Performance, Space, and Perception: A Personal Reflection

* Link to essay

In what ways does performance influence our perception as cultural beings? How do we identify ourselves in space? I will consider The Dossier Charrette performance to express my reflection upon these questions. The Dossier Charrette was a platform of dance essays presented in Dance Space Project, New York City. In this paper I will discuss how the act of documentation through drawing impacted the way in which my perception of performance changed in relation to space and how it made me reflect upon the act of performance differently. Perception is an embodied presence mediated by our senses and constituted by internal and external factors. Thus the senses direct how we perceive the space around us. This capacity can be altered through exploration and experimentation of the senses as modes of awareness and presentness.

In order to become aware of the space, we have to allow the external factors to guide what we are perceiving internally. For example, when I was documenting the Dossier performance through drawing, I forced myself to not look at the paper and let all my senses guide my hand rather than just by the sense of sight; not letting my internal factors guide my perception in order to defamiliarize my understanding of performance. Although, the drawings “are not my [perception] intact. They are keeping my memories from dying. “They” are also worth keeping alive and intact as corpora, as bodies of [drawing].” Just the action of having my sketchbook during the performance allowed me to be present in the space differently than performances I previously have being. These drawings allowed me to perceive “reality” in a another way. Not reality itself but my presence in the space. “They” represent the notation of a choreography of a witness.

The Dossier Charrette was a series of dance essays curated by Reggie Wilson and performed by Beth Gill, Jonathan Gonzalez, Angie Pittman, Edisa Weeks, and Miguel Gutierrez. The essays were choreographed in response to the history and personal acknowledgements of the performers in relationship to St Mark’s Church, NY. Their responses were based on a document called the Dossier compiled by Prithi Kanakamedala that constituted information about the “facts, geology, topography, history - from the ice age, to the history of manhattan, natives > dutch > america and the history of the church itself, when dance started in the church, black panther, and downtown dance.”

The series of proposals choreographed in the Dossier Charrette were based on written words, related to the context of the church. However, the essence of the performance is not written. Perhaps, the meaning of the choreographies is partially created by the spectators and how we understand what is transduced through the performers. The other part is the motive given by the artists. Thus the perception of a performance is created through internal and external factors. These factors influence the choreography of the witness and how we perceive the space. Internal factors can be considered as our knowledge, experiences, beliefs, the mood of that day, etc.; external factors that can be considered are where we are seated, who is around us, what we can or can’t see, the history, the context of the space and the place, etc. The effect of performances becomes apparent in the frequencies of energies and connection that it creates between the performers and witnesses.

When thinking about spaces and places we can also think about the history of the place itself and the power that the written or spoken word influence our perception. If considering the meaning of the space in relation to performance, we can think about the spaces that already have been created in that place - different varieties of spaces, the performance that the place designates in relation for us to get to understand the space, what type of performances are “normally” accepted to be done in those spaces. The meaning that previous performances have in the space in addition to the meaning we are giving to the space based on our performance - perhaps, our actions and ways of perceiving in relation to the place.

Certeau refers in Practice of Everyday Life that we can think about places as the written words, and meaning of the word as the space, that place creates. I think this reference becomes really appealing in relation to the statement that Reggie Wilson made during the after talk of the Dossier Charrette, that he hates the “power of the written word in relation to the spoken word because once written becomes a reality” and dance in contrast to the written word evolves as it changes. Yet, the series of dances in the Dossier Charrette were focused on written words considering the history of St Mark’s Church. But these performances were focused also on each perception that the dancer gave to the written word. They were a reaction in response to their previous experiences and current interests.

These references allows us to understand the written and spoken word in relation to place and space. How the choreographers thought about the meaning of space in relation to the place (St Mark’s Church) was not the same space that I got to witness during the performance night, nor was the same space that someone in an another corner of the church got to witness, even on the same night. Because their perception was different from mine, both internally and externally. Thus we can think about spaces as a juxtaposition of meaning of previous experiences created both collectively and individually. As Beth Gill described during the after talk of the performance: “finding new spaces in an old terrain.” Places are factual, they are the external factors. The relation between internal and external factors creates our capacity to perceive the space and its meaning. The perception and meaning evolves as well as the dances, in contrast with the written word. Places have different meanings as well as different spaces, either physical or metaphorical.

My perception with Jonathan Gonzalez‘s performance changed since he was considering both physical and the way people are considering the space of St Mark’s Church. It was a response to the association of the architecture, history, and choreography of St Mark’s Church. This performance was elaborated between Jonathan Gonzalez dancing inside a triangular structure in front of a very powerful orange refraction of light and Rena Anakwe shouting and generating sounds similar to metal clanking from the second floor, the balcony of the church. During when Gonzalez was performing I kept blocking the light which was right in front on me. While obstructing the light to hit my eye, I realized how differently I was visually perceiving the performance when I was blocking the light in relation when I was not blocking. I noticed Gonzalez’s silhouette really different in between the two of them. I was understanding how the light was physically affecting his body and my perception, since the light was in front on me, it was something that my eye could not resist. Besides when Gonzalez was performing, I kept thinking what was the meaning when Rena Anakwe was shouting in the second floor. I did not give a meaning to the performance, thus it was only felt externally. I became aware of my perception and the association of his dance essay in relation to the place during the after talk of the performance. He mentioned that he wanted to recall by Rena Anakwe shouting that the balcony was used as a slave balcony for african americans to worship. Along with Gonzalez himself, performing in front of the orange retraction and inside the triangular structure made a relation of sacral geometry and evoking the devil, by doing devil dances. This is something that I did not realize, because all my attention was given to blocking the light - thus my perception was only constituted by external factors. I became aware of my perception when he clarified his proposal during the after talk.

Thinking about the Gonzalez’s performance perception, we can think about: how the performance is creating the space? It would be also interesting to compare the meaning and understanding of performances when thinking about physical or metaphorical spaces in relation to the written and spoken word. For example, the Making Room, was a platform of choreographies which presented a collaboration between two dancers, Bebe Miller and Susan Rethorst at New York Live Arts. The Making Room is a metaphorical room which was created through the meaning of the choreographers gave to each of the rooms where the performance was developed. These “rooms” are constitute the meaning of the The Making Room, even though it flourished through different places. It was defined as “an investigation into innovative ways of sharing the creative process from start to premiere.” Christal Brown mentioned during the after talk how “the making of our minds stayed in the same room” thus the space lived was created by the participants of the platform. In reference to the Certeau we can think about the power of the written word in the title of the platform in relation to what Bebe Miller and Susan Rethorst were presenting. Along with Wilson statement to understand how the creative process evolves from when it is started until when is presented. Creating a metaphorical space that evolves through perception… Perhaps, the relationships that exists with the written word and the development of a dance or performance, or both. Or even, our lives, because we are also a constant changing beings. The comparison of the Dossier Charrette and the Making Room and their relation to space provoked on me the interesting perception of the relation of spaces, places and the written and spoken word.

My perception of the space in the performance was differently from the ones I previously being because of just the action of having my sketchbook. The realized of my own space in relation to the other spaces that were created in the church. I became aware that when I was drawing that I was not following exactly the movement of the performer and that led me to think about internal factors in relation to what I am seeing. Even though I tried to not look at the paper when I was drawing, it connected me in different ways either with the performance itself or what I was drawing. How might we assimilate differently what we see in relation to our own experiences? I really don’t know if it would have been different, but I don’t think I would have perceived all these things I have already discussed without the action of having my sketchbook allowing me to have the option. An opportunity to I either or draw it or write it down, or just experience it - but being aware and present of what I am doing. The importance and meaning of the drawings are not what they represent but the opportunity that they give us to be open and vulnerable to respond to the context and space where we are.

The next time you go to a dance/movement performance, I invite you to take a something and somewhere to draw or write and see how you witness the performance differently from the ones you have had before. Remember that to be aware and present of the space you have to explore the ways in which your internal and external factors come into play.

Works cited

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, Calif London: University of California Press, 2002.

Ness, Sally Ann. Dancing in the Field: Notes from Memory in Moving History / Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Edited by Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

Miller, Bebe, and Susan Rethorst. The Making Room. February 22, 2018.

Wilson, Reggie, Beth Gill, Jonathan Gonzalez, Angie Pittman, Edisa Weeks, and Miguel Gutierrez. After talk of the The Dossier Charrette (2018).