The Soap Factory has a history of including dance and performance art as part of its programming. There's the WorkHorse program, which allowed performance artists to workshop their ideas; Artery 24, the nuit blanche overnight performance festival, which pre-dated Northern Spark; and the current TalkingImageConnection, an ongoing performance and reading series. This week, curator Kimberly Peterson initiates a new dance festival, Impetus, that takes a look at the process of creating contemporary dance, as well as the relationship between audience and performer.
The Soap Factory is a good fit for emerging, experimental performers, as its visual-arts programming also supports experimentation. More than that, the gallery setting provides an alternative to traditional venues where audience and performers are separated by a stage and lights. As Impetus participant Emily Gastineau puts it: "Visual-art spaces want dance because it provides a live, dynamic experience for audiences. Dance gets sanctified in a strange way when it enters a gallery; our old shoes and chicken scratches are being revalued and displayed as art objects."
Peterson hopes that the show will help break down some of the barriers people have with appreciating contemporary dance. "People feel like they need to 'get' something," she says, "but there's a lot in the process that's about play and happenstance." She thought that if people had a chance to look at how the work is made, they'd develop a deeper connection to it.
"I hope that being able to watch and possibly contribute to the creation of this performance might give participants clues about our goals and what we value in the work," says Non Edwards, who will be developing a new solo piece with Missa Kes. "Also, I find rehearsals to be a particularly intimate and fascinating exchange, and I am excited about sharing this with the public."
The four-day festival begins today, and includes movement experiences where people can participate, question-and-answer sessions, opportunities for meet-and-greets, and an observational room where audiences can sit on the sidelines and experience the work. The show also includes videos of artists' past work, and artifacts such as journals and notes that give a glimpse into what the process looks like.
A number of the artists are using Impetus to develop new pieces. BodyCartography Project, for example, will start work on "Empaths," which will premiere in 2014. Vanessa Voskuil will continue the development of "The Student," which she has worked on in residencies at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina, International Music Camp on the boarders of North Dakota and Canada, and at Zenon's Dance Zone. The piece will premiere at the O'Shaughnessy next April.
Paul Herwig says he doesn't plan to rehearse anything until he gets to the space, though he's put an enormous amount of thought into what he'll be attempting. "My piece is a triptych of sorts," he says. "Three simple actions that are enacted side by side, trying not to create any obvious theatrical through line, but trusting that one will emerge while viewing them in succession." Herwig finds inspiration from Mark Manders, who lays objects next to each other in ways that reveal meaning as you look at them.
Gastineau, by contrast, has been working on her piece since last November, and will be doing a series of workshops and discussions based on her research on contemporary dance practice. Over the last year, she's conducted interviews with different dance artists, and done physical research (in the dance studio) about what practice looks like for the contemporary dance performer. She has already held a few public practice sessions with herself and other dance artists, and will be trying out some of her ideas during Impetus in order to find out which ones translate to performance.
Besides looking at the process of dance, many of the participating artists are exploring the relationship between audience and artists. BodyCartography's "Empath," for example, focuses on one-on-one performer and audience experiences where the audiences will be invited to become a test audience as well as an interview subject, says Olive Bieringa.
Voskuil is continuing her body of work that she calls community-inclusive, where she creates large-scale pieces that involve dancers of all ages and levels of experience. Voskuil's work breaks down the barriers between audience and performer by making participation a new way for non-dancers to experience dance. People who participate in the workshops that she's doing at the Soap Factory are also invited to be involved in her show at the the O'Shaughnessy in April, with once-a-week rehearsals starting in February.
Besides the artists mentioned above, Dustin Maxwell, Jes Nelson, and Tamara Ober will also be participating in Impetus. Classes and workshops run Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The closing gala performance is Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. The event is free. Visit the Soap Factory website for a full schedule of classes, workshops, and performances.