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ARTEL DANCE: break the 4th wall

ARTEL is an event where the worlds of visual and performance art exist side by side. It is a chance to share audiences, to expose viewers to something new, and to stumble upon unexpected experiences. ARTEL 2015 showcased more performances than any previous ARTEL events. I should mention that I attend on a day that it was raining, so I was not able to see many of the performance works. Based on what I could observe, it was refreshing to happen upon crafted movements of the body amidst an installation art showcase.

While the presence of dance is stimulating, there was a disconnect between the artistic intention of visual and performance work presented at ARTEL. The visual art created immersive environments that invited viewers into the room to be a part of the space, and thus the audience became a part of the installation. The installations held a different metaphysical response, and allowed the viewer to feel included as a participant rather than an observer beyond the 4th wall (a term frequently used in Theater to describe an imaginary line in the proscenium theater between the stage and the audience). The performance work presented at ARTEL drew lines for the audience to sit behind, created mini stages, and put up curtains, making their performances less immersive, and reverted the space to the set up of a traditional theater.

One hotel room was filled with the expansive movement of five young girls. It was impressive to watch the daringness of the performers as they rolled and whipped into frenzied turns that had the audience fearing for their safety in the small room. Then the performers would come to a strong and stable position and address their body’s movements with clarity and attention to the internal response of the physical action. They informed the audience that the work was about the 5 stages of grief at the end of the performance, but they did not utilize their proximity to the audience during the performance to share the emotional topic through personal connections with the viewers. The room and installation had no effect on their artistic intention, and the work looked as though it was designed for a much larger space.

There were very few performances that spent time developing their installation other than a work by Liliana Gomez. In this work, the viewer entered a room covered in newspapers, and walked through a time portal to the back room where Gomez performed amidst a sea of newspapers. The papers were involved in every element of the work. The newspapers created a visual claustrophobia and a sonic destruction from the tearing and crinkling. The paper was utilized as a prop as the performer would turn her back to the audience, and resume her task of shredding the paper, creating nostalgia in the passing of time.

Tyler Hooten’s hotel room also made use of a prop. A flashlight was used to illuminate the body amidst a blackened room. An elbow would be revealed, and just as the music would hit a pulse the light would be thrown to the face to reveal expressions of exhaustion and curiosity. Hooten’s back would be revealed by the light to expose a white moist back, slowly rippling through the spine, making the performer less human, and more creature-like.

My favorite part of being an audience member at ARTEL was never knowing what I was going to find. Every room I entered, I expected to have a different experience. Perhaps this is why I felt underwhelmed by the dance performances ability to create profoundly new experiences. I wanted to feel more included, and be more surprised by the way in which the performances utilized their space and their audience.

Photography by Jenny Gerena / X&O Photography

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