May 5, 2015
Site-specificity calls on its audience to work with its creators in abandoning Pavlovian impulses to feign nonexistence during anything resembling performance. In its fifth year, All Over Westbeth exploits shelter at the Artists’ Residence Building to draw its spectators into such a conversation. Despite tasteful curating and seamless coordination as a tour, barriers of audience etiquette resisted demolition.
Many performances carried vestiges of proscenium performance practices, namely in expression. In caitlin+dancers’ Basement Dance, exaggerated faces felt disconnected at point-blank. Wide eyes looked through us, telling us we were not there, reinforcing non-participatory habits. Elsewhere, it had clearer intention. In The Lab, MoveWorks views us as interlopers while inhabiting their own space as though for the first time, thereby interacting as any stranger would.
A common (and off-putting) tactic in site-specific work is the corralling of audiences to point B. After filling a stairwell with haunting vocalizations, The Little Streams ascend to take a spectator, whose reaction of utter terror as she immediately pulled her companion down with her demonstrated precisely what has yet to be achieved – choreographing the desire to willfully participate with what is offered us.
A group that came close was The Lovelies, an improvisational troupe occupying Westbeth’s roof. Instead of organically unfolding, however, we were given explanation, chock full of instructions too manifold to remember. The piece ended before anyone could muster the gumption to join, like a floundering field trip to the petting zoo. Even hospitality, at high doses, can prove alienating.
Production Manager Carol Mendes found compromise in the basement: using detached imperatives fortified by movement encouraging us to stay out of her dancers’ ways. Packed tightly in numbered quadrants, we are guided from the center to the edges. Partnering, both with people and walls, fill wherever we are not. The path of our migration continually reframes the industrial space as something peeling open. Despite being shepherded, we could not attain such calculated revelation alone, warranting Mendes’ shepherding.
One cannot forget proscenium work as site-specific in its own rite. Ending the tour was Pia Vinson’s La dispute. On polished wood, Yukie Spruijt mimes a lament. Ten innovative usages of alternative space later, shelter now feels safe, luxurious, and wrong, though functionally it is no less so than the tour’s other stops. It’s a sly programming maneuver, exposing the practice of pretend perpetrated by all participants in any aesthetic event.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews