Last weekend, I performed with Callie Chapman’s Zoe Dance Company at Studio at 550, as part of Cambridge Open Studios. Since people checking out the citywide event would be wandering in and out all day, Chapman designed a 40-minute looped structure that we cycled through continuously from 2-6pm. Our set included movable scrims hung from the ceiling around the space; digital projection on 3 walls as well as the floor, a soundscape managed live by Christopher Konopka, and a projection of actor Tim Mateer, who was Skyping in live and improvising spoken text.
Each dancer (4 of us) had a solo moment (related to one of the four elements, as well as the stages of transformation – nothingness/contentment, seeking, having, and letting go); we also had designated ‘tasks’ to do during our downtime in between. For all of us, this included walking the perimeter of the room. My other task involved a step ladder with a bowl of water placed at the top. Other sections had handheld lights, a pile of rocks, a projector, clothing, etc.
In this very dense space, we worked continuously for four hours. This blew my previous performance time record out of the water, and was an experience I was not quite prepared for!
A few takeaways:
- Endurance – This performance required physical and mental endurance at a level I had not reached prior. I experienced boredom, discovery, meditation, exhaustion, exhilaration, and rootedness. There were almost always audience members, and even the brief moments where no one was in the room, we could not ‘break’ in case someone entered suddenly (we were, however, permitted to disappear into the back room for quick bathroom and water/snack breaks!). Simply having to be “present” at the heightened level a performance, especially an improvisation-based one, requires for that long was surprisingly draining. I kept my breaks short and rare to not fall out too much, and used methods such as counting steps, breathing, witnessing others, and internal narrative to focus continuously.
- Repetition – I honestly would not be surprised if I walked the perimeter of that room 100 times. I’m not going to pretend every orbit or even every task/moment of solo dancing was fulfilling and my mind was totally present. But, the experience itself of this extended reptition was a discovery for me – how I coped, how the external and internal did or didn’t match up, how things slowly evolved, how I was able to maintain, how I was able to try slightly new things and examine the consequences. Pushing myself to repeat so many times was a worthy task in itself.
- Baseline & Breaking It –Eventually, Callie communicated to all of us that we could try making new choices, outside of our structure. We honestly probably broke the structure a bit too much; but, because we’d been moving within this cycle for so long, we felt so held within the space and within our connection to each other that we just melded right into some pretty incredible group improvisations. I came home and wrote out 3 full pages of notes to remember some of the moments we created. This trajectory of meticulously and exhaustively building a structure, and then breaking it, yielded such rich results that both the improvisation and returning to the cycle afterwards felt like relief.