In April of this year, the LA Phil hosted the Brooklyn Festival to acknowledge the creative energy emanating from composers such as Tyondai Braxton and Ted Hearne who call the artsy New York borough home. Though New York has always been known as a cultural hub, there was something more than just how music was changing—blurring the lines between classical and popular, rock and experimental, and between the concert hall and the nightclub. What can be said of the relationship between audience and performer?
A couple months ago, a canary torsi hosted the New York premiere of THE PEOPLE TO COME project at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, with contributing Los Angeles natives Darrin Wright (performer) and Caroline Park (musician).
The Brooklyn performances of THE PEOPLE TO COME (June 25-29) were the last run of a larger participatory performance project that started in September 2012 at The Yard (Martha’s Vineyard, MA) as a work in progress. Consequent showings demonstrated the development of the project, and were held in various arts centers in the New England region, including the Marlboro Town House in Vermont as a preview, the Granoff Center at Brown University (Providence, RI) as the world premiere, and the Space Gallery in Portland, ME.
What is a “participatory performance?” Well, it differs from piece to piece, but in this work, the audience contributed material that the dancers pick from, then use and interpret into their solos throughout the evening.
Overall, it’s a new performance installation by Yanira Castro, director/choreographer of a canary torsi. The project started from an original solo choreographed by Castro, and in the performances of TPTC, the performers—five male dancers (Darrin Wright, Luke Miller, Peter Schmitz, Simon Courchel, Peter Musante)—alter this solo using material created by the local community and the audience in attendance. Though the evening officially begins at 6, the first performer starts at 5:40 by going to the archive, taking 19 minutes to search the database of responses on the website and look for material. There is a one minute break, and then he has 19 minutes to rehearse his new solo on the rehearsal stage (and in rehearsal attire) using the material he gathered. There is another one minute break, before another 19 minutes in which he performs his new solo, this time in performance attire on the performance stage with lights and live sound. With that, the next dancer begins the same process, and this forms continuous duets of solos—someone performing, someone rehearsing, each stage a unique one. The physical and visual mechanics involved (custom stages, lighting design, and costumes, all designed by Kathy Couch) reveal that THE PEOPLE TO COME is a system.
Live musician Caroline Park took the time to explain the role of the musicians in THE PEOPLE TO COME. The sound score is two-fold: four live musicians (comprised of composer Stephan Moore, Peter Bussigel, Suzanne Thorpe, and Caroline Park alternating with Tim Rovinelli), and sound recordings from the website archive. The live musicians would play in various random combinations (determined by a coin-toss) from solos to full quartet, with at least one sound recording, chosen from the archive by the audience in attendance, joining whichever musicians were currently set to play. Park tells me that the 19-minute live score, composed by Moore, was divided into many, many smaller sections of different time lengths, during which the musicians were to constantly change and contrast sound colors and textures per new section. The result is an odd and surprising fusion of sounds combining instruments like flute and trumpet, footpedals, synthesizers, amplified objects and otherwise curious electronic devices. Still, the randomness in the sound is completely different for each dance performance.
With everyone synced to one clock, the live musicians play when a performer is on the performance stage, and after 19 minutes, everything turns off for one minute -- lights, sound, exit dancer -- before the next run happens. This process is repeated 10 times each night, and once the evening is done, the audio and the video from that night (all of which has been recorded) are put back into the archive on the website (coded by Sam Lerner), to be recycled and reused again in a future context.
In response to a request on the project website (“Give us a pattern or a task or a portrait”), audience members can submit responses before, during, and after performances in the form of images, video, or text. With the help of active archivists during performance nights (Kirsten Schnittker, Tess Dworman), the website collects all contributed material and all dances created from that material, which the website very aptly states, “[forms] a portrait of each night’s performance community.”
“How long does this all take?” you might ask warily.
Four hours each night, allowing the audience plenty of time to come and go as they please, to watch the solos, to contribute material, and to perhaps engage with a performer in a performance.
The artist statement given by Castro was as follows:
“I have been exploring the audience/performer relationship since 2000 when I began a series of projects for small audiences in which they were placed at extreme distances from the event—very distant or close. Questions about the role of proximity in the work became questions about audience agency, their ability to choose their own frame—how close to be in relationship to the event, what to focus on during multiple events, whether to sit, stand, move. My latest projects have centered on the audience’s ability to impact the work, to change the tone of the piece, to alter choreography, to create the music, to create material that is manipulated by the performers. While the scenarios are meticulously created, my work challenges ideas of authorship and asks the questions: What is the divide between spectator and participant? How are these roles inverted/shared? Who is the translator? Who is the narrator?”
Well, that is a lot of food for thought.
Audience submissions aren’t exactly simple commands (this is most definitely not the “Cha Cha Slide”). Often submissions are photos of people, crayon drawings, quotes, patterns, philosophical musings—things, ideas, and concepts that don’t often, or necessarily, lend themselves easily to choreography. So creating a dance from all this material is not as easy as one might think. And only in 19 minutes? It’s no easy task for any dancer.
Castro certainly leaves it up to interpretation – you’re left wondering who is the translator? Who is the narrator? Does the dancer translate the messages the audience gives, or does the audience translate for themselves what the dancer expresses through his movements? Does the dancer narrate a storyline, woven from the material given, or has the audience dictated what the story is?
Castro's previous works also explored the divide between audience and performer, with more direct audience-performer interactions such as in Wilderness (2010) and in Paradis (2011). THE PEOPLE TO COME is unique in its more subtle approach, encouraging and inviting people -- everyone, not just from the dance community -- to come to a show and "recognize yourself ... or your neighbor ... or the person you came to the show with." To get pieces like hers to be more on our radar, we must open our minds to the possibilities within the audience-performer relationship, and expand on our definitions of what performance is and where it can happen. a canary torsi's site-adaptable explorations bring us closer, revealing what important processes and relations we may have overlooked from traditional conventions of the stage and of dance.
"THE PEOPLE TO COME is (to name a few) about process, portraiture, inspiration, representation, projection, and being live. We can only make this piece with the people that come here. That’s you."
That is, indeed, us.
Maybe that’s what this piece is all about. For those of us who didn’t get the chance to fly out to Brooklyn to attend the performance in person, we still had the chance to contribute. An interested Angeleno could still participate, even if submitting responses 3,000 miles away. We were technically there, represented by our submissions, even if they weren’t performed (yet). And even if we didn’t submit anything, we’re still “the people to come.” We have yet to take the first steps toward exploring the relationship between audience and performer, as Castro and her team have already invited us to. By challenging these boundaries, we challenge others to take exploratory steps as well, and we are all the people to come.
a canary torsi creates site-adaptable, installation-based performance projects. Formed in 2009 by New York choreographer Yanira Castro, a canary torsi invites audiences to participate in work that is anchored in live performance and extends into other media and online platforms. Ranging from formal movement and immersive audio installations to fictional Twitter feeds and interactive websites, a canary torsi explores the relationship between audience and event, developing scenarios where the audience’s presence dramatically impacts the work. www.acanarytorsi.org
(A quick clarification: to my understanding, based on the concept of “site-specific”— refers to choreography that is based on, focuses, and revolves around the space it is to be performed in—“site-adaptable” refers to choreography that may have started in one space but can be adapted to accommodate different performing spaces.)
Yanira Castro (director/choreographer) is a Puerto-Rican born and Brooklyn-based choreographer who collaborates with a core group of performers and designers on individual projects under the name, a canary torsi. Castro’s work has been presented in New York by Dance Theater Workshop, Performance Space 122, ISSUE Project Room, The Invisible Dog Art Center, The Chocolate Factory, and Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center, among others, and has toured nationally and internationally. Her work has often incorporated untraditional spaces: public bathrooms, warehouses, former bathhouses. Internationally, her dance installation Dark Horse/Black Forest has been presented in the public bathrooms of the George Bacovia Theater in Bacau, Romania; the Daile Theatre in Riga, Latvia and the Tanzhaus in Düsseldorf, Germany for the International Tanzmesse. Castro and the team of Dark Horse/Black Forest won a 2009 NY Dance & Performance (aka Bessie) Award for the NY performances of that project at The Gershwin Hotel. She has received several commissions and awards for her work, including National Dance Project's Touring Award, The MAP Fund, The Jerome Foundation, NYFA’s BUILD, Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, NYSCA, New Music USA’s Live Music for Dance, Trust for Mutual Understanding, and USArtists International. She is a 2012 Vermont Performance Lab Artist, a 2012 Media Fellow and 2007 Choreography Fellow at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, a 2012 and 2010 LMCC Swing Space Artist-in-Residence, a 2008/2009 ARC Artist, a 2007 Artist-in-Residence at the George Apostu Cultural Center in Romania with Artist Ne(s)t, a 2007 Sugar Salon Artist, and a 2006 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellow. Castro received her B.A. in Theater & Dance and Literature from Amherst College.
- Cynthia Park