our feet. The group shattered then, having duets, trios, and solos that progressed through the building, each grappling with ideas of sickness, suffering, giving comfort and healing. We made our way to the chapel – truly the heart of the building – where the group playfully slid and tumbled along the pews. We reconvened to create a gestural choir of sorts. Beside us was a tiny, shuttered window that opened from the semi-circular room behind the chapel. From this window, Kerry emerged, was gently lifted and set on her feet (some saw this as an image of healing and rejuvenation). She led us out to the building’s side facade and the piece’s final image. Outside of Bethanie, Muriel found herself faced with a veritable wall of hands, which she washed and tended to, and who in turn lent her support and comfort.

This idea of passing through Bethanie on a journey from sickness to healing and eventual release had exactly the right feel.

The final thing that stuck out for me was on Thursday night, when Tom and I began to put ourselves in the piece. Up until that point we’d been working in a primarily directorial capacity. We hadn’t developed any choreography to do.

Instead of having us just make something up; our collaborators each gave us a gesture from their own material, from which we created a movement phrase. I loved being "gifted” movement and then having my collaborators make choreographic choices about how to adapt it to the areas where I danced.

Though Tom and I stuck ourselves into the piece at the last minute, we found ourselves organically integrated into the work. This was only possible because the material we were performing had come from our collaborators' own investigations, and the choreography that they set on us had come from their own week’s worth of experience molding movement to Bethanie’s architecture.


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