After a couple of weeks of all work and no play, I had a day in DC today with more than enough to report on. DC’s galleries opened shows last week, and a festival downtown with a bunch of dance improvisation performances.
Ginger Wagg performed a piece, “Spill,” with Jane Jerardi on a city bus, music provided by my friend Jonathan Morris (Jon I’ve performed with a few times, Jane I got a chance to play with once a couple of years ago). The bus was parked and decked out with long cloth made from strips of bright fabric strips and cord knotted together. The cloth poured out of the bus’ doors, and ran up through the open skylight, letting you know that the bus had been appropriated for purposes other than transportation.
The performance eased into gear, with recorded music going well before Jon started playing clarinet, and even then it was small sounds. During this time the audience, or passers-by, negotiated their interaction with the performance: should I get on the bus? Will it be moving? Has the performance started? Setting the performance on a bus takes the audience completely out of familiar patterns for their role – where to sit, what to look for. During this time, even after Jon started playing, people were talking some, one guy even made a cell phone call.
Dancers in DC seem to have a strong interest in setting up performances that upset the relationship between audience and performers. I’ve seen Jerardi working with Daniel Burkholder in an Art-O-Matic performance that kept shifting the audience around, including putting everyone into a small room and sending the dancers in. This performance on the bus continued in this line.
As Wagg and Jerardi got going, the setting provided four kinds of logics to follow: gestures taking off from typical public behaviors on a bus, like looking out the window or peeking at another rider; exploring the specific spatial geometries of the bus and its surroundings; the interaction of the dancers; and work with the primary added props, the three very long strands of knotted fabric.
I found the most engaging parts to be their play with the space. The dancers would crawl and tumble along the floors of the bus, they drooped out of the doors onto the street, or laid down along interior ledges. Wagg put her head into the space between the open door and the windows, and also danced a sort of solo in a space defined by a divider right next to the door. The dancers and Jon moved in and out of the bus, even coming around behind and looking in. For those people sitting in the bus, you became the observed.
The boundaries of the performance space were up for grabs. Wherever the dancers or fabric went became part of the space. At one point Wagg gathered up the fabric, rolled it up and unfurled it out onto the sidewalk outside the bus, maybe 10 feet (one of the things that happens with props like this fabric is a sort of chore-like activity: roll up fabric, lay it out, move it around). She crawled out onto the fabric and lay in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing a pronounced change in the foot traffic outside the bus, or drafting the passers-by into the audience.
The performance extended for almost an hour. I was interested to see how this would play out over such an extended time. It turned out I was the only audience member to sit through the whole thing – the setting encouraged coming and going. The performance felt more like a series of actions, rather than something with a single strong structure or dramatic shape. It was loose, casual, but that seemed right for the day and the overall event. There were not surprisingly spots that dragged until the next action presented itself.
I liked the match of the dancers. Wagg and Jerardi have similar hair color and length, but contrast in body type. Wagg’s body and face are governed by rounder forms, while Jerardi has a more linear build, like the straight line her nose forms to her face. They didn’t interact too much in the performance, again a function of the space which invited each to stake out different sub-sections of the bus.
There were some problems with the sound element. In addition to Jon’s playing, there were three pre-recorded loops: field sounds from transit systems, sounds taken from handling balloons, and dialogue from some movies. The first two worked well, but the last was distracting. It included stuff from National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters, and maybe Sleeper which called attention to itself but seemed a lot less interesting than the performance. Jon’s playing on clarinet, conch, and percussion got lost in it at times, and I think it would have worked better just with the more abstract pre-recorded sections.