SPEAK: An Ever-larger Disappearing Act

By Mary Armentrout

November 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

I make site-specific dance installations, and am working on a big, breathy, dreamy, amorphous, maddening piece that will show up in the Bay Area this winter, wandering through four different spaces from December through February. Over the years I have always made work that was site-sensitive, even in proscenium spaces, and now find my work getting more and more malleable and porous, as if it wanted to melt right into the real world that it purports to speak about. I don’t mind this; I think it may be a good development.

Photo by: Rodney Johnson
Photo by: Rodney Johnson

reveries and elegies is my new site specific performance project about displacement, change and loss, which seeks to give us, both performers and audience members, an experience of those things. reveries and elegies is a piece of fragments, a piece consciously created out of fragments and the fragmenting of material. A piece that attempts to embody the experience we have of life (as well as of performance) as a fragmentary thing, ungraspable, only partially here at any given time, ephemeral, always vanishing even as it is always re-presenting itself as the present. A piece that aims to present its audience with a new embodied experience of the sense of loss and wonder we humans have at this basic fact of life.

reveries and elegies is an on-going looping, cumulative piece, always repeating as it moves to a new space, always changing and creating new components caused by the specific attributes of its new home, and so always remaining constant in its attempt to capture the flux of the present situation.  reveries and elegies thus creates a structure that mimics and writes large the peculiar nature of live performance: even as it attempts to repeat and remain the same, it is always new and different, a unique incarnation made special to those watching it by their own assistance in its creation and their awareness of its uniqueness.

Change is built right into this piece. reveries and elegies will happen in four very different spaces over the course of this winter. As the piece travels, the playing spaces of the piece will morph and mutate – getting bigger and smaller, more and less proscenium, more and less urban. The material of the piece will also get messed up in several different ways. First, the material will be transformed by the spaces it is mapped onto – the spaces themselves will cause the material to change. Second, the material will change in the four different venues because I will purposefully shed pieces and add new ones for each new space the piece travels to. This willful reconfiguring of the piece, essentially a not-allowing the piece to remain the same, and a not-allowing the audiences to see the same piece, also structures and embodies the sense of change and dislocation the piece is about.

More specifically, this is a piece built up out of simple things that keep showing change happening to them. It is a piece built up out of explorations of the solo figure in extreme landscapes, many different landscapes of course, some live, some on video. It is a piece built up out of one spoken phrase, “life is so strange,” crafted by three different composers into sound scores. It is a piece built into the winter twilight hour and the special qualities of this bay area moment. Each version of the piece will have its own site specific segment, designed especially for it and its surrounding neighborhood, which will happen at sunset, with its soft pastel quiet bay area air. Perhaps if we’re lucky it will rain on us as we wander the alleyways around CounterPULSE or stand in the clerestory-lit stairwell at the Biscuit Factory.

As I continue dancing, as I continue living, breathing, moving through my life, I notice this continual changing that we are always doing in our duet with time – vanishing and appearing, disappearing and reconfiguring – and I wanted to try and say it – this is my attempt at that. I feel like I’m attempting to trace out a new way of holding on to the living breathing essence of performance. So it will be a new and different piece each time, in each place, and if you come to more than one show it will be different for you each time. Will it be the same piece? I think so, but I’m not sure. Come and find out with me. You will find all the details at maryarmentroutdancetheater.com.

Performances will take place:
Dec 1-2, Milkbar at the Sunshine Biscuit Factory, Oakland
Dec 22-23, Interface Gallery, Oakland
Jan 12-13, CounterPULSE , SF
Feb 23-24, SF location TBA

Audience limited to 25 per night

For updated performance times and locations please visit MaryArmentroutDanceTheater.com

Mary Armentrout is a choreographer, teacher, writer and curator. She makes performance installations, and the next one will definitely be at the new Milkbar in Richmond.