Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, artistic directors of Bridgman Packer Dance, have collaborated as performers and choreographers since 1978. Their innovative work developing a video partnering — the integration of live performance and video technology — has been acclaimed for its highly visual and visceral alchemy of the live and the virtual. On Jan. 27 and 28, they make their Texas debut at the Dallas City Performance Hall performing Under the Skin and Voyeur.
Since 2003, when Seductive Reasoning premiered at the Joyce Soho, your body of work has integrated video projections into live performance. Were you approached by another artist or was this something you decided you wanted to do?
Packer: It really came from us. It was around 2001 that consumer level cameras and projectors became affordable. Art was experimenting in our studio and he video recorded and projected himself life size and called me out to the studio to see what he was working on. He was stepping in and out of his life size image.
I immediately felt light bulbs going off — fireworks going off creatively — because I could see how video helped us say what we wanted on stage in terms of identity. I saw someone fracturing off of himself and reuniting with themselves. I saw different sides of himself splitting away. Also I saw, right in front of me, I saw the whole question of perception — what is real and what is image? And, how the image could become a metaphor for many aspects of the psyche and memories, of dreams, of desires.
Out of that work that night, we developed a solo for him, which was a section in Seductive Reasoning. As I look back on it that was the key, the moment for all the work we’ve made since then, which is about seven or eight major works that integrate live performance and video technology. Each one, we explore in a different way. We are saying something different, but somehow it’s come out of a very fertile territory that we found of this integration of the live and the video.
Bridgman: I think we’ve also been lucky to run into some very interesting technologists along the way. Jim Monroe helped us with one of our early pieces. Then Peter Bobrow, who is a filmmaker and is a fountain of ideas and wonderful creativity, joined the team and we’ve been working with him on and off for 15 years along with some other video artists along the way.
We seek people out as we look ahead to what we want to say with technology. Our starting point is choreography. We are choreographers and performers and we like to think that technology is one more element to our artistic palate. We like to stay on top of technology and let it work for us as much as we can.
What was the catalyst for Voyeur, which you’ll be performing at the Dallas City Performance Hall?
Packer: Under the Skin was the first piece where we started using our bodies and our costumes as screens as a way of looking at transformation. Looking at Under the Skin, [it’s asking] “What are we made of? What is this secret code inside of us?” Sometimes using projections as a way of seeing on the outside what could possibly be on the inside ...
For example, my lower body is projected onto his costume so that his upper body is male and his lower body female and that switches depending on what’s projected on me. It’s a real play on identity, gender, and transformation. That’s also a piece where we multiply virtually so there are times when there’s up to 20 of us on stage, two are real and the others are virtual so it becomes a real party with these iterations of ourself. It’s a real playful piece about identity.
In terms of Voyeur, we live in the Hudson Valley near the town of Nyack, which is the birth place of Edward Hopper. His childhood home is now the Edward Hopper House Art Center. They knew of our work and they approached us about commissioning a work inspired by Hopper’s paintings. It took us a while of studying his work and reading about his work to find what would be our way in to that.
The aspect of his work that kept coming back to us as being very intriguing was the element of voyeurism. As we were reading about his work, that word kept coming up and so many of his paintings, his characters are seen partially, through windows and doorways or they’re peering out of windows and doorways. Or even when you are seeing them fully, there’s a sense that you are capturing a candid moment in a private life.
Bridgman: In addition to the idea of seeing pieces of individual lives, we felt that there had to be some sort of architectural presence that we had to work with. We found that many of his paintings have a foreground, a middle ground and a background. We picked up on it and we thought we’d like to depict it somehow on stage and began to develop the idea of the set where we would have projection, both live and pre-recorded projections, on the foreground and then we would have a back wall that would have another set of projections that would relate or contrast what was happening in front ...
Packer: The sense of transgression I think is the under-the-surface eroticism that is in Hopper’s paintings that we definitely play with on stage. This was actually a departure for us to create more of a sound score than a completely musical score. We worked with two fabulous sound designers, Scott Lear and Leon Rossenberg. With them we researched sounds from the era when Hopper painted, the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s.
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So there’s some industrial sounds. One of my favorite ones is the one that a rotary phone makes as you dial. The music from that era and tidbits of radio dramas and the sounds wafted in and out. Sometimes they seem as if they are playing in a room nearby or they could be someone’s memories or something that’s happening out on the street. I feel that the sound score they created gives the piece enormous theatrical tension.
What concerns in art are important to you right now?
Packer: It’s important for us to say something about the human condition. In other words, we are not so interested in abstraction for it’s own sake. We think about “What is reality?” and “What goes on in the psyche in the experience of being human?” I don’t think our work has answers for that. I think it asks a lot of questions. I think those are the questions that people experience in the process of being a human being. Hopefully our work can open the door for those questions to be experienced in new ways.
See Bridgman Packer Dance’s Texas debut at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28, at Dallas City Performance Hall, 2520 Flora St. Tickets are $25 to $75 at attpac.org.