Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth wants you to help them choreograph their next piece. Really. If you have the desire to make somebody's body wiggle, this might be your chance.
With their latest offering, Some Assembly Required, Artistic Director Kerry Kreiman and her dancers are reaching out to the social media world and calling upon you, the public, to help inspire their performance this weekend at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Opening up the creative process to the public and allow them to dictate the course of the show? My hat's off to you, CD/FW. The concept sounds equal parts enticing and terrifying. Yet, these dancers are up to the challenge, and Kreiman has been slowing piecing the puzzle together for them.
Just like the title indicates, there is some assembly required for this show to get off the ground. The first connection: a meeting of the minds with composer/musician/artist Austin Patton. The two have worked together periodically for many years, but they have been waiting for the right moment to develop a true collaborative project, and this is it.
"Austin and I both enjoy doing interactive work that engages audiences in a variety of ways, and we are both interested in doing a diversity of works in alternative spaces out in public," says Kreiman. "We enjoy the process of group collaboration with a variety of artists where true dialogue and interchange can happen, because it always has the magic of the unexpected inherent in it."
Those odd moments of unplanned synchronicity are the cornerstones of CD/FW's work. Kreiman relishes in the unknown. She welcomes twists of fate that more often than not produce something far more interesting than anything you could have truly designed, planned, or rehearsed. With this project, she is taking it one step further by working on a structure with Patton that is based solely on chance, and relies heavily on audience interaction.
CD/FW has been trying to encourage audience participation in their annual Modern Dance Festival at The Modern for the last few years, with some attempts more successful than others. But this year's approach shows promise. Over the last month, CD/FW has been using social media to encourage their audience to submit themes, concepts, movement ideas, objects, and sounds to inspire their upcoming work.
That's the second connection: Facebook. Both Kreiman and Patton were interested in what would happen if social media became the prominent avenue of audience participation and interaction. Yet, how we view social media and the uses of it can vary greatly depending on how we employ and perceive the act of "sharing." If we weigh the costs and benefits of being social media mavens, we might run away from it. But, if we can create a positive environment out of it, we might actually find a way to entertain, and dare I say, educate.
And educate is what the pair is setting out to consciously, or unconsciously, do. Kreiman is putting the choreographic process in the hands of an audience that might or might not know their right from their left, or the difference between a pas de chat and pas de bourée, by calling upon them to submit movement ideas to the company. Patton is building three musical stations of "found instruments"--one is based on percussion, one will be a type of xylophone/marimba, and one will be an ambient wind chime structure--and will be encouraging the audience and dancers to play them throughout the performance.
This openness in structure is providing an opportunity for chance to come into play. But this is not a new concept, particularly when you consider the development of contemporary art, and how inextricably linked chance and art are. The Dadaists embraced it, Jackson Pollock practiced the technique of Action Painting, the Happenings of the 1960s performance art world influenced the Fluxus movement, and, of course, there was Merce Cunningham and John Cage and their movement and musical experiments.
These artists, among many others, were exploring what could be created if they followed an organic and spontaneous approach to art making. They were connected to their environments, tapped into the pulse of the times, and created assemblages of materials (what we now call mixed-media pieces) that defined what art was to them. While the largest surge of this freedom in expression occurred from the 1950s to 1970s, we are seeing a new iteration of it now. Chance and circumstance fed their artistic process, and Kreiman is playing into that idea and following the work of the avant-garde and experimental choreographers before her.
In the 1960s, they pushed the boundary of dance by creating "anti-dances,"--pieces that were simple in movement and explored just one aspect of a narrative, like how the arm moves, or how the lungs contract and expand in a breath--yet, they found that no matter how hard they tried to disguise any sense of narrative, the audience still sought one out. They needed something to hold on to, something to understand. That is just the way our minds work: we are always looking for a story.
"Facebook..is like a giant 'show and tell' project. It is like everyone is back in Kindergarten sharing something about their day...we show or share something and we tell a story about it," says Kreiman. "That act of storytelling is profound, and our psyches tend to organize the world in various types of storytelling frameworks. It is hard to put your brain in a state where you don't link or create stories. We seem to do it automatically."
Further, if you look at social media as a giant collage project involving many contributors, it extends the realm of possibilities for gathering source material. Then, if you add a "crowd sourcing" element, as Kreiman has by asking people to donate their ideas, you are essentially redefining what is art and what it is to be an artist, as the "art" is being taking out the hands of the choreographer. "I'm working with the performers to create other layers in the structure that mirror aspects of social media. While each performer is learning a pre-constructed phrase, they are also teaching the same sequences or variations to other performers. They may teach one phrase to just one person and another to several people. It is similar to how people 'like' or 'share' or 're-tweet'," says Kreiman.
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So, Kreiman and Patton are leaving room for those stories to be created, and they are following a trend in interactive performance that is calling on the audience to become a pivotal part of the show. Many performance groups are exploring different avenues to promote interactivity, some comedy improv troupes are asking their audience to tweet ideas for skits, many choreographers are exploring ways to use technology in their work, from live video feeds (the Blue Man Group has been doing it for years, as have French-Canadian circus troupe Seven Fingers in their show, TRACES) to interactive sets, and more and more theater companies have been adding immersive or interactive qualities to at least one show in their season (local group the Dead White Zombies are known for it and freshman organization Prism Co. is making their mark).
Social media offers us a new way to think about community art-making, and expands what we consider "community outreach" to be. Can a dance piece bring people together? It's possible, and CD/FW wants to find out if it can be so.
If you are interested in becoming a part of Some Assembly Required, you can submit movement suggestions for the dancers and choreographers by posting photos, videos, or descriptions of found and observed movements and shapes to CD/FW's Facebook page. The sooner you submit your suggestions, the more likely they will be integrated into the formal choreographed phrases and musical composition.
CD/FW presents Some Assembly Required on Saturday, July 12 at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 13 at 3:00 p.m. inside the Grand Lobby at the Fort Worth Modern. Free.