OTB logo

An OtB Discussion
How do choreographers re-interpret space?
October 3-4, 2005

Add a comment to this blog

Tuesday, December 6
Thursday, October 6
    I tried posting earlier and it didn't happen.
    By Kristen Tsiatsios

    I said something about the commodity of experiences that we as site-specific installation artists create for a modern day experience-hungry world, and how the creation of this commodity is invaluable for a audience-starved medium.

    But know the conversation has shifted and so I too shift.

    I am in Ashland, OR with a group of high school students being entertained by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I sit passive in my seat and watch as these actors work hard to make me have some kind of experience. Sometimes I am moved and sometimes I think about what I will have for dinner, or this blog conversation that I have been missing out on, or my new piece that I am working on, or anything other than what is happening before my eyes. Intimacy creates immediate connection and I am grateful for that.

    But, Lane, now you pose an interesting question of why try to do this impossible task of retraining the dance audience, shaping the psychology of the audience and the performer and on and on. Yes, it is a huge risk to do this dirty work of creating a new venue for performance. Yes, it is terrifying from a presenter's perspective to create work that people don't know how to experience/'view and we as creators are making up as we go along. But, I can't see anything more valuable than this kind of work. It creates community, pushes the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is dance. And, most importantly, it honors the vision of the artist that in this day and age seems to be so unimportant -- and yet in my opinion is the most important of duties. Because, as I am watching down here in Shakespeareland, we artists are the ones who document history, shape cultural discussion and color culture for year's to come.

    So, I say VIVA to you Lane & OTB for taking risks that support the cutting edge. VIVA!

    posted by sara @ 11:00 am | Permanent link

    | post comments
Wednesday, October 5
    plain 'ole high
    By laura

    interesting point Lane....I think about that all the time. What the hell am I doing, trying to re-invent a perspective of viewing and experiencing dance? Navigating the financial support in terms of public space...building a public venue network for the work and then the sheer gamble of how that can impact the vision... present the work in a way that it is a heightened experience for the audience and artist. Then rinse and repeat...but as a whole new beast in a new public domaine that typically isn't cooperative, because they are not about "how can (we) I best present art and realize an artists' vision". What the hell am I doing???
    Now -- I'm driven for the behavour study. Is this rich, fruitful, meaningful and different every time? yes. Does this kick my ass and make me invent? yes. Am I drinking my own Koolaid? Maybe.

    posted by laurac @ 1:48 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    thank you
    By kate

    Thank you Lane - and Jurg - I really enjoyed reading people's comments and it was refreshing to think about an overriding topic rather than writing about the individual artist or show at hand - what most writers tend to do these days. I also appreciated what Lane said about the "stuff" on stage. what's the point in rearranging the entire theater if the choreographer's creation doesn't warrant the hassle/fire regulators/paint fumes/grouchy neighbors...

    posted by kmatting @ 8:24 am | Permanent link

    | post comments
Tuesday, October 4
    High from paint fumes
    By Lane Czaplinski

    I appreciate how thoughtful everyone has been in this dialogue and I apologize for not being more present. Ironically, I've been dealing with two visits by the fire department, paint fumes, grafitti artists, persnickety neighbors and all sorts of fun as we're busily trying to get Sarah's show up and running. The difficulties we've encountered really bring to mind how even the most flexible spaces can be relatively limited in their ability to help realize a choreographer's vision. That means most dance works end up running through a relatively narrow load-in/load-out filter. I guess that's why I used the word "constraint" previously.

    I wonder, though, as I watch dance artists having fewer opportunities and resources to spend time honing their craft (i.e. taking class or learning from other choreographers) if artists who dare explode the proscenium have the necessary skills to take on the exponential possibilities of how a dance is perceived from anything other than a straight on perspective. This doesn't mean artists shouldn't try to make work that tests spaces or how audiences watch dance--I just wonder if the returns become diminishing as I still believe people crave opportunities for seeing sublime movement. (just trying to goad a few of you on if you're still reading)

    posted by lane @ 6:29 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    Re-interpreting space
    By Jürg

    Previous writers have already started quite a few threads that I find intriguing.

    Re-interpreting space, its function seems to be predominant in the discussion so far. Where do audience and performer belong conventionally. Does the breaking of the space convention then also allow for the audience/perfomer roles to be different? Will I be allowed to stand on my seat or lie on the floor as well? And as some blogers have mentioned already this often has the effect of a closer more intimater reading for an audience.
    What if the space is not re-interpreted in its function but by drawing out its architectural structure: lines, textures, proportions, surfaces, volumes. Does the same apply or will that create new divides? Say in a Trisha Brown piece with people hanging and walking on the walls, the roles are not exactly interchangeable, even if we move in close proximity to each other.
    What if the space is reinterpreted for its symbolic and theatrical potential? I guess a theatre space is a bit like a container that could be turned into anything, it is a virtual space, a place of illusions. But what about the staircase leading up to the lobby, or the bar that is actually a bar, the restroom that does not just look like a restroom but smells like one too. As a performer I always enjoyed that sense of reality in a space actually allowing me to experience the movement material in a different way (well re-interpreting since we are at it).

    I was also really interested in how the discussion actually touched on that divide between the performer and the audience and their respectce spaces. I think this might have something to do with the discussion of the real and virtual space. I think the time of the big space, big theatre, perfect for creating that illusion has been taken over by the even bigger virtual space. Through digitally created and edited films or interactive computer environments we have the means to make almost anything look credible. Through that development we might also create a craving for the immediate, the real, which can happen in the smaller, more intimate space and through a live performance of people who share that space with us.

    What if the space

    posted by kochj @ 4:54 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    By kate

    i definitely like the connection between what tahni has said about the cathartic experience of theater and what mark haim posted earlier about the disconnect in our 21st century lives.

    posted by kmatting @ 12:16 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    more thoughts
    By Laura Curry

    "programming" an audience experience and the space informs the psychology surrounding the work, the environment, and the audience - artist relationship. Obvious, but interesting to track as the pace and stimulus of contemporary culture shifts. We are expert at self-editing. How does this affect how we watch, participate, respond to performance? Is this part of the choreographers motivation for re-creating space or abanding theatre for non-traditional space? A requirement for the total immersive experience? Manipulating audience sensory experience to such a degree to make the audience psychology an integral component of the performance space?

    posted by laurac @ 9:42 am | Permanent link

    | post comments
    a response
    By kate mattingly

    i appreciate how all the entries look at the relationship between performer and observer - when tahni first posted, all i saw was a blank space - which could be taken as a comment on the topic at hand....
    if a choreographer is interested in that transformation of a theater, i think they are engaged in reconfiguring people more than reconfiguring space. This can create fantastic and unexpected relationships, but I also believe there is still a stage, or the audience came to a "perform"ance, so i'm curious not only about the reconfiguration of people, but also the events that play out within the reconfiguration. i think that moving an audience simply because it's an option has been done. for me, the most interesting transformations of theater-space/performer-audience take into account the multiple variables: a shift in the temporal dimension if an audience moves through a space and receives the events of the performance at varying times; the shift in one-point perspective as audience's views are sometimes blocked or restricted; the bond that develops within the audience when they are no longer alone in the dark. I've enjoyed all these explorations in a piece by Julia Mandle years ago in Brooklyn. But it's because the performance was about not only changing the relationship between performer and audience, but also offering something of interest on the "stages" within the space. For me the stage is not, as Lane wrote is his initial entry a "constraint," but a container that still exists even in these refigured rooms.

    posted by kmatting @ 5:16 am | Permanent link

    | post comments
Monday, October 3
    By Tahni Holt

    What is the "performance"? Is it the actual act of performing, the audience watching the performance or the performers seeing the audience watch them? I think it can be a bit of all three of these experiences. To create work that has room for "performance" we need to pay attention to our audience and their perspective as well as ours. Mark mentions the amount of space we create between us in the rest of our lives (e-mailing/computers/ect.). we need human connection more now than ever. Because of this need for counterbalance of space I think the distance in formal, frontal perspective performance is interpreted as sterile. Lone Twin's performance in PICA's TBA (Portland) was a perfect example of our need for intimacy. At the end of the piece they had everyone singing Cat Stevens "oh baby, baby it's a wild world." Willingly I was singing as well. Everyone walked out of that performance feeling a bit better and emotionally closer to the rest of the audience and performers.

    posted by sara @ 10:59 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    By Mark Haim

    This increased interest and fascination in audience/artist relationship could also be stemming from our increasingly isolated way of living. We get so much "more" done without having to meet with people or speak with people these days. People are generally staying home evenings instead of going to experience live performances. As time passes, audiences and performers seem to be gaining more and more distance from each other. It's no wonder that Sarah would want to have the audience on stage with her, or Felix Ruckert, or myself, for that matter. I'd like to hope that this is something "new," this desire to bridge the gap between seats and stage, but I really do wonder whether there was a time when those seats and stage were automatically bonded by a day-to-day life based on real-time contact. Are more intimate spaces necessary to sustain the idea of performer/audience interdependence?

    Perhaps it is also a financial consideration as well. Bigger spaces have become reserved for bigger companies. If less people are going to the theater less frequently, then it takes a "whopper" to bring in the crowds.

    Like Tonya Lockyer mentions in her solo ("FEET FIRST/ AT JUST THE RIGHT ANGLE), Riverdance can do that. If you are only expecting an audience of primarily friends and family, why NOT perform in your house?


    posted by sara @ 5:49 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    An OTB Forum

    Hi Lane and group...Laura here. To your questions Lane, I agree that more artists are experimenting with the relationship between artist and audience, performance to environment, and how work is "consumed" or experienced. Observing audience behaviour to my work in the public domaine, and in environments built that integrate my work, it seems non-traditional spaces and experience promote unfettered interactions between audience and artist; audience to audience; and artist to artist, creating a type of semi-perminent community. This coincides with a message I consistently find in research I do for architecture concerning urban density: the necessity for individual experience and expression.

    posted by laurac @ 3:05 pm | Permanent link

    | post comments
    Welcome to the discussion
    By Lane Czaplinski

    This blog marks the beginning of an effort to create a format for dialogue PRIOR to shows on interesting issues raised by the artists performing on our stages. These conversations are not an attempt to deconstruct or figure out next week's show, rather, we are trying to explore broader issues and ideas percolating in the contemporary performance world. Thus, this blog is not a conversation about Sarah Michelson, who opens our season this Wednesday (Oct. 5), but it is inspired by her project DAYLIGHT. This work has significantly altered our normal theater configuration in an attempt to challenge the assumptions audiences make when watching dance. As such, this leads to the larger question of "how do choreographers re-interpret space?," and perhaps, "why do choreographers reinterpret space?"

    A friend of mine told me that these questions are "blatantly obvious" because this is the very essence of dance making, namely that "choreographers shape space." While I agree with the point, what I'm trying to get at is that anymore, it does not feel like a complete day if I haven't been contacted by at least one choreographer interested in making a dance that experiments with the audience/artist relationship or that dramatically reframes the locale of where a dance takes place. Certainly, choreographers have been playing with these issues over the past fifty years or so but I also believe we’re seeing a significant increase in the number of choreographers who desire to work in untraditional ways in traditional spaces, and in artists who are abandoning traditional spaces altogether.

    So my fellow bloggers, do you even agree that there are more artists at this point in time who are testing the normal constraint of dancers on stage in front of an audience in seats? And if there is a trend of more artists working in this fashion, why is it occurring?

    posted by kristen @ 10:08 am | Permanent link

    | post comments
    Blogger Bios
    By Sara Edwards

    Thanks to the following Blog participants:

    Laura Curry (Seattle), is an interdisciplinary artist informed from dance and choreography. Laura's most recent work, Portland Stories, informed from private / public performance interaction, audio field recording and interview, photography and observation. These elements were re-puposed to create an installation which was built during the festival and remained a week after TBA's close.

    Lane Czaplinski (Seattle), has been the Artistic Director of OtB since the summer of 2002.

    Tahni Holt (Portland), is a dance artist based out of Portland, Oregon.

    Jürg Koch (Seattle), Choreographer and UW Dance Instructor.

    Kate Mattingly (Florida), majored in Architecture at Princeton University, completed her Masters of Fine Arts in Dance at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, and has written about similarities in Architecture and Choreography. She has been published in Dance Research Journal, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and currently teaches at Florida Atlantic University.

    Kristen Tsiatsios (Seattle), Installation Artist and Choreographer.

    Frank Werner (Berlin), Dance Writer.

    posted by laurac @ 10:00 am | Permanent link

    | post comments


Who better to write about what happens at On the Boards than the people who support and attend our performances? Making art is part of a dialogue between artist and audience, and so we've created Blog the Boards... More

Our Question
To inspire dialogue, we are posing a few overarching questions related to the work we’re presenting this season. This month the question is "How do choreogrpahers re-interpret performance spaces?".

Starting at noon PST on Monday, October 3rd, OtB Artistic Director Lane Czaplinski will post an initial statement and a few questions to provoke dialogue. Then over the next 24 hours, we’ve asked several members of the community to check the blog and weigh in with their thoughts about what motivates choreographers to tackle physical space in different ways, strategies that are used, and observations about the success of such experimentation.

About Our Bloggers
Thanks to the following Blog participants:
Laura Curry
Lane Czaplinski
Tahni Holt
Jürg Koch
Kate Mattingly
Kristen Tsiatsios