Page 1

Dance Aesthetics: The Significance of Space Edited by Kaija Pepper


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 1

CONTENTS INTRODUCTION by Mirna Zagar

2

THE CHOREOGRAPHERS The Geography of Conversations By Serge Bennathan

3

Redefining Expectations: The Open Spaces Project By Daelik

5

Performing the City By Carolyn Deby

7

Cabane: A Space Within the Space By Paul-André Fortier

9

THE DESIGNERS The Body in Articulated Spaces By Andreas Kahre

11

Revealed by Light: Provincial Essays By James Proudfoot

13

THE ARCHITECTS The Alchemy of Dance and Architecture By Leslie Van Duzer

15

A Room and the Body By Annabel Vaughan

16

Designing Scotiabank Dance Centre: Four Stories By Noel Best

17


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 2

INTRODUCTION Space is shared by both dance and architecture as a medium either to frame or to express conceptual, emotional and also very concrete ideas. How do artists and architects experience, understand, consider, think, use space? Both disciplines have through time been inter-connected and each has reflected on and expressed specific historical, geographical, social, political and cultural references. We observe this connectivity across cultures and across centuries in the intricate lines of classical Indian dance echoed in the intricate temple reliefs; in the Baroque era’s architectural exuberance and formality, reflected in the dress and gestures of the dances of that time; or in the influence of the Bauhaus school’s revolutionary ideas about form and function on architects like Walter Gropius and dance artists like Oskar Schlemmer, and later in the choreography of Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais and the Judson Dance Theater. Dance as an abstract form carves space through movement in time; architecture constructs the space, redirecting this dynamic to reflect more concretely social, economic and political relations. The Dance Centre itself operates within a space known as Scotiabank Dance Centre and defined by architects, reflecting their understanding of dance – a discipline that organizes space into a temporary, fleeting architecture. We have invited some of our colleagues who have worked with us over the past decade to reflect on these relationships from the perspective of their own encounters and dialogues with space. Within the boundaries of a word count that we provided to the writers, we are offering you, the reader, a window into the way each of them considers space as they bring their respective visions to us. Through their different perspectives they bring to our own reality a new significance, moving us from the purely visual to the performative – be it on stage, as a site-specific experience or as a new spatial construct. Dance Aesthetics: The Significance of Space offers a glimpse into how these particular artists take their conceptual frameworks and their perceptions, and own or transpose space. Mirna Zagar, Executive Director The Dance Centre, February 2013

2


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 3

THE CHOREOGRAPHERS The Geography of Conversations By Serge Bennathan

When the idea of creating an imaginary dialogue between the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his murderer Juan Luis Trescastro came to my mind, the concept of having the audience on four sides of the stage imposed itself right away, becoming an integral aspect of the show. The work was going to be about mystery, secrecy, jealousy and intimate thoughts, and the audience had to be in the position not just of spectators but also of witnesses. I wanted the performers (Billy Marchenski and Dan Wild) to have just enough space to be able to reach a high degree of physicality and at the same time be limited by the frame created by the audience. The drama would be heightened by the huis-clos – the no exit situation – creating a powerful feeling of compression. Many audience members probably knew already about the tragic life and death of Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by fascists during the Spanish civil war, his body never found. It was important that, as they entered, the feeling of compression, the density and charge of the space, would suggest the drama about to unfold. Then the true journey of the audience could take place: not to follow a succession of events, but rather to live my proposition of why and how it happened. To be part of the conversation. This delimited and calculated space was set up like an archaeological dig. As the piece developed, the constant waves of emotions created by the encounter of the two men – anger, fear and violence, but also calm, abandon, poetry and profaneness – had to fit inside this geography. As the director/choreographer, my main thought was that each member of the audience, wherever they were seated around the performance area, would feel the action was addressing them directly. With set designer Jay Gower Taylor, discussions focused on how to create a tactile and visual bridge between a very defined period (1936) represented on stage and an audience rooted in the present. We chose to seat the audience in old wooden chairs like those that might be found in churches or cafés in Spain. These chairs framing the stage had the effect

3


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 4

of sending us back in time and instinctively placing us geographically in Europe. Lighting designer James Proudfoot faced a challenge as the arena staging took away the possibility of using very much side lighting. Since the piece started on an archaeological site, we used the same kind of tripod lights oſten found there, placed strategically within the stage space and doubling as part of the set. Lights hanging from the flies were used to create the effect of a sky. The crude white light of the tripods in contrast with the soſter light above reinforced a sense of intimacy and pressure as well as giving a beautiful sense of height, which helped relieve the extreme intensity of the piece. The performers were confined in their space, and I wanted the audience to have the same feeling of confinement. Anyone who wished to leave the show would have to make a statement as everyone would see them go. There would be no hiding behind the usual distance and darkness separating audience and performers, just as there was no hiding for the performers. Giving the audience the opportunity to show their liking or disliking of the point of view I was presenting on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Federico Garcia Lorca brought a political undertone to the viewing of the work. During the creation of Conversations [which premiered at Scotiabank Dance Centre in 2011] I was obsessed with the notion of courage, courage in the everyday life of people, and also courage in the life of a performer or in the creation of a play, and how the essence of courage can be filtered to the audience. Lorca was a courageous man but fear also strangled him. Yet his fear did not prevent him from pursuing his work and that showed me what courage is: courage is fear, fear that suddenly no longer influences your thoughts. You are then, at that instant, free. Free to act. In this sense, Lorca was free. To absorb all this, I believe the audience had to be within and almost part of the action. The decision to create a 360-degree performance space was, ultimately, about bringing the audience into the event, close enough to feel, even to smell fear and courage. So close that if the desire came, you would have the real possibility to literally pull out one of the protagonists to try and stop the unstoppable. Serge Bennathan, recipient of the Rio Tinto Alcan Award in 2012, lives in Vancouver, where he is artistic director of Les Productions Figlio. Bennathan has written and illustrated five books, and the first exhibit of his paintings took place in 2010. He is the former artistic director of Toronto’s Dancemakers (1990-2006).

4


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 5

Redefining Expectations: The Open Spaces Project By Daelik

When I was first thinking about The Open Spaces Project, I wanted to remove the audience from the role of passive observer, but without making them feel obligated to “perform” in my work. I was drawn to the idea of an event in which the audience was inside the performance and could freely move around to get different vantage points. I started with the Faris Family Studio, where we would premiere the piece in 2009, and its capacity for being transformed into an empty box if the hydraulic seating is retracted. Early on I talked with my set designer, Paul Gazzola, a performance artist, carpenter and dancer studying architecture, about my interest in taking away the seats and having the audience “roam.” We agreed we wanted to create a set that was easily moveable by the performers so that we could constantly redefine the performance space. Paul decided to use cardboard boxes as the material because of their versatility. His first idea – to create a wall of boxes set against the retractable seating and then, using the hydraulic system, to push the wall into the space – was brilliant. First because I had never seen it done and knew the audience would be surprised when they were suddenly confronted by a wall of boxes moving toward them. Second because it concretely demonstrated the concept of altering the performance space. I wanted the set to be integral to The Open Spaces Project as a vehicle for redefining space, not just a gimmick. I spent a lot of rehearsal time researching with the boxes with Paul and the dancers (six altogether, including myself). We explored various possible ways in which the boxes could be used to redefine the space for the performers as much as for the audience. We also explored the psychological implications of the structures: at one point, a box became a confessional when a dancer placed his head inside it, allowing him to reveal intimate details about his life. By reconfiguring the wall a couple of times during the

5


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 6

hour-long piece, we were able to create areas of containment that allowed the audience the intimacy of being inside the performance or to build obstacles that meant they had to observe from a distance and at times not see the performers at all. The idea of having spectators inside the performance space was entirely theoretical until opening night. We had talked as a group about where we thought the audience might go, and from which perspective they would watch. As a choreographer I also thought about how to design the scenes in such a way as to guide the audience to the places we wanted them to go. For example, aer the wall of boxes moved into the space the dancers went to the other side of the wall and the audience had to follow them to see what was happening. Another time the dancers built the wall directly down the centre of the performance space and I had two scenes occurring simultaneously. The audience could watch one or the other of the scenes, or both, depending on where they placed themselves. On opening night we discovered the audience was very enthusiastic about their freedom to move around inside the performance and we were unprepared for moments where their presence blocked us from doing some of the choreography. The next day the group talked about how to address that obstacle, hands-on if necessary. One of the dancers chose to gently bump up against the audience, herding them like a sheepdog, to move them out of his next performance area. What stays in my mind even now is the memory of audience members who through their choice-making became a part of the performance: a woman standing directly over a dancer as he writhed on the oor at her feet; groups of people anxious not to miss anything, who removed boxes from the wall so they could see the action on the other side; the palpable alertness of audience members unsure of what would happen next, prepared to move as they anticipated a dancer moving toward them. None of this would have happened if I had chosen to work within the traditional architecture of the theatre. Daelik is a dancer, improviser, choreographer and teacher with a performance history of over 20 years. His dance works have been presented in Canada and internationally. In 2002 he formed his own company, MACHiNENOiSY Dance Society, which he co-directs with long-time collaborator Delia Brett.

6


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 7

Performing the City By Carolyn Deby I grew up in Saskatchewan. Although it has been 25 years since I lived on the prairies, my core remains absolutely defined by those wide-open horizons, huge sky, a sense of climactic extremes, the wild storms and constant horizontal movement of wind. Retaining this almost operatic sensibility of space and energy, I now live in one of the most populated cities in the world: London, England. Still, my choreographic practice is engaged with trying to illuminate and reveal the city as a place of wild nature, of animal and elemental movement. We are a species not so long out of the woods. My contention is that we remain profoundly connected to the myriad life forces that share this planetary space with us. And that dance – embodied and visceral – is the ideal form with which to explore and express this. A city makes it possible for many humans to live closely together, and confirms our ability to ultimately control and reshape our natural environment. Evidence of death or decay is eradicated. Concrete, glass, plastic and metal seem almost impervious to mortality. But look 7


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 8

closer and you realize these materials have been reshaped from the minerals, fossils and rocks of the once-living past. Even wood and brick, though more obviously of natural origins, are manufactured into the orderly structures of the urban built environment. We seek to eradicate the mess, the weeds, the pests and the defecation of natural ecosystems. The circular order of birth, life, death and decay is replaced with either a linear illusion of immortality, or a sanitized sleight of disposal and replacement. We don’t grow old. With all this in mind, I begin to choreograph by asking myself, how do we move through and within this urban context? How or are we reshaped and affected by an urban space which reconstitutes nature? Urban space is also social space: a field of interlinking systems and energies – of idea generation and mutation; transportation and movement patterns; concentrations and dispersals of activity or stillness; reciprocal impacts between site or territory and the human psyche/body – that shape our lived experience. By working site-specifically in the city, I bring my work and audiences into a direct and meaningful encounter with all of these complex interactions. The city is part of the choreography. In Vancouver in 2008, Imbolc {in the belly} considered the human relationship to the cycle of seasons within the urban environment, taking its name and inspiration from the ancient Irish fire festival of Imbolc (pronounced “im-molk”). Over 22 performances, the piece took audiences of 50 people per night on a two-hour journey through performance, sound and installation at a sequence of downtown locations. It was essential not only to situate the work in these ordinary public and private places, but also that audiences had to travel through and between them – reminded of their usual relationship to specific places, and making perhaps new associations. The audience’s movement through urban space and their shiſting perspective served to keep them constantly aware of their own bodily presence in the work. The piece explored the winter city as a cluster of interior spaces gestating life: Imbolc was traditionally celebrated in the cold darkness of mid-winter, when animals begin to give birth and the earliest hints of spring life emerge. Each interior space referenced specific ideas: the journey between life and death and life (performers ranged in age from 10 to 85 years old); mating displays/ritual as human-animal activity; a scientific understanding of combustion on the cellular to macro levels; fire as both metaphor and biological process. Mixing the urban with the elemental, the work used cell phones, video, movement, text, soil, flames and recorded electronic music. As well, audience movement through the piece was induced by a series of fragmentary clues and/or poetic instructions that meant they had to individually make decisions en route, including choices about how they travelled (walking and by SkyTrain). This decision-making, and the accidental/incidental occurrences along the way, were all important aspects of the urban choreographic space being defined by Imbolc {in the belly}. My current sirenscrossing project, rivercities, focuses on flows between humans and nature, especially at the point of collision between urban and wild. The consideration of space has widened to a global one: rivers as metaphor for the flows between all life and Earth’s systems. Part of the continuous circulation of Earth’s water or the hydrosphere – which also includes glaciers, oceans, clouds, groundwater, and the cells and circulation systems of living things – rivers are literally flowing through us. Carolyn Deby is a London, England-based artist/choreographer who trained originally at Simon Fraser University. She makes site-specific performances under the collaborative umbrella of sirenscrossing, with projects in both Europe and Canada. During 2011-12, Carolyn was Leverhulme Trust Artist-in-Residence at University College London’s Urban Laboratory. www.sirenscrossing.com

8


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 9

Cabane: A Space Within the Space By Paul-André Fortier

In Cabane, the most essential element, from which everything else flows, is the shack, or cabin, itself: a basic cube, set slightly off-centre in whichever space it’s placed. The idea of working with the shack as a theme first came to me when I was dancing the site-specific Solo 30x30 in Nancy, France, on the roof of a shed being used as a locker room for municipal car drivers. As I climbed up onto the roof every day in the midst of a vast parking lot, I began to imagine how I could take this adventure to the next level, and realized that I could not go back, I could not return to a conventional stage. Like Solo 30x30, Cabane – which premiered at Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques in June 2008 – is a site-specific hybrid that falls somewhere between performance art, theatre, dance and installation, and is designed to be performed in different types of environments. The actual construction of the shack was key. I had a clear image of it in my mind: I wanted it to be hinged, with two walls that could open, a window and a trap door in the roof. It had to be sturdy and be built in such a way that we could set it up on any type of surface. In order that the choreography could be presented under the most basic conditions, John Munro designed a lighting system that would make us independent of a standard theatre set-up and allow us to play anywhere. John used overhead projectors, whose positioning on the floor determined the amount of space needed for the set. Video projectors were also on the floor, either to show images of birds or to use as secondary lighting sources, contributing to the low-tech space I wanted to create. At the beginning of the duet, the theatrical space is clearly defined by the shack and the various projectors set on the floor. One person (Rober Racine) is seated on the roof of the shack with a megaphone. A second person (myself) comes out of the hut and begins a long

9


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 10

back and forth dialogue with him. Early in the performance, a series of seemingly random objects make their appearance onstage. These objects, placed in very specific locations, determine the poetic architecture of the space and the acting area available to the two protagonists. All of the choreography and all of the interactions between the characters are organized around these objects. The theatrical space loses its neutrality and becomes an inhabited place. As well, as in all choreographies, the protagonists build spaces within the space, through the direction of their glances and gestures, and the scope of their movements. They dance beyond the reality of the space. In Cabane, the odd objects used in the space hold many surprises, and shiſting their function contributes to creating a sound architecture that adds a whole other dimension to the piece. Metal bedsprings become a trampoline, then turn into an acoustic instrument skillfully played by Rober, then are transformed into a harp and later, prison cell bars. Two film tripods are used as stools, then suddenly become harmonicas. In this way, sound is also key to the space; it is used in the acting area and resonates throughout the theatrical space. One dimension that is oſten forgotten is the contribution made by the audience to live performance. The audience is never neutral; ideally, viewers are invested in what they see. They add to it, interpret it, decipher it … I have never come across indifferent viewers with Cabane. Everyone has a story to tell about a shack or a bed that overwrites what I have proposed with this piece. In so doing, they add depth to what they see, and this depth creates an endless imaginative space. As we toured Cabane to different places, we performed in some remarkable settings and each time, the environment brought a new dimension to the show and coloured how it is viewed. I love the idea that the same show can be read differently depending on where it is performed. When the shack is erected under a crystal chandelier in a five-star Montreal hotel ballroom, it resonates differently from when it is set up in the middle of a London meat market or in an abandoned Marseille industrial space. Cabane’s space is inserted into another space, which also has a story to tell. A new dimension is added, whereby space is added to the space. Paul-André Fortier has created nearly 50 choreographic works, including collaborations with leading artists Françoise Sullivan, Betty Goodwin, Rober Racine, Alain Thibault, Robert Morin and Malcolm Goldstein. In 2010, he was appointed Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, and he received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 2012.

10


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 11

THE DESIGNERS The Body in Articulated Spaces By Andreas Kahre Space – specifically articulated space – has been at the centre of my practice for the past 25 years, across the spectrum of dance, theatre, installations and performance art. By articulated I mean space that is created or framed such that by its configuration, its dynamics and its stated or implied context, it expresses meaning. That definition also describes the moving body, as it both constitutes and creates space. The task of the designer in dance is primarily to help shape the tension between the space that is the body, the space the body creates and the space that surrounds it, each layer constituting a complete emotional and syntactical system in its own right. While my work with theatre and interdisciplinary companies oſten involves unconventional performance venues whose unpredictability is critical to their function as poetic space, dance is mostly performed in black box theatres, which offer almost total control over the senses but are shaped by conventions that create a divided space: the trope of the fourth wall, the privileged gaze of the audience, the ways in which gender and race are inscribed on the performing body. The result is a paradox: many dance artists valorize the body as the vehicle of truthful expression, yet present it in an illusory, spectacular space. Designing spaces that articulate these tensions is the challenge, especially as digital media adds a dimension of interactivity that results in a new kind of augmented space. We make less of an effort to hide the machinery nowadays, but that does less to diminish its power than to increase the audience’s complicity. They still see everything: the shin busters that light up the “invisible” architecture, the jitter in the video and the EXIT signs that never go away.

11


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 12

Among the choreographers I have worked with, Lola MacLaughlin stands out as an artist who was keenly aware of the potential and the pitfalls of space in relation to dance. I collaborated with her as set designer, sound designer and dramaturge, and in the five projects we created together between 1997 and 2011, we focused on designing spaces that articulated specific social, biological and psychological impositions that shape the moving body. The key element was constrained space. In Four Solos/Four Cities (1998), we created objects and animated backdrops that suggested both geographic locations and aspects of the self, resulting in a hybrid space – neither exterior nor interior. A section titled Berlin, for example, featured stylized tank barricades and a series of projected letters that were synchronized with the light to evoke the sensation of subway destinations rushing by, conflating an internal and external point of view that the audience experienced directly while also witnessing aspects of the performer’s perceptual space. Volio (2000) presented an essay on the tension between tasked action and non-tasked states, set in a stylized British Columbia landscape. The physical elements represented an entropic space that contained signifiers of thermodynamic processes: Bunsen burners that consumed their fuel, a video screen whose slow procession of foliage “wallpaper” suggested a metronome set to plant time, a wall of rocks broken down and rebuilt over the course of the piece. Our goal was to place a hard frame around the fragility and soſtness of the bodies that created at its centre a space of desire. In Fuse (2002) we were concerned with metaphoric space, as defined by three objects: a panoramic video “window” of rolling clouds placed high on the back wall, a library ladder which allowed the performers to climb up and observe the view, and an object that represented the life force imprisoned in a technological frame: a large, grey, hard-edged industrial cart that held a pair of young spruce trees, whose roots balls were suspended above ground. Animated by red aircraſt strobe lights, it dominated and disrupted space, so much so that public opinion, including our own stage management, rose in horror of the thing, and – citing everything from safety concerns to the logic that if it had wheels it should be moving – caused it to be redesigned on tour into a little round tray, with handlebars and a choreographic cameo of its own, which Lola and I privately referred to as “the dance of the lawnmowers.” Space is as delicate as it is powerful, and sometimes it takes very little to transform the poetic into the ridiculous, which aſter all is what combines with our spiritual, emotional and political conditions and binds us all together in human space. Andreas Kahre is an interdisciplinary artist, designer, writer and musician who has collaborated on more than 100 performance projects across Canada and internationally. As a set and sound designer, he has worked with, among others, Lola Dance, Karen Jamieson, Mascall Dance, Conrad Alexandrovich and Cheryl Prophet. www.andreaskahre.net

12


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 13

Revealed by Light: Provincial Essays By James Proudfoot

The best starting point for a lighting designer is a darkened room. With that as a base the possibility of creating a specific space for a dance to unfold exists. It helps if the room is equipped with the necessities of current theatrical practice: positions to hang lights from, many separately controlled dimmers, a variety of lighting instruments, a flexible control console and a well-trained crew. The pre-show stage picture for Provincial Essays, created by choreographer Lola MacLaughlin in 2007 and on which I collaborated as lighting designer, began with this ideal dark space. As the audience entered the Faris Family Studio where the work premiered, the only illumination was from three large, soſt, white lights perched high atop mobile chrome stands spread across the front of the stage, pointed toward the auditorium as people found the way to their seats. Eventually the dancers entered from the rear of the stage, walked casually to the stands, lowered the lights, and turned and rolled them into position for the first scene. The act of turning the lights toward the playing space directed the energy and focus of the whole room, simultaneously creating an intense theatrical space where the choreography could unfold and darkening the auditorium. The lights were incandescent Rifas, used in the film industry; each one has a white square surface surrounded by black structure. When we chose them, Lola had already decided there would be a white floor and projected elements that necessitated a white backdrop as well. The performance space was therefore going to comprise two large, white, rectangular forms contained within the larger black surround of the theatre itself. The squares and rectangles of the set and the lighting units were the work’s principal graphic forms, employed in various lighting configurations. These linear geometrical forms gave a sense of order and purpose, contrasted in scenes in which soſt, open light was used, transforming the space to poetic and wistful. Repetition and careful variation of the lighting effects helped to clarify the design and provide conceptual continuity. Oſten, overlapping rectangular light beams formed square hot spots on the floor, ideal spaces for locating the rooted action of several of the scenes. A small amount of re-spacing of the original choreography was all that was required to land dancers 13


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 14

in the right hot spot. At times the large rolling Rifa lights were grouped to surround a scene that used a small fraction of stage, with additional light from overhead fixtures shaped to enclose the desired playing area with a highlight on the floor. Lola deployed a sly sense of humour in much of Provincial Essays, and it was a challenge to approach the lighting in the same spirit. Does the square of light on the floor actually come from the large square Rifa fixture or not? A visual pun of sorts. Do the narrow, bright green lines crossing the stage represent the forest space indicated by both the video projection and the soundtrack? These visuals were abstracted from reality, like the choreographic material and the text spoken by the dancers. In one scene, the physical nature of Ron Stewart’s movement, his long and straight angular arm motions, dictated a lighting with longer rectangular forms falling on the floor. The video element here – a photographic close up of venetian blinds – featured similar horizontal and vertical lines. Capturing Ron within small areas when the movement was contained by lighting a smaller space allowed the audience to focus on the danced details, and to recognize that the movement would not be flowing throughout the stage. When Ron did break out across the playing space, logic dictated the space also open out with more geometric forms. For the transition from this scene, his slow motion run diagonally to the front was lit with another dancer propelling one of the Rifa lights behind him, following his trajectory. The video texture faded as the rolling light washed away the remaining geometric elements from the floor. Another projected vista opened up behind Ron, and the light that had been framing him, his position within the stage picture and his movement quality all shiſted, releasing him to make his escape. In Provincial Essays, by having dancers actively manipulate the light sources, the artifice of the shared experience and of the space being created under the artificial glare of spotlights was acknowledged. Lighting so apparent, conspicuous even, can only be achieved when a choreographer is generous enough to share the stage with this applied craſt. Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, where he received his initial technical theatre training, James Proudfoot has been living in Vancouver since 1993. Largely self-taught in the realm of dance lighting, he has designed lighting for many dance and theatre companies.

14


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 15

THE ARCHITECTS The Alchemy of Dance and Architecture By Leslie Van Duzer Choreographers and architects have long shared common practices and aspirations. Both carve space with solid bodies; both engage movement – that of the dancer and the building’s inhabitant – to make evident the space-time continuum. Both collaborate with allied arts, and create instructions for others to follow, much like composers or conceptual artists. Academics, critics and practitioners alike have readily noted the shared territory between dance and architecture. But there is a mutual aspiration that merits more attention, admittedly one few choreographers and architects aspire to, and fewer still achieve. It is the ambition of creating a work of art that transcends the facts of its physical presence. Architect Louis Kahn wrote: “A great building must begin with the immeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable.” The architect first imagines the desired effect in their mind’s eye, and then uses the tools of their trade to precisely craſt a work that ultimately defies its very presence. Le Corbusier called the magical residue of an architecture transcended: “ineffable space.” In dance, as in architecture, the desire to get beyond the facts is a recurring theme. As Bauhaus director Mies van der Rohe moved toward an architecture of “almost nothing,” painter and dance teacher Oskar Schlemmer described his Triadic Ballet as “heading towards dematerialization.” Merce Cunningham defined dance as “an art in space and time” and went on to say “the object of the dancer is to obliterate that.” This striving to obliterate space and time and to dissolve all that is material in dance and architecture, as if bodies and bricks were a burden, too finite, too familiar and far too weighty, reflects a desire to release the spectator from the prison of habitual thought, to wake them up and elevate them into the world of their imagination. To create a work capable of transporting the spectator out of their automated modes of thinking and into such an alert state of mind requires first turning the spotlight on their rote expectations. The spectator is set up, lured into the work through the apparently familiar. This initial access is key; shock only estranges when the aim is to seduce. Once settled comfortably into the work, be it a dance or a building, it unfolds in space and time, challenging our embodied experiences of the world by defying materiality, eliminating gravity, dissolving solidity, in short, by presenting the strangely familiar as the impossible made possible. Such sublimation of the material realm relies on the ability of a work to shiſt the spectator’s attention away from the dancer’s or the architect’s virtuosity. A fundamental condition for this is extreme precision of craſt. Gottfried Semper, the great 19th-century architect and theoretician, described the ability of materials, when handled expertly, to mask their own physical presence and exude aura. The craſt or technique, he argued, must be precise and masterful but never foregrounded if the objective is evaporation. Think of the magician whose polished patter and practiced gestures successfully distract the spectator’s attention away from the supporting apparatus and toward his assistant levitating in midair. The audience is freed to believe in bodies released from the shackles of gravity, against all better judgment. The success of this artistic aspiration can be measured in the extent to which the spectator is inspired to look beyond all they know about the world, to see beyond the virtuosity of the dancer’s leaps and the engineer’s cantilevers, beyond the material richness of 15


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 16

costumes and construction, and into their own bountiful imagination, where all things are possible. What greater giſt could a choreographer or an architect hope to give than such freedom? Leslie Van Duzer, director of the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, moved to Vancouver in 2010 aſter teaching for 20 years in schools of architecture across the United States and Europe. Co-author of four books, she is currently working on two new publications: Thinking by Design and The Art of Deception.

A Room and the Body By Annabel Vaughan The room is the beginning of architecture. It is the place of mind. You in the room with its dimensions, its structure, its light respond to its character, its spiritual aura, recognizing that whatever the human proposes and makes becomes a life. Louis I. Kahn, “The Room, the Street, and Human Agreement” The implicit connection between the body and space determines much of what an architect considers when designing a building. The built form is derived from the proportions of the body, the relationship between physical materials and the body, and the phenomenon of a body as it negotiates volume. As a student of architecture, you become hyper-aware of the body’s relationship to space, how it negotiates space, how the tectonic of space is read by the body, and how the sublime proportions of the body can begin to manifest in the pure mathematical space of a room and then a building. In my second year of architecture school at the University of Waterloo, I had a professor who studied dance before becoming an architect. The first exercise he led us through was influenced by the work of Oskar Schlemmer, the Master of Form instructor responsible for the elaborate theatre and opera productions at the Bauhaus in the 1920s. Our professor had us paint 12-foot-long two-by-twos red, drove us out to a field of soy beans that was home to a Richard Serra sculpture, and asked us to walk around the site in groups and document ourselves. The challenge was that we had to hold on to our red stick at all times; our bodies were suddenly 12 feet wide and no longer our own. The limits of our interior reference had been shiſted by the simple extension of holding a stick. Negotiating and locating ourselves in the site was transformed from the everyday experience of our familiar bodies into unfamiliar relationships. It was a visceral way to inscribe the physical scale of our own bodies onto the site. It was also the moment that I came back to dance as an adult spectator. I have a vague recollection of going to the ballet as a young child: the lushness of the theatre, the hush anticipation of being an audience member and the spectacle unfolding on stage. I can’t remember the piece, maybe it was Swan Lake, but I do remember being swept up into the space of the unfolding story. Over the years, drawn in by my experience at architecture school, the parallels between dance and my own discipline became abundantly clear: they are both fundamentally involved with the body and its negotiation of space. Both work with the physical boundary of the body to craſt space and both resolve the limitations imposed by gravity: one on the body, as in the case of dance, and one on materials, as in the case of architecture. Dance has become a way for me to see and understand the occupation and creation of space in a medium that is not my own – it is a way to conceptualize and respond to the 16


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 17

phenomenon of perception within the limits of space (the stage, a set, a room) through movement, time, projection and lighting. What draws me into a performance is the complexity of the relationship between the physical body and the way in which space is craſted through movement and light; the deſtness with which gravity disappears or is played with; and the tension and resolution that is created in this dissonance. When I get swept into a piece, dance is the life that becomes the room. Annabel Vaughan is the Principal of publicLAB RESEARCH + DESIGN. Her work as an artist has been exhibited at Artspeak Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery, La Fonderie Darling in Montreal and The Other Gallery in Banff. She is a sessional instructor at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Note: The opening quote is from Louis I. Kahn’s 1971 Gold Medal Acceptance Speech, published in AIA Journal, September 1971: 33-34.

Designing Scotiabank Dance Centre: Four Stories By Noel Best Every architectural project has its unique stories, its defining issues. When Arthur Erickson and I were lead architects for Scotiabank Dance Centre, which opened its doors in Vancouver in 2001, those issues were really at the heart of the design. We were very aware this was a space for dance, and besides considering how to pack all the requested functions into the limited building volume available, we thought about how the various spaces would feel for the dancers themselves, and how to reflect an image of the less tangible art form of dance in the architecture of the building. One The first story has to do with the building section – an architectural term describing the vertical organization of the spaces – what you might see if you cut through the building like a layer cake. The Dance Centre (the organization behind the construction and now the running of Scotiabank Dance Centre) had developed an ambitious architectural program, the list of requested spaces totaling over 33,000 square feet. It featured six rehearsal studios; the largest, with the same dimensions as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage, would also serve as a performance space. There were two additional large studios, two medium and one small studio, each with a ceiling height appropriate to their size. There were also office and support spaces with a standard eight or nine foot ceiling height. The site was a heritage bank building at the corner of Granville and Davie Streets, donated by the Bank of Nova Scotia. One major design challenge was to fit all these spaces within the footprint of the site, the 50 foot x 120 foot lot of the original bank, and also within the 90 foot height limit established by City Planning. As the architectural cliché has it, it was “like putting ten pounds of wheat into a five pound bag.” Our solution was a complex composition of split levels. Both public lobbies – the street level and the one below – together fit within the same vertical dimension as the performance space, the Faris Family Studio. The three stacked levels of change rooms and lounge pair with the two levels of the large and mid-sized studios, and the top-floor offices share the same floor-to-ceiling dimension of the small studio. [In 2012, a second small studio replaced part of the office space.]

17


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 18

Consequently, a vertical line cut through the “cake” would at one point yield a four-story building, at another point, six stories and at a third, seven stories. This explains why you cannot get to the Level Four studios by elevator.

Two How we resolved the contradictory messages of the vintage bank building with that of contemporary dance in Vancouver was another story. The bank building was a 1920s standard design, replicated across the country – a two-story, neoclassical composition in granite and brick. While it had not been functioning as a bank for some years, both the interior and the exterior were relatively original and intact. It was regularly used as a period film set. The building had a Heritage B classification from the City, and the most contentious issue was how much of the heritage building would be maintained. With the site a compact 6,000 square feet, and The Dance Centre needing 33,000 square feet of building, a minimum height of six stories was required. As the production studio was to be the full width of the site and two stories high, and two of the other studios were also 50 feet wide, saving much of the interior was simply not an option. What was up for consideration was how much of the façade on Granville and Davie Streets would be retained. In the end, faced with the dichotomy of the staid neoclassical façade and the free and lively nature of Vancouver dance, we elected to retain only the Granville façade, as a dramatic “Piranesi fragment” – almost like a stage set – while the Davie Street frontage, light, contemporary and transparent, became the defining image of Scotiabank Dance Centre. The heritage community was not amused by this proposal and the City’s Heritage Commission recommended the design be rejected. The final decision rested with City Council. Faced with the choice between retaining the bank in its entirety or finally achieving the longawaited Dance Centre, the Council unanimously chose dance. Three Perhaps my favourite part of Scotiabank Dance Centre is the top floor studio next to the terrace. Rather than having only administration on this uppermost level (the conventional solution), we wanted to give the prime users of the building – the dancers – the benefit of the 18


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 19

light and view, and of the adjacent rooſtop terrace. Over a portion of this terrace, we provided a glass roof for sun and rain protection. A secondary, but important, consideration was that the studio and terrace could be used together for meetings and receptions. For the terrace canopy Arthur suggested a single column in the corner, from which would be suspended a quarter circle of glass made up of several radial segments. This idea of the circular form presented some interesting design possibilities. Architecture and dance each have a variety of definitions and descriptions, but one they share is “movement through space and time.” It seemed to me that here was an opportunity, with this feature element, to give architectural expression to the movement of dance. Rather than having a continuous arc for the perimeter of the roof, each segment of glass was given a larger radius, creating a dramatic progression through space and time. My immediate inspiration was Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Other references that came to mind were Eadweard Muybridge’s classic photographs of figures in motion and, and in a more contemporary vein, a dancer captured in the frozen frames of a strobe light.

Four In the design of a concert hall, the quality of the acoustics is the critical measure of success. In a dance studio, it is the quality of the floor. At Scotiabank Dance Centre, the floor design was made more complex by the multiple groups that would be using the studios – some in pointe shoes, others in slippers, still others barefoot or in flamenco or tap shoes. Such specialized floors were new territory for both Arthur and myself, so we started the research early on, studying the construction and qualities of existing floors in local venues, including commentary from the dance community. The research was extended to the floor design of classical ballet studios in Russia and contemporary studios in Europe, and included commercial products for gymnasiums and stages. We brought in Jay Gower Taylor, a former dancer with an expertise in the design and construction of dance floors, to develop the design and ultimately to supervise the construction of the studio floors. Jay produced a custom design for each studio, using either a vinyl or wood surface, overlapping layers of plywood and rubber cushions of variable density and spacing. A group of dancers representing a variety of dance styles tested a mock-up assembled in a warehouse. Modifications were made based on their suggestions. When the construction of the building was nearing completion, one quadrant of one studio floor was installed and the

19


Dance Aesthetics_Dance Aesthetics rev1 13-02-04 1:58 PM Page 20

test group of dancers invited back for a last review. Further refinements were then made prior to the final installation. The dancers love these floors. The Inuit apparently have more than 20 words to describe the different qualities of snow. Similarly Arthur and I were intrigued by the many descriptions dancers have given of the floors at Scotiabank Dance Centre, my personal favourites being warm and intimate. Noel Best is a Principal in Stantec Architecture, and was formerly a key player in Arthur Erickson’s firm. He has made a major contribution to the cultural life of Vancouver through involvement on projects including the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Contemporary Art Gallery, Scotiabank Dance Centre and the recent addition to the Museum of Anthropology.

Photos: page 3 Billy Marchenski and Danny Wild in Conversations, by Chris Randle; page 5 Clinton Draper, Daelik, Brett Owen, Chris Wright and Shay Kuebler in The Open Spaces Project, by Chris Randle; page 7 Catherine Andersen and Sadie in Imbolc {in the belly}, by Chris Randle; page 9 Paul-André Fortier and Rober Racine in Cabane, by Robert Etcheverry; page 11 Day Helesic and Susan Elliott in Volio, by David Cooper; page 13 Ron Stewart in Provincial Essays, by David Cooper; page 18 Giovanni Piranesi, Etching of the Villa Adriana, c 1770; Scotiabank Dance Centre, by Gerry Kopelow, courtesy of Stantec; page 19 Eadweard Muybridge, Woman with a Vase, c 1880, courtesy of the Library of Congress; Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912; Scotiabank Dance Centre canopy, by Gerry Kopelow, courtesy of Stantec; page 20 Scotiabank Dance Centre building section model, by Noel Best.


Scotiabank Dance Centre Level 6, 677 Davie Street Vancouver BC V6B 2G6 T 604.606.6400 F 604.606.6401 info@thedancecentre.ca

www.thedancecentre.ca

Š 2013 The Dance Centre and the authors The VDC Dance Centre Society (The Dance Centre) is a non-proďŹ t organization and a registered charity.

Dance Aesthetics: The Significance of Space  

The fourth in a series of publications by The Dance Centre, this booklet examines the relationship between dance and space through a collect...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you