Watching “People” Dance

Audience submission from the Archive of "The People to Come"

Audience submission from the Archive of “The People to Come”

It is not entirely uncommon to walk into a performance space, and experience an evening that shifts how we think about dance and how a dance gets made. Audience members in New York have seen formal shifts in how we fit into – and sometimes inform – the shape a performance can take. It feels exciting, then, in light of all the innovative and interactive channels running through dance now, to anticipate a night of spontaneous and detailed performance like a canary torsi’s The People to Come, which might expand our relationship to dance-making even still.

To enter into The Invisible Dog Arts Center, a cavernous space built as a factory in the 1800’s, and explore the performance by moving about in any which way; to enter the space at six o’clock in the evening, and feel compelled enough to stay until ten; to participate in real-time rehearsal, performance and archival process as a collaborator, and create the evening as much as the performers who are making their dances – these are some of the many opportunities and parameters that a canary torsi will offer, all of which seem to establish a great deal of freedom for us to perceive and participate as desired. However, given the complexity of the environment that will be created and the multiplicity of events happening at once, I assume that the most saturated experience of People will be made possible by choosing to pay close attention.

The People to Come has been performed at The Yard, Vermont Performance Lab, Granoff Center for the Creative Arts in Rhode Island, and Portland’s SPACE gallery, and it is now coming to Brooklyn for its New York premiere June 25th – 29th. It will unfold as an interactive, multi-media, four hour-long performance filled with “spontaneous choreography” each night. Brooklyn-based choreographer Yanira Castro, who formed a canary torsi in 2009, created People through close collaboration with installation/lighting/costume designer Kathy Couch, performers Simon Courchel, Luke Miller, Peter Musante, Peter Schmitz and Darrin Wright, composer Stephan Moore, musicians Peter Bussigel, Stephan Moore, Caroline Park, Tim Rovinelli, and Suzanne Thorpe, and archivists Tess Dworman and Kirsten Schnittker. (Yes, archivists: there will be a complex, living archive stationed at the entrance of Invisible Dog, to which audience members are encouraged to contribute and shuffle through during the night.)

Printed image of the dance video, Heather O

Printed image of the dance video, Heather O

People has roots in Castro’s original solo piece HEATHER O, which is the only choreographed movement the performers share as an optional tool to use throughout the night. Castro established at the start of the project that she wanted to avoid sole authorship of the work, and that she wanted strangers to inform the entire making process. On that end, People includes an interactive website designed by Sam Lerner, to which anyone in the universe may submit their own work(s) of art to the project. The project site gives three directives: “Give us a Pattern. Give us a Portrait. Give us a Task.” Each submission has the potential to be used as inspiration for one of the 19-minute solos that the five performers will rehearse and perform each evening. It feels important to the spirit of the project to say that each submission is both a total work in and of itself, but, by nature of offering it as inspiration for People, it also becomes part of a larger frame. This self-same pattern, parts that reflect and inform the functioning whole, is a pattern that exists inside many dimensions of this work.

Over 700 submissions have already been received, and while not every submission can be used, every contribution will be recognized and stored in the archive. Submissions will receive the a canary torsi seal, and a stamp that says Pattern, Portrait or Task. (The sound of the stamp, according to Castro, releases a deliciously satisfying shi-shoomp! into the space when used. Eager as I am to hear the rigorously crafted sound composition, and the resonance of live musicians in the space, I also eagerly await the shi-shoomp.) If a submission is chosen for one of the solos, the 8” x 8” Pattern, Portrait or Task will be placed on one of the five “performer boards,” so that it is possible to identify which submission is being used by whom. As I spoke with Castro about the logistics of this participatory process, I think my eyes must have widened at all the numbers and configurations. I told her the entire project seems like a quite an intense system. She laughed: “We call it the Machine.”

The environment, too, is intensely systematic. With the wizard-esque guidance of Kathy Couch, Invisible Dog will be shaped into distinct yet fluidly framed sections. Each area will function as its own apparatus, but again will create an infrastructure that frames the work as an entire scenario: the archive, the performer boards, a rehearsal stage lit to resemble a studio, and the performance stage at the far end of the space will all coexist in states of flux throughout the night. As one could imagine, the complexity of the environment has necessitated “a process filled with continual reassessment,” Couch explained to me over email. A constant tweaking and observation, though, “ultimately creates a space that feels highly attended to; thus evoking the sense, in the audience, that there are things occurring here that are worth paying attention to.” Not only are there submissions that may not surface in the live performance environment, but the environment itself, and all its functionally edited and reworked appendages, can never totally exist in any one performance either.

Castro established that the areas of activity within the space be “permeable,” so that a viewer, with just the frame of one’s eye, can witness several scenarios and procedures overlapping at once. Or, one may choose to narrow in, maybe stare at a little stamp that says Task on a submission from New York entitled “Making a Waffle” for five minutes, and feel no shame in such a micro-pursuit within the process. Our attentions are beckoned to toggle back and forth – whether from the performer rehearsing his solo to the performer performing what has just been rehearsed, or from the photo booth that will be situated in the archive to a stamp on a friend’s submission. Whatever you’re doing, Castro explains, “you feel like you’re in the middle of a process. You’re sitting in a room, watching people make.” I, for one, am intent on examining those little stamps.

Photo Concept: Darrin Wright, Photo & Image by Simon Courchel

Photo Concept: Darrin Wright, Photo & Image by Simon Courchel

To witness moving bodies who align with and escape from one another is always an experience in performance that I find particularly invigorating and wonderful. To be made aware of myself and other viewers as having that same potential for alignment and escape, walking through a space in which dance is being made, and to feel that that space has been intensified a bit more because of my presence there, pulls at me with a new sort of wonder. Listening to Castro’s philosophy behind People, it quickly becomes apparent just how dedicated she is to honoring the “viewer’s” sense of presence, and to creating performances that are truly participatory. On the significance of the archive: “If we are going to ask the audience to give us their work, we have to honor it. And we have to honor it not just by creating this space for that work to be created, but then we have to honor it as belonging to the past.”

Given the nature of Castro’s call for submission, the attention given to archival process, and the construction of an articulate, responsive environment – one that is no less systematic than a functional, beast of a machine – it is clear that the spirit of The People to Come is unconfined, and the performance does not have a brief shelf life: the work is meant to create a sustained universe, one that morphs with us as we experience it, and lingers in us after it finds an “end.”

“The People to Come”. @The Invisible Dog, 51 Bergen Street Brooklyn. June 25-29, Archive 1-10pm, Performance 6-10pm. $10 suggested donation for Performance.