Joanna Haigood, Artistic Director of Zaccho Dance Theatre, asks Resident Company RAWdance's own Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith about their upcoming project, Through My Fingers To The Deep, to learn more about their intimate approach to site-specific work.
Wendy Rein directing collaborators Katerina Wong & Kelly Del Rosario, photo: Charline Formenty
Tell us about your new work and about your collaborators.
Ryan & Wendy
: What happens when the ground beneath your feet is not what you had imagined? Where does the surface end and the foundation begin? Do we follow the clearly constructed paths designed for us, or invent our own? And how do our fantasies interrupt our tangible reality? We’re launching from these broad questions for Through My Fingers To The Deep, our newest work, being created for the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. We’ve been inspired by the topography of the Gardens landscape, the contrast of organic material and constructed pathways, as well as from the Edgar Allen Poe poem from which the title of the dance was taken, “A Dream Within a Dream.”
We are working with two amazing past collaborators for this work. Scenic designer Sean Riley, known for his unexpected interactive designs, will create a 3-dimensional set for the dance, bringing the strange amalgam of the Gardens’ physical underpinnings into the open as an active, visible partner in the work. Composer Joel St. Julien will create three distinct, but interwoven scores for the work, synchronized to start and end at the same time in different locations.
Is this your first site-specific work?
R & W:
We create a great deal of site-specific work for RAWdance, and have always split our programming between public spaces and the theater. While we love some of the drama and craft of working in a controlled theatrical environment, it’s important to us to regularly bring dance to new people and places. We all know that the contemporary dance world can feel too insular. For us, sharing work in diverse public spaces combats that insularity and opens access to the art form. Furthermore, there are some projects that really only make sense in a non-theatrical environment. They need to live in the real world to make sense.
Our work Per-Verses (2006) took place in multiple gallery rooms as a performance installation at the Belcher Street Studios. A Public Affair (2011) was created for Orson Restaurant, during the middle of dinner service. The Beauty Project (2009) was created for an empty storefront in the Westfield mall. Two by 24: Love on Loop (2012) was created for UN Plaza and To Have and to Hold (2009) and Checkbox (2007) were created for Union Square Park.
Ryan and Wendy directing collaborators, photo: Charline Formenty
What are your primary concerns when beginning a new creation? Are they different when creating a piece for the theater and creating a site-specific work?
R & W:
A blank canvas is always the hardest for us. The beginning of a work can be overwhelming, whether creating for the theater or site-specifically. So we start with questions, experiments, vague ideas, a handful of moves and a plan that may only hold up for a couple of weeks (if we’re lucky). We never really know where we are going to end up until we are there.
We do always consider the audience as an integral part of the work from the beginning of creation. How (literally) will they see the work? This is definitely different for someone who has “bought in” to a theatrical performance and is seated at a specific angle, than from someone wandering through Yerba Buena Gardens.
There are additional concerns with site-specific work or any work without a fully controlled environment: audience flow, site lines, working with the surrounding environment, making room for the unpredictable. This particular work, with three simultaneous pieces, in three different locations in the Gardens, timed to start and end at the same time, has a slew of extra coordination complications.
RAWdance collaborators, Katerina Wong and Kelly Del Rosario, photo: Charline Formenty
You asked "where does the surface end and the foundation begin?” What does “surface" and “foundation” mean to you?
R & W:
In its simplest form, the surface is everything visible. Concrete pathways, grass, and benches throughout Yerba Buena Gardens, even the skin of our dancers are all surfaces that are informing the movement we create. The physical underpinnings of all these structures consist of the foundation. But the foundation in our sense is also our belief system - what we hold to be real and true. How does the ground that supports us feel like it gives way when we suddenly realize our “truths” may be more shared illusion than actual truth?
The surface of the idyllic-looking Gardens is a complete illusion. It feels like you’re standing on grassy, solid earth, but really that grass is just the top of a series of layers of rubber, styrofoam, and cement. And beneath all of that is the North Wing of the Moscone Center, housing thousands of conference goers. There’s essentially a giant hole in the earth beneath the site. Does that change the way you feel when you walk around the Gardens, or sit on the ground? Or do you block it out and just focus on the pretty grass?
Similarly, do you block out the history of the Gardens, which was constructed only a few dozen years ago by demolishing and/or relocating the homes of the many workers that lived there? As we, together with so many of our artist counterparts, live with a constant fear of eviction from our homes, that history is pretty hard to block out. So in turn, how does this fear shape how we perceive the landscape of the Gardens? How much does an understanding of the “foundation” affect the way we interact with the surface?
What is at the center of your movement research?
R & W:
It varies somewhat from piece to piece, but we always start with questions, and usually a lot of reading. The questions described above started us off with this piece exploring images of constant rumbling, building and tearing down, illusions, and unstable ground. Since it’s a site-specific work, we’re also using a lot of the topography of the site itself to derive the movement.
RAWdance, photo: Charline Formenty
Who are your dance collaborators? Company Members?
R & W:
For this project, we are working with six amazing dancers, who are all very much active collaborators in the creative process: Tristan Ching Hartmann, Kerry Demme, Amy Foley, Kelly Del Rosario, Maggie Stack, and Katerina Wong. We’ll be bringing in several more dancers in another few weeks, to help with audience flow and transitions from site to site