photos by Andrew Lichtenstein ’88
Around sunset, a group of 16 dancers moved gracefully, evenly across the pale hardwood floors of the performance space. Two musicians, seated in the far corner, played instruments—including piano, congas, and accordion—sparingly, maintaining the focus on the dancers and their movements. This appeared to be a conventional modern dance performance—until one of the dancers turned to the audience and said with a smile, “We have to stay, but you don’t.”
Described as a “marathon installation in non-theatrical time and space,” Dancing-on-View: Preview/Hindsight, the spring sabbatical project of dance program director Sara Rudner, took place on Sunday, May 13, at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan. The piece spanned four continuous hours, with no definitive intermission, breaks, or blackouts between pieces; as the dancers mentioned, audience members were welcome to come and go as they pleased.
Dancing-on-View celebrates the daily work of dancers, sharing with the audience a glimpse into labor-intensive, humor-infused rehearsals. While the dance as a whole is choreographed, the dialogue is improvisational, based on concepts developed by Rudner and the other dancers. In Dancing-on-View, dancers remain on the floor at all times and watch, with evident enjoyment, as their colleagues perform in smaller subsets, dancing and “clowning around.” (At one point, the dancers make a series of playful facial expressions.) The focus is on the process, not a final presentation.
“I have been devoted to the idea of a lengthy performance as an attempt to represent dance as an ongoing part of dancers’ lives,” says Rudner. “This is what we do.”
The roots of Dancing-on-View run deep: This spring’s performance is the third stage in the evolution of Rudner’s experiment with long-form dance. Rudner, who worked with Twyla Tharp for nearly 20 years, staged the first in 1975, when she and three other dancers performed for five hours at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, in a performance produced by Danspace, a fledgling dance nonprofit. Twenty-five years later, Rudner choreographed the second, in celebration of the organization’s 25th anniversary.
Dancing-on-View further refines the theme of extended performance. The piece challenges set notions of interplay—or lack thereof—between dancers and audience members. By peppering the tightly crafted choreography with lighthearted dialogue, for example, Rudner creates an intimacy not traditionally found in dance performances.
Along with fellow dance faculty members Merceditas Manago-Alexander and Peggy Gould, several Sarah Lawrence alumnae/i danced in the performance, including Megan Boyd MFA ’01, Erin Crawley-Woods ’01, Laurel Dugan ’01, Maria Earle ’05, Liz Filbrun ’05, Anneke Hansen ’02, and Lori Yuil MFA ’05.
In addition, dance faculty members William Catanzaro and Jerome Morris played music, and Aaron Copp, another dance faculty member, designed the lighting.
In June, Rudner will travel to Ireland to perform another marathon, This Dancing Life, with a smaller group, sponsored by the Irish Modern Dance Theater.
Of her experience in Dancing-on-View—which received glowing reviews in The New York Times and The Village Voice—Hansen, who has danced with Rudner since 2002, says, “It feels like publicly claiming who we are and what we do—to have that cherished is very powerful.”