logo
Canada’s Dance Magazine
  • PRINT
  • ONLINE
  • LIVE

Feature

Reconsidering Public Space

The Complete Artist Interviews By Brittany Duggan
  • Emily Law and Masuyo Higashide of cube 3 in Yamagi, Ghost Tree for DIMBY (2010) / Photo by Andréa de Keijzer

Eroca Nicols
Producer of Dance in my Backyard (DIMBY), Toronto

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

A backyard, a park, another park, a strip club, a beach, a rock club, the street.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I’m a fan of absurdity and finding things in places they “don’t belong”. If nothing else, just a little break in the monotony of the day-to-day visual landscape.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

I think one of the reasons artists look to making work in public spaces is that they don’t have the resources to present their work in other contexts. Dance artists, especially emerging, have to be nimble and crafty in order to get their work seen. Showing work in a guerrilla fashion provides performance opportunities that might not otherwise be available to artists starting out.

I’m very interested in making dance for more than just regular dance audiences. I prioritize performing in my community and for my community, people who are not necessarily going to see dance shows in theatres on an ongoing basis.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

You have to be willing to improvise because you never know how people are going to react. In a theatre context, audiences generally understand the rules of engagement -how they are expected to behave in this space as audience members. When you take work outside that space you are entering into a different kind of social contract with the people engaging with the work. This kind of situation presents its own set of beauties and challenges. Keeps me on my toes!

Gerry Morita in her own work, we were here and there (2010) / Photo by Studio E Photography

Gerry Morita

Artistic Director of Mile Zero Dance, Edmonton

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

Recently, I have shown dance in Edmonton’s downtown in Churchill Square, on a sod box, in a plexiglass container and on a four-foot cube of ice. I am currently working on an art gallery installation, an interactive lobby performance, a piece for an outdoor breezeway and work situated on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I am interested in allowing people to choose their own perspective when watching dance outside of the theatre. Sometimes I plan for distance and perspective, and other times close viewing is intended. I enjoy challenging the audience’s memory or perceived “use” of a space by placing something unexpected in the pathway.

People have varying attention spans and levels of investment. When you remove an audience from the theatre, I believe that their reactions are very honest.

I try to consciously appeal both to passersby and to people who watch for the entire duration of the work. I create a ‘moving image’ that can be very easily captured, but it is complex; the longer you watch it, the more information you receive.

Most people have few opportunities to see dance up close. Site-specific dance can be a major way to reach entirely new audiences.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

The same question could also be asked of anyone who performs on a proscenium stage.
I initially began creating this way because I saw so many missed opportunities.
In times of financial restraint, I feel like artists need to remain visible to the public.
Performance artists have long been questioning the idea that art outside of traditional institutions cannot be taken seriously. When I see major dance artists like Fortier [making] site-specific dance, I feel like it is a genre of dance whose time has come.

Also, this type of work needs to be seen live. The experience of the collective audience in these performances can be very transformative.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

Although many of our public spaces are quite grand and full of performance options architecturally, if there is not something happening within them, they can appear quite cold.

Part of the appeal of performance in public spaces is the public. My performances offer audiences a chance to actually look at each other.

Site-specific dance differs greatly from stage work. Safety is a major concern, as I often find myself working on concrete. Poor weather conditions are uncontrollable, but can actually make the dance look better. As an improviser, I welcome the unexpected situations that arise.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

My questions are: What does this space offer in terms of movement? What can I learn from this location? and sometimes: How can I make this location suck less?

Terrill Maguire in her own work, Sanctuary, for Water Sources / Art in Open Spaces at Trinity Bell Plaza, Toronto (June 1999) / Photo by David Langer

Terrill Maguire
Contract Faculty in the Department of Dance at York University, Toronto

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

When I start to reflect on performances I’ve been involved in, in public spaces, the list soon becomes very long! Such activity began early on in southern California - where I was born and raised - as both a personal and later, professional practice.

Within two weeks of first arriving in Toronto, in the early 1970s, I was “recruited” to dance for the project of a composer, Bill Fontana. He’d composed a piece for all of the carillons at the downtown churches, such as St. James Cathedral and Metropolitan United Church. My improvised solo dance to this music took place in the green space out front of the Metropolitan United. Somehow, a photograph of me dancing turned up the next day on the front page of The Toronto Sun!

When I’ve had the opportunity to choose my own sites, I’ve often been attracted to those involving woods, trees and water. Concerning the latter, I’ve danced or created dances for some amazing fountains, including the Noguchi sculpture garden fountain in New York City, the fountain in Confederation Park in Ottawa, the pool/fountain/stream at Trinity Bell Plaza, and around the ponds/wetlands on Toronto’s Brick Works … among others.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I think of being an animator of the particular environment, but also of creating a kind of interface with it … I believe it’s important to allow the site to be a partner in the process, to ‘suggest’, as it were, the kind of performances best suited to the space. The integrity of the site must always be accommodated and respected, and “featured” by the performance.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

I’ve always felt that dance deserves a bigger space in our lives than solely in the theatre, although there is no question that the theatre can be the ideal location for many presentations and types of dance. But historically, dance has been an activity that served a greater purpose than art and/or entertainment spectacle. Dance is something that is innate in the human body, and when barriers between performer and spectator are minimized, the opportunities to connect on aesthetic, visceral and kinesthetic levels are increased. (Admittedly, the barriers to personal privacy and even safety are also lessened … which can be an issue of the less desirable kind) …

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

I have often discovered a depth of understanding or even communion with a place, particularly if it is a natural one. I’ve discovered the pleasure of “playing” in places; of having permission to enjoy them fully! I’ve made connections with people from various walks of life, from the homeless guy who’d bathe every morning in the fountain we rehearsed in at Trinity Bell Plaza, to the Indonesian architect who came to tell me how moved she was by my piece at the Toronto Music Garden, to the many other people who felt free to give their feedback or application, given the lack of distance between us, as performers and audience. I’ve often had people say that they looked anew at a particular place once it had been the site of a performance event; or that they’d felt included in the performance, due to the physical proximity and the openness of expression from the interpreters.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

Hmmm … I think it has something to do with, “How can we maintain the integrity of public performance, so that it does not become so common that there is no more sense of magic, or serendipity? How can we be democratic and encourage everyone who wishes to practice public performance, yet keep the quality high?”

Deanna Witwer, Caileen Bennett, Naomi Brand and Kirsten Wiren in The Sanitastics, by Melanie Kloetzel (currently in post-production) / Photo by kloetzel&co

Melanie Kloetzel
Associate Professor in the Department of Dance at the University of Calgary, Calgary

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

In the past ten years, I have made site-specific works for my company, kloetzel&co., for an old wooden bridge in Brooklyn, NY, a photography museum and a downtown plaza in California, and a defunct hotel and railway station, circa 1915, in Idaho; I’ve also created two site films - one in a decaying egg farm and one in the Calgary Skyway Plus 15 system.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I am excited for people to look at their local public spaces anew. In my opinion, site work (which is what I would call a great deal of the work for public spaces) is the equivalent of today’s “locavore” movement (those dedicated to eating locally-grown food). It is about people noticing their local environments, considering the configurations and functions of these environments, and working to either protect or change them, depending on the circumstances. This is what I hope my work might do; that it might help us examine and consider through physical, intellectual and sensual means our choices regarding architecture, design, environment and urban planning.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

Yes, work that falls under this category can be dated back to Anna Halprin’s experiments in public spaces in California in the 1950s, Simone Forti’s, Lucinda Childs’s, and Steve Paxton’s work in New York in the 1960s, and the continued efforts in the past four decades by such luminaries as Meredith Monk, Ann Carlson, Joanna Haigood, and many more [see the book, Site Dance, for more details]. These people were interested in breaking the boundaries of the theatre space and making art where people could access it readily. I believe that this work has grown more, rather than less, critical as our culture has become more invested in virtual space and less invested in the history and sensations of the world around us. I still believe it is necessary for people to experience art in a physical way on an everyday basis and making work in public spaces means that people 1) can’t avoid such work, and 2) can re-experience the joy and relevance of art in our daily lives.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

One thing that has grown increasingly clear to me is that art in public spaces can really push the buttons of the authorities if those authorities have not specifically asked for that art. Municipal powers appreciate art in public if it is a festival or some such event that is controlled by them. Other works, however, signal danger for authorities and the level of surveillance can be extreme. In our recent experience of filming in the Calgary Skyway, security personnel pestered us multiple times per day due to our stillness or our unusual movement on the “pedestrian highway” of the Plus 15s. I had to be able to name-drop an entire list of security bigwigs to prove our legitimacy. Even during our moves from one filming site to another (toting our supplies in plastic bags and looking like an itinerant circus or perhaps a homeless troupe), we received many uncomfortable glances or angry stares from other travellers, an understated community policing to curb any perceived difference. Yet, such experiences also make it abundantly clear that art in public spaces is critical. In a tongue-in-cheek way, our filming exposed and critiqued the character of the Skyway with its incessant surveillance, and some of the reactions we received were very telling. For example, a Brazilian couple tearfully approached us to tell one of the characters (a woman wreathed in flowers) how much she reminds them of a journey home; instead of stopping us and asking for paperwork a security officer (dressed in the identical blue shirt and black tie of the surveillance superhero characters) mimicked a dance movement he witnessed; a businessman hooted in surprise at our off-hand comment that it is casual Friday; a group of teenagers with prohibited skateboards begged to be in the film after sporting their tricks. These reactions demonstrate that art in public space can help us ponder our surroundings, and potentially challenge the design and dictates that we have created for those spaces.

Students from the Simon Fraser University Dance Department in Brownian Motion (a work about the economy) at the Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver (2010) Rob Kitsos / Photo courtesy of Kitsos

Robert Kitsos
Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

Most of my work in that past ten years has focused on urban environments and the body. Most of these works were performed in theatres with live dancers interacting with projection of urban spaces. These projections were often public performances of their own: shooting dancers on video in the streets, on rooftops, busy intersections, public elevators, parking lots, etc. A collection of people passing by would always stop to watch. I always saw this as part of the process and a contribution to an awareness of contemporary dance by many people who wouldn’t necessarily go to see a performance in the theatre.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I struggle to find ways to bring attention to the visceral possibilities and aesthetic significance of pedestrian movement vocabulary in my work as a teacher and choreographer. In my last full evening work Wake, I wanted the audience to have an experience that provoked them to see the city and the way they moved through it in a new way. The design of our environments has a huge effect on our physical instincts, and the way we move often has an effect on how public spaces are constructed. When we make this connection, we have a deeper appreciation for the prosaic dances we do everyday, and a window into the inspiration behind many contemporary artists in the field of dance.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

It was the Judson artists in the early 1960s who really established the connection of public spaces and human movement. Artists like Trisha Brown choreographed dancers on New York City rooftops, along the walls of museums and in the streets. Another huge inspiration to me was dance films created by innovators like Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Thierry de Mey as well as Dv8. These artists found amazing interiors of abandoned buildings, factories and natural environments as stages for great movement and poignant narratives. More recent artists include site-specific choreographer Noémie Lafrance, who creates works in spaces like empty swimming pools, parking lots and rooftops, and Vancouver’s own Aeriosa Dance, who have performed rappelling on many of the cities tallest buildings.

Our art form is a difficult one for most people to understand and yet it’s completely connected and inspired by what we all experience as human beings moving on the planet. This kind of work is important because it reminds us that dance and life are connected and we (the dance artists) are not so hard to understand.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

One fascinating thing to me about movement and public spaces is the way different cultures adopt movement tendencies that directly relate to the architecture of their environments. For example, the works I made when in Hong Kong were all around the efficiency of having to move in confined and crowded spaces, just like the millions of families that live in small apartments in giant buildings. In general, I am much more aware of public spaces and their influence on our bodies. This awareness gives me many more ideas for new work.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

I believe the mysterious nature of an abstract art like contemporary dance can seem unattainable and I don’t think it needs to be (and if it is unattainable, the ideas probably weren’t clear to begin with). It might be my presence in academia that influences this as well, where many people make the mistake of thinking if an idea is complicated or in a language that only a few people can understand, it’s deeper or more important. The reality is, it’s much more difficult and useful to say something complicated in a simple way, so we can all understand it. I think dance should do this and putting it in public makes it easier for me.

Aimée Dawn Robinson in an untitled improvisation at Waterfowl Park, Sackville, New Brunswick (2009) / Photo by Eric Chenaux

Aimée Dawn Robinson
Co-artistic director of Up Darling and the director of multi-disciplinary performance series, A Month of Sundays, Toronto

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

Recently, I have performed improvised dance solos [in Toronto] on and alongside the railway tracks near Wallace and Lansdowne, on the rooftop of 401 Richmond, in Stanley Park (Toronto) during a nighttime amateur baseball game, in the snowy courtyard of the Music Gallery, and (for camera and incidental audiences) in streams, along railways, inside cars and vans, in marshes, ditches, beaches, boardwalks, rocky hillsides, campgrounds and parking lots between Toronto and St. John’s (Newfoundland).

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

Even the most humble space contains magic.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

I feel that the root of much of human suffering stems from our increasing alienation from nature. It is essential that we continue to be penetrated by the complexities of the natural world. Therefore, I prefer to dance outdoors where there are insects, dirt, snow, waters, winds, vegetation and all manner of organisms that live beyond our control or comprehension.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

I have learned, through performing outdoors and in public spaces, that we tend to adhere to unwritten rules of acceptable codified movement behaviour in public. Viewers often find instances of “breaking the rules” invigorating; however, only if these transgressions occur within another coded structure called “performance”.

Aeriosa Company in rehearsal for In Situ by Taffe on the Collonades of Library Square, Vancouver / Photo by Colin Zacharias

Julia Taffe
Artistic Director of Aeriosa Dance Society (vertical dance), Vancouver

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

Inside the promenade of the Vancouver Library Central Branch and outside on the ledges and colonnades of the building’s north and south plazas; on the concave front face of the twenty-two-storey Government of Canada office tower at 300 West Georgia in Vancouver; on three walls of the heritage designated, Edwardian-era Vancouver block building at Granville and Georgia; on two glass walls of the Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation at the Banff Centre; the interior roof of the Richmond Olympic Skating Oval; the Vancouver Art Gallery: both outside of the Hornby Street aspect of the building and inside the three-storey rotunda; on the concrete pylons under the Granville Street Bridge; outdoors on a thirty-five-foot truss arch in Whistler Mountain square in February: (snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures); on the seven-storey north wall of the Dance Centre building; on the cinder block façade of the Centennial Plaza Parkade in Victoria.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I hope to surprise, delight and confront people by putting live art in their path. I’ve spent time thinking about the ritualized relationship between performers and audiences; the well-behaved theatre patron follows traditional rules: pay up, sit there, be still, watch me, clap now. Although I enjoy playing that role for worthy performances and performers, in my personal experience, the ritual has sometimes felt contrived (especially as a young dancer when I experience performing in works that lacked integrity ad caused me personal embarrassment). By creating site work on location I can try to transform people’s quotidian encounters with public space by using it in unexpected ways. In my work two things are true: all the world’s a stage, and people can fly.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

It concerns me that dance is so remote and misunderstood in Canada - that dance is customarily defined as a high art form or a commercial entertainment spectacle. Unlike sports, it is not taught in schools or regarded as something that everyone should participate in or even simply witness and comprehend. I want people to know what working dance artists do - that the practice of dance making is a natural activity for humans and the process of engagement is often just as compelling as the finished performance.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

I’ve learned that lots of people want to talk about the work - to relate their encounters, and ask questions and be acknowledged in turn. I’ve also learned that a few people will scowl and feel territorial about “their” public space. I’ve realized that some folks have their blinders on when they are out and about and they honestly don’t see what is going on around them. I’ve noticed all kinds of people who come back, day after day, to watch the process unfold because they are completely swept away. After performing I’ve been hugged by people weeping with joy and something less definable. During shows I’ve seen dozens of people lie down on the pavement because they discover that’s one of the best ways to take in the work. It has become obvious to me that many people whose lives would otherwise be enriched by performing arts do not have access to shows and I think that’s a terrible shame. In that sense my site work has a socio-political context.

Perhaps more important, it is really my own perceptions and experiences as an artist that have been affected by working in public space. When I was a contemporary dancer working in the sanctity of the studio, I thought I needed to put space between myself and the world to protect and polish my artistry. After many years of public practice I’ve become more resilient, affable, collaborative and intuitive as a choreographer.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

In a practical sense my burning questions are: where is our next stage, who is our audience and what is our relevance in their landscape. It is important for me to absorb and reflect upon the local surroundings so that what I impose upon public space will be respectful and considerate of the denizens. I’m immersed in the concept of risk and how it shapes us: perceived risk, actual risk, the management of risk and the power of risk to move us forward or hold us back. My work addresses risk-taking on all of these levels.

I’m also intrigued by the study and expansion of the vertical dance lexicon and new movement possibilities for the single point harness and rope system. I feel like a scientist studying the implications of new gravitational laws - and unless I continue to catalogue and master the complex physical possibilities, I won’t be able to communicate with the articulation that the work deserves. Once the vocabulary is in place for me the central question is still about communication - how do I get a message to resonate through a large space with multiple bodies as conduits?

Currently, for both myself and my dancers, the most sought-after work sites are iconic buildings in the range of thirty to eighty meters. However, the opportunity to work in these locations is inherently rare and expeditionary in nature.

Gdalit Neuman, Jennifer Templeton and Samantha Clowes, in Garden by Susan Cash / Photo courtesy of Cash

Susan Cash
Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance at York University, Toronto

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

Most recently: Toronto, Ontario, at Shaw Public School; Stanford University, California, in a lecture hall; Guatemala City in an outdoor arts festival; York University, Toronto, in Vari Hall and outdoors; London, England, in Westminster by the Thames; Bratislava, Slovakia, in a historical building.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I am interested in bringing attention to the unconscious relationship we have to place, so we can have more awareness of and respect for the power of art in movement to affect a visceral attachment to and understanding of space.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

[This kind of work] humanizes dance, includes the on-looker as a participating partner; it embraces the environment and immediate architecture highlighting it in much more of an accessible manner to a general population who might not be going to concert dance and whose experience of dance might only be via the flat screen of reality TV.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

There is an exhilaration and immediacy in performing in public spaces that is unlike any other performing experience I have encountered. It has the power to make an impact on many levels. It is in some ways much more challenging to engage in this kind of performing and requires a different set of skills than a traditional concert dancer or commercial dancer might need to acquire.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

What would happen if every morning on our way to work we saw a dance? We hear music in the subways, see sculpture in the park and buy beautiful visual art for our offices. Could dance be more of a contender in assisting the aesthetic quality of our everyday lives?

Allan Dobbs and company members in Passage (1991) by Karen Jamieson for Karen Jamieson Dance at the National Art Gallery, Ottawa / Photo by Bruce Law

Karen Jamieson
Artistic Director of Karen Jamieson Dance, Vancouver

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

National Gallery of Canada: public spaces; Rotunda of the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG); Streets in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (Gore, Hastings, Pender, Columbia); Museum of Anthropology; A hall in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii; Roundhouse Community Centre: public spaces

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

Each piece I do is so different, each space fulfilling a different objective. I hope
to affect the perceptions and experience of the audience by providing them with a structure that allows them to discover what I have discovered in the process of creation: the special properties of the space through the dance. For instance:

National Gallery of Canada: This work was commissioned by the National Gallery to accompany a show by Emily Carr. Instead, it became a dialogue between dance and architecture and it was here that the compelling idea first emerged in my work: to embody the spirit of a place.

Rotunda of VAG: In this work I was exploring the poetry of vertical space. Architectural rotundas are like the set for Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Spatial structure that rises vertically and falls through several layers

Streets of DTES: The streets [of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside] are the most appropriate performance venue for my community-engaged work, work that is created for and with the community. It is necessary to perform it where [these individuals] are. The work provides the opportunity for the participants to recognize their own community, space, ground and creative power. The work provides an opportunity for the audience to experience this also, by their presence in the same space, experiencing the same dance structure.

Museum of Anthropology: Works addressing cultural dialogue. The MOA is a symbolic space, filled as it is with First Nations artifacts, built upon an intellectual foundation of museology. The space is a meeting place, a forum for dialogue, a space as much inner as outer.

I have created for and with many more different spaces, including proscenium stage space. I enter into these spatial creations in dance in a spirit of investigation and hope the audience will experience some of the richness that I discover.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

I do [this work] because it’s exciting and full of discovery. It’s quite possible that others have made these discoveries before me. But dance is ephemeral. It only happens in the moment of its presence and creation in a space. So even if others have done this before, the audience coming upon [my work] in that space has no experience of it until I do it.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

What is the spirit of this place and how can it be embodied in dance?

A. Azéma, M-P. Bazinet, M. Bélanger, É. Bergeron, J. Blanchet, A . Boulet, V. Bousquet, C. Chan Tak, M. Coquoz, J. Douville, M. Demers, V. Dray, I. Escach, K-M. Germain, L. Goodhue, S-È. Grant, S. Hamelin, É. Hardy, C. Hausler, I. Krouglik, M-È Lafontaine, F-J Lapointe, C. Larocque, J. Latreille, É. Lombardo, S. Lombardo, J. Marquis, I. Milicevic, M. Rixhon, L. O’breham Rondeau, E. Ruest, S. Spi, S. Talbot, K. Théoret, A. Thériault, M-È. Tremblay, L. Vallée and M. Williamson in Corps anonyms, a project directed by Katya Montaignac presented during the event Recommandation #63 at Tangente in Montréal (May 2010) /Photo by Christian Semaan

Katya Montaignac
Choreographer, Montréal

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

I’ve been working in different spaces for twelve years.

First works:
My first work for public space was for a dance video in 1998 called “35”. The choreography was made in (and for) mechanical stairs of the subway in Paris.
Video on http://www.youtube.com/kytdancing#p/a/u/1/Jbcdqu-6GwE (réal. Catherine Alvès; choreography Vincent Lahache). Since this piece, I have worked and performed in different spaces for other dance video works, like in squares, parks and in the streets during different festivals in Paris and in Montréal. For example, “Ysé” (2003) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k283SXTqeU8 (réal. Philippe Mihailovich, choreography Vincent Lahache), “Liberscriptus” (2000) http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=458… (real. Séverine Thévenet, choreography Vincent Lahache & Katya Montaignac).

From 2001 to 2006, I created a work called “Raymond”: it was a solo for different performers (dancers or not). More than fifty people have participated to this project. Each of them danced the same movements but each in his own way, choosing his own music and his own rhythm. This project has been performed in different spaces in Paris and Montréal.

U.D.O (Unidentified Dancing Objects):
From 2007 to 2008, I created several dance capsules called “Invisible Dances” in urban spaces: one with i-pod for a bus stop and another one with cell phones. I presented these works in Paris and in Montréal for different festivals (Festival Soukmachines and OuDaPo - Ouvroir de Danse Potentielle - in Paris, and in Montréal for the event The Art (prononcez dehors) on Place des Arts, ATSA, Off-Biennale de Dare-Dare Art Centre and for the event L’écho d’un fleuve). At the bus stop : http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5wj31_in-situ-1-labribus_creation (réal. Clotilde Amprimoz, choreography Katya Montaignac). With the cell phones: http://www.vimeo.com/6812184 (réal. Clotilde Amprimoz, choreography Katya Montaignac).

Since 2009, I created a new project called “Corps Anonymes” (Anonymous Bodies). It’s an “U.D.O” (Unidentified Dancing Object): some choreographic infiltrations in urban spaces. A big group from twenty to forty people listen to the same mp3 files with instructions of movements. And everybody executes them with their bodies in the urban space. This work has been presented at ATSA in 2009, and in 2010, at Tangente for the event Recommandation #63, at the event Pas de danse, pas de vie !, at the Festival OFFTA and the Festival Transatlantique.

Private spaces:
Since 2007, I performed also for different dance projects in a apartments with the choreographer Léna Massiani but also with the group La 2e Porte à Gauche with whom I organized two dance events in an apartment in 2008 and 2009: the project “7½ à part” in 2008 (it can be translated by “7½ to share” in english) where we invited six choreographers to work in the same flat and “9½ à part” in 2009 with twelve performers for a collaborative dance show.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I like to add some ‘perturbations’ in the use of public spaces. I hope my proposals bring to the public a different look at the urban spaces that they cross everyday. I add just an element, or do something different, which can change our look on the city. I like to underline something we don’t see anymore because it has become very common: for example the homeless problem. We are so used to seeing them everyday in the streets that we don’t look at them anymore. We don’t really react to a body lying on the ground but what happens if we meet twenty people lying down? So I work with a big group in homeless positions and suddenly people can’t avoid this reality: twenty people are lying down in the street … I hope also to change the look of contemporary dance by proposing a different perception of the body in movement.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

In the past, motivations were similar but the context could be different. For example, in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, the social and political contestations were very important (more than today!). Dancing outside during this time was a real event, like a manifestation or a political statement. Nowadays, dancing outside has become quite usual. It’s even an excellent way for festivals to improve their visibility in city life. It has also become sometimes a cultural animation, like a tourist event. So today it’s more and more difficult to have real visibility and especially real power of acting because you can see everything (for the best, but for the worst at well!) in the streets or in the public spaces.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

Through my performance works in different spaces, I have discovered that the public is ready to see everything about contemporary art, but only if we give some keys to understand why the artist does it. People don’t like when an artist does something without a clear intention. Dancing outside is very difficult because we dance for people who don’t choose to see us. It’s a relation very different than in theatre where the audience has paid to see a show. For that reason, artists have to be very clear when they perform outside.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

I think we always should ask ourselves “why dance outside?” And what does it mean? If people don’t understand your work when you perform outside of the theatre, don’t believe that it is because they are stupid, but ask yourself if your own work is clear and think about your intentions and the ways you aim to express them. I don’t think that because someone is an artist (or calls himself “artist”), that what he does is genius. I think that being an artist should be a modest act. Unfortunately, it’s often the contrary. I think artists have to go to their audiences; it’s their responsibility.

David Danzon and Michael Caldwell in Les moutons for CORPUS at Festival de la cité, Lausanne, Switzerland (2009) / Photo by Anita Guerin

David Danzon
Artistic Director of CORPUS, Toronto

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

Shopping malls, ecological gardens, busy downtown intersections, theatre lobbies, parking lots and rooftop buildings.

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

By transforming a public space into a performance space, I invite audiences to re-evaluate their surroundings and daily routines. I try to offer a new and perhaps unsuspected reading of what we generally take for granted (a parking lot is for parking cars, a shopping mall is for shopping, etc.)

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

It’s increasingly difficult to surprise audiences in a theatre setting (i.e., stage). I also sense that audiences are hungry for less formal and less passive performance experiences. The street (or other public space) offers an open format, both for spectator and artist, with fresher possibilities for intimacy and interaction.

Bill Coleman in Calendar - July by Tedi Tafel, performed in an enclosed backyard garden in Montréal (July (2010) / Photo by Tafel

Tedi Tafel
Dancer and choreographer, Montréal

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

In 2006, I created a performance series entitled Life-World. This work was made for a storefront space and consisted of twelve different pieces using various configurations of solos and duets, video images from nature, pieces of furniture and installations made of natural materials (branches, leaves, flowers). The work was seen from the street.

This year, I am presenting another series entitled Calendar: twelve site-specific works in twelve different locations around the city, one a month throughout 2010. Launched last January, the project is a collaboration with composer Monique Jean and dancers Leslie Baker, Marc Boivin, Bill Coleman, Dean Makarenko and Lin Snelling. It follows the cycle of a year of seasonal changes and is being presented in both indoor and outdoors spaces. Some of the performance locations have included: an old railway building formerly used for unloading cargo and now owned by sculptor Jean Brillant (January); a two-storey house, viewed from the street (February); an enclosed backyard garden (July); a fire escape on a six-storey building, viewed from the back alley (August); an historic Bank of Montreal building (September).

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

I do not know how similar my motivation is to artists of the past, but I do know that as a young choreographer I was deeply affected by some of the experimentation of the Judson Church Group and other artists of that time. What especially excited me was the work that pushed at the boundaries between art and life; choosing everyday, recognizable actions over stylized movement and taking the body outside of traditional performance venues to place it in public spaces. They created events and encounters that challenged the audience’s way of seeing dance and that explored how the human body interacted with its immediate environment. I think these issues are as vital today as when they were revolutionary.

I create the things that I need to see in the world. Though I live in the city, my inspiration comes through extensive retreats in nature. My creative process revolves around a desire to transplant something of this experience back into urban settings. I transform chosen sites into places of heightened attention, imagination and metaphor, drawing upon the imagery and themes that come to me during these retreats and from the direct experience of the performance space itself. I do this as a way to remind us of our sensual involvement with the surrounding world, something that can get lost in our routine functioning in the city. I try to confront habitual ways of being and relating that can be dictated by urban life and shake up our expectations of performance. I need to make pieces that acknowledge and celebrate the deep intimacy we have with the natural world because we tend to forget this as we go about our day and I believe it is imperative that we don’t. I need to live in a world that contains poetry, surprise, mystery and elements of the wild, so I create performed events that interrupt, and intersect with, everyday life.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

A site is chosen because it has a presence, qualities that give it its particular sense. It has a history, a character and a mood, all of which must be paid attention to. It inspires images and metaphors and makes us feel, imagine and think certain things. Though I had already been aware of this, working on Calendar has definitely heightened my ability to pay attention to these things.

As we spend time in spaces, they transform us. For Calendar, sites were chosen because they seem to be appropriate homes for the developing themes, images and ideas of each piece. But the place is the context and, once on-site rehearsals begin, it inevitably affects the content. Certain things have to be let go of; others need to be allowed in. Of course this works the other way. The dance also transforms the space, revealing an imaginary vitality invisible in its everyday existence. This is an intimate conversation between the world of the dance and world of its setting - a continual back and forth between the interiority of the imagination, memory and desire and the external surroundings. If one ignores this process, one is imposing instead of listening and the opportunity for finding the richness of this meeting place is lost.

I have been making site-specific pieces for over twenty years now. I have come to see that our relationship to our surroundings is a porous one; that we affect and are affected by the spaces we inhabit often in ways that don’t reach our consciousness. Making dances for places that we live in, that we move through, lets me explore and express this reciprocal exchange and perhaps encourages audiences to view their own experiences of place differently.

Cara Spooner and Alicia Grant in their own work Mourning Sunshine (2007) / Photo by Andy Schmitt

Alicia Grant & Cara Spooner
Choreographers and performers, Toronto

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

We have performed our work in backyards, bike shops, alleyways, food courts, horse stables, public benches, laundromats, bars, restaurants, cafes, an abandoned factory, a river (Alicia) and a public park (Cara).

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

Spaces can be animated so that the space underlines the movement and the movement underlines the space. You can see both more clearly. The space provides context that is real. There are no imaginary surroundings being created.

The space affects how audiences experience the work; the atmosphere, the memories and associations that a space holds are a part of what they feel as they walk into it. Those feelings are magnified by what we do in those spaces. The unconscious associations become tools to help us communicate the work.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

We started to make site-specific work out of necessity and a lack of funding. Once we started making the work, we realized the power it held for our audiences and how much we enjoyed what came out of making site-specific work. Now it is a choice, not just necessity. It is important to make this kind of work today because we can keep ourselves, and our audiences, on our toes.

The theatre can actually be a very limiting place. Everything has to be constructed rather than found and the dimensions are pre-determined. There is a hierarchy between performer and audience member where the audience member is only able to sit in rows in the dark and look up or down to an elevated, lit stage. It seems unbalanced to us and we are interested in offering another kind of experience.

In the theatre, the audience’s ability to choose what to look at, where to go and how to respond is stunted. We are interested in blending the barriers between audience and performer. In our work in public space, the audience is also a part of the spectacle. Who is watching who?

Why now? It has to do with theatre politics and etiquette, arts funding and the necessity to keep a broad scope of creation.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

It is better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. We always have to be flexible and open to the space contributing to the piece as much as we are. As much as it is “site” specific it is also time specific and context specific. The work changes every time we visit the space because the weather/people/traffic/collective unconscious is always changing. It is not a controlled environment and learning the space and how we can interact in it is the work.

Kenneth Emig in his own work Diffract for Canada Dance Festival, Ottawa (2008) / Photo by John Richardson

Kenneth Emig
Multi-disciplinary artist, Ottawa

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I want to show the public how I experience the spaces that surround them as an alternative to their experience. Public spaces are often perceived through habitual personal experience. I hope to offer the possibility of altering that experience.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your work?

By working in public spaces as an artist, I have discovered that many more options have opened to me. I became aware of more movement, shape, colour and experience possibilities than I was before. Performing in public spaces challenges my own habits and makes me more intimately aware of my surroundings.

Melt in New York CIty (2010) by Noemie Lafrance / Photo by Lafrance, courtesy of Sens Production

Noémie Lafrance
Artistic Director of Sens Production, based in Brooklyn, NY

You have created a number of works for public spaces in the last several years or more. For our readers, can you simply list a few examples of spaces in which you’ve performed your work recently?

The salt pile, Frank Gehry-designed Fisher center for the performing arts at Bard College, the McCaren Park Pool

In what ways do you hope to affect the public’s perceptions and experiences of these spaces with your work?

I hope they can see a space differently and go beyond the practical and see the emotions, the past life, the vibrations, the intonations, the echoes the smells, the sounds of a site.

Looking back, we can find examples of artists who have created from similar motivations in the past. Why do you feel it’s important to make this kind of work today?

Because art exists everywhere not just inside the controlled environment of theatre or museums. Art reflects on our life and life happens in real places. Spaces affect us in many ways and I want to include the feeling that a place gives in the experience of art.

What have you learned or discovered about the nature and experience of public space through your performance work?

Public spaces are for everyone to share. They are not meant to be under anyone’s control in particular, which means people may have different ideas of what they are or should be used for.

As an artist working in this “genre”, what’s your burning question?

How does the audience get involved, how can they be more a part of the work?

Learn more >>

Dance in Public Space: Videos

Site Dance: Choreographers and the Lure of Alternative Spaces, edited by Melanie Kloetzel and Carolyn Pavlik, University Press of Florida, 2009.

Susan Cash: yorku.ca/finearts/dance
Merce Cunningham: mercecunningham.org
David Danzon: corpus.ca
Kenneth Emig: emigresearch.com
Free Dance Lessons: wagpress.net/features/files/freedance.html
Lynda Gaudreau: lyndagaudreau.com
Bill James: danceumbrella.net/localheroes_1990.htm
Karen Jamieson: kjdance.ca
Robert Kitsos: sfu.ca/sca
Melanie Kloetzel: kloetzelandco.com
Noémie Lafrance: sensproduction.org
La Ribot: laribot.com
Terrill Maguire: yorku.ca/finearts/dance
Katya Montaignac: la2eporteagauche.ca
Gerry Morita: milezerodance.com
Move: Choreographing You at Haymarket: southbankcentre.co.uk
Meaghan O’Shea: standupdance.com
Aimée Dawn Robinson: motherdrift.blogspot.com
Slow Dance with Teacher: mammalian.ca/template.php?content=social_slowdance
Tedi Tafel: calendarproject.ca
Julia Taffe: aeriosa.com
Thrill the World: thrilltheworld.com

You May Also Like...

LISTINGS THIS WEEK