Put a bear on it

September 9, 2010

(all photos by Daniel von Behr)

I spent most of August at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in Southampton, NY.  Many things happened at Watermill, but one of those things was a little dance piece made in about 8 hours, for the Watermill Open House.  Andrea Tzetkov, another participant, selected an art piece/ chair in the gallery that we would make a piece for.  I choreographed a 3 minute movement piece on the chair to show Bob, (as he is called by all at Watermill).   Andrea and I on the chair, Alaa Minawi, another participant,  singing softly behind us was the beginning.  The rest of the process goes something like this:

Bob comes in with a team of designers and watches.  When we finish Bob says something like, “the space is a mess.”  He has us all rearrange the entire gallery to make the furniture and art have a central focus.   Jacque,  his costume designer, looks at us and points at us one by one, “you, man-suit,” (me), “you, little girl-dress” (Andrea), “you, bare-chest (Alaa).  Then Bob has an idea, he senses animals in the piece.  He sends someone off to grab the bear head mask in the office.  And in a moment I am dancing in a bear head, Alaa is now singing a Lebanese  melody loudly in the background, and Andrea is looking kind of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.

I am floored.  Never before has someone come into a piece I am working on, collaborative or not, and entirely, drastically changed it.   For a moment I want to be thoroughly annoyed.  What?  This is not a piece of work I would make.  But then it becomes a game. The task becomes, for all of us, to now take these elements and make something that works, quickly! (and works technically ,which Bob doesn’t seem to worry about, me dancing in a bear head with zero visibility.  Not a problem).

The choreography has to change to suit my lack of visibility.  The sensibility of the piece changes.  The idea changes.  And oddly enough, all these bizarre elements come together, and they fit (And in a way that I think is not politically offensive, which I wasn’t so sure of at first.) Now if that’s not a lesson in making Robert Wilson-esque theater, I’m not sure what is.

I like fitting unlikely elements together in my work, but with subtlety, juxtaposition in the body and voice, for example.  But this is an entirely different level of juxtaposition.  It’s not something I usually do.  Make the space and visuals scream so loudly in opposition.  Quite a lesson in taking a different kind of risk.

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