Sometimes I get tripped up by the labels of things. “Installation” is a term in particular that I can be very picky about. The word makes me yearn to be immersed in something otherworldly and strange, something I can enter into and wonder whether the rest of my day was more real or less real than this other environment.
SLAC’s main gallery this weekend has been (and currently is) the site for a “nonstop performance and site specific installation”. There is a large square of white on part of the floor, with lighting trees at each of the four corners. One edge is lined by sixteen metronomes. There is a chair, and a red phone. A cord separates this area from another in which there resides old wooden bleachers. There are two gramophone horns on one side pointed at two chairs on the other. Finally, there is a small staircase that bridges the two spaces. Couples are invited to enter the space and slow-dance in silence. Individual performers wander the space doing their own dances. An ambient electronic score washed over the room.
Here’s my line of thinking as I entered this space: I thought there would be more. I’m happy there’s less. It’s nice to watch people dance. I don’t want to slow-dance. I don’t have a partner anyway. Maybe if I take my shoes off I can pretend to be one of the performers and dance my own way by myself. Why is there the sound of a woman panting? Is she running from something? Is she having sex? Somebody just came out of the bathroom. Wait a minute… this installation is remarkably like a stage.
And there you have the more-or-less ten minutes of immersion I could sustain before I realized that there was literally no reason this “installation” couldn’t just be some stage somewhere. Moreover, the space has windows into upstairs hallways, and the orientation of the audience to the stage meant that everything we saw was framed by us also watching people enter and exit the bathrooms behind the stage.
Still pondering what slow-dancing and horses had to do with the various bodily functions being performed in the background, the special 9pm performance started up. Here I feel like we arrived at the meat of the work. The dancing was splendid and the choreography was fresh. I was glad to be watching this in SLAC’s gallery-turned-black-box, and I hope that SLAC continues to explore the idea of providing an alternative venue for the performing arts.
In sum, it was an evening of some very refreshing dance presented in an unusual space. I wish the installation aspects of it were stronger and better integrated. Why bleachers? Why rules about what we can do or how? Why not let us wander the space freely? Why not construct the dance to immerse us more instead of maintaining a traditional audience/performer barrier? While the invitation to cross this barrier and become performers ourselves (in couples, dancing in a specific way, in silence) was intriguing, why not create a situation in which perhaps we’re not sure anymore who is watching and who is doing?
And please don’t pretend that we’re not going to notice the bathrooms, or that having the bathroom hallway as background isn’t going to change the meaning of your work. I’m interested in many of the ideas that went into Dark Horse, and I was impressed by the dance that was embedded in it. But for me the execution did not support those ideas enough and left me with a lot of questions about what the artist really intended. Or maybe I was just disappointed that this idea of installation didn’t fit my idea of installation.
Matthew Beals is a Modern Dance MFA candidate at University of Utah.