Saturday, February 5, 2011

libraries are for dancing in

Yesterday, we performed "The False and True Are One" as an installation at the Mill Valley Public Library. The library, which is an absolutely gorgeous building surrounded by redwood trees and filled with amazing, mid-century furniture, is celebrating its hundredth anniversary. They're hosting a series of events that feature people or organizations with a connection to the North Bay/Marin County area, and as the event prior to us was a talk by Daniel Ellsberg (the man who let the Pentagon Papers out of the bag), we felt like we were in excellent company.
There's something charming about small town libraries, particularly beautiful ones like this one. You can imagine, quite easily, spending a large portion of your life there, bits and pieces of time that accumulate over the years. It's an entirely different feeling from the one I get when I visit one of the great libraries of the world, the ones that are vast and old and dreadfully famous. Those feel like cathedrals to me, and even if you spent the equivalent of years there, even if that was your library, I imagine there would still be a tiny bit of reverence hovering in the background.

(I really want this desk.)

They transformed the Main Reading Room into the dancing space. The periodical shelves and the couches were cleared away, leaving enough room to set out our separate "rooms." This piece was designed as an installation, but this was our first attempt to take it out of a theatrical setting and integrate it into an existing location.

There is a vogue in the world of contemporary dance right now for "escaping the proscenium." Everyone wants to make dance more relevant and more appealing, to shatter the "fourth wall" that develops between the stage and the audience. We go on and on about this kind of thing, really, we do. It's a strange and insidious concern for those of us on the inside of this particular fish bowl. Dance should be one of the most visceral, understandable, and universally appealing of arts. It is a natural human reaction, refined and exaggerated to the point of metaphor. But I don't know very many people who can say that they've gone to a dance performance that changed their life. I don't even know very many (non-dance attached) people who go to see dance (or even theater in general) just for the pleasure of it. Dance has somehow become intimidating, inscrutable. People have started to think that it requires translation, or that it's difficult.

It shouldn't be, really. And I think we're trying to figure that out.

Anyway, the original version of this piece invited the audience up onto a stage that had been transformed into this kind of strange, elegant gallery. They could walk through a set of hanging, transparent walls and watch the different pieces of the dance from whichever perspective they chose. We had some glorious lighting (designed by Matthew Antaky) and our composer (Dan Wool) mixed the score live.

In the library, we danced under the existing lights, in front of a massive fireplace and between the stacks. It was entirely more casual and entirely more strange. I didn't realize how much of a difference it would make to take away even more of the theatrical elements. It blew my mind to discover that the absence of the tiny membrane of distance provided by stage lighting, the flimsiest of barriers to separate the dancers from the audience, would be almost disorienting. We were suddenly existing in exactly the same world at exactly the same moment, and the intimacy and vulnerability of it was both wonderful and a challenge.
(The amazing library staff, reclaiming the Main Reading Room)


x said...

You are just soooo cooool.

Liss said...

As an observer, I felt the same way--all barriers between audience and performers were removed. By having to move around in order to see what was happening in different areas, I became part of the performance. The library, with its wood ceiling and expansive windows, felt like someone's home. Thanks for writing about the performance so articulately.