LIAISONS was a suite of elegantly quirky dances that were performed in small spaces – living rooms, galleries, office lunch rooms, senior centers, theaters – with the audience seated on all sides. It featured four dancers who formed liaisons with the audience and each other, stretching the boundaries of closeness between strangers, and inviting the audience to intimately gaze at the unfolding movement.
The music for LIAISONS was the sumptuous simmering sounds of Mantovani & His Orchestra of cascading strings. Mantovani is the king of easy listening elevator ‘musac’. In the 1940’s and 50’s he was the popular music of the time, and who people listened to at home in the early days of the gramophone. His big orchestrations represent an era of romantic escapism, and in LIAISONS the lush music helps offset the tension that is generated by the intimacy of the performance space. The choreography responds to the romanticism with a contemporary edge that reveals the awkward, bumpy hurdles that come with falling in love or sustaining a relationship. The dances range from a sensual tango for two men, to a mutually supportive deconstructed waltz for a man and a woman.
Running Time: 60 min.
A NEW PERFORMANCE PARADIGM LIAISONS started from a need to create another paradigm for showing and presenting work. It generally takes me a year or longer to create a work, and unless the work is able to go on tour, it is performed three or four times and then it’s over. The irony is often by the last performance the dancers have finally found the rhythm of the work and are fully comfortable performing it for an audience. In addition, presenters want to premiere a new work and will rarely produce a work that was performed previously in the same city. I was interested in finding a way to by-pass presenters, where I did not have to rely on a presenter for a work to be seen and performed multiple times. I also was tired of complaints that fewer people are going to the theater and seeing modern dance. I wanted to find ways to take modern dance out of the proscenium and make it accessible and relevant to a wide variety of people; and to generate a grassroots participation in the presenting, viewing, and appreciation of modern dance. I was especially interested in finding a way for the dancers to invest in performing a work over time, which would allow then to discover deeper nuances, relationships and possibilities within a work. I reasoned that while there are a limited number of theaters and presenters, there are millions of people and living rooms.
TOUCH In 2000 I was the primary caretaker for my former partner, Homer Avila, who due to cancer, had his right hip and leg amputated. He spent two weeks in acute care and three weeks in a short term rehabilitation center. While being with him in the hospital I was disturbed by how little hands on time was spent with each patient, of actually touching them, seeing them, and acknowledging their humanity. Another issue that concerned me is that Homer was bored in the care center. Outside of physical therapy, eating, reading, sleeping, watching TV, an occasional craft workshop or music performance, there wasn’t much to do in the center. In 2004 I moved from Manhattan back to Brooklyn and was consistently riding the subway again (prior to moving I biked everywhere). What perterbed me about the subway is that I would be sitting very close to a person and our shoulders or thighs would be touching but there was no acknowledgement of the connection. Or I would be sitting directly across from a person but there was no eye contact.
I wanted to bring an interactive dance experience to long-term care centers and to create a performance where I gave people (audience and performers) permission to openly watch and acknowledge each other. Where how people responded to what was happening in front of them became a part of the dance. In LIAISONS the dancers interact with each other and with the surrounding audience. It makes it difficult to rehearse certain sections of the dance as they don’t make sense without an audience. What is challenging for the dancers; is because the audience is so close there is no place to hide. If the dancers are not truthful or fully committed to the moment, the audience can tell immediately. It is both a very vulnerable and addictive performance experience.
Once LIAISONS was created I connected with Hospital Audiences (Healing Arts Initiative) who arranged for LIAISONS to be performed in senior centers. The first time we performed in a senior center I expected it to be a depressing experience, however the elders were the most interactive, appreciative and joyous audiences that I’ve ever performed for! What I hadn’t anticipated is many of the elders grew up listening to Mantovani, so knew and would sing along with the music. They also had few inhibitions when it came to interacting!
We never performed LIAISONS in a long term care center as concerns were expressed that hospitals do not have the facilities for a dance performance, if patients had a compromised immune system there was the problem of touching and spreading germs, and that it would be insensitive to ask people who had recently lost a body part or were terminally ill to watch able-bodied healthy dancers…
FINDING HOMES LIAISONS was created with a DIY aesthetic, so there was little overhead. For lights we used whatever lights were in the room. For sound we used the host’s sound system. If the host didn’t have a sound system, we brought a boom box. I consider the work to be interior specific as opposed to site specific, in that LIAISONS happens in a small rectangular space which can be anywhere – a restaurant, a gallery, a theater, a living room, a bedroom, a senior center. I prefer performing in homes, as there is an intimacy, informality, and sense of relaxation that happens in a home.
I initially found homes by sending an email to everyone I knew, asking if they would host a performance. Many people were resistant to letting strangers into their home (fear of property being stolen), however an equal number of people had no qualms and were excited to offer their living rooms. Other performances happened through word of mouth where someone attended a performance and then wanted to host it, or would recommend a friend to host it.
I did a site visit prior to arranging a performance to make sure it could work and to discuss the logistics with the host. (The one time I didn’t do a site visit it was a bit of a shock as it was a tiny railroad apartment. The dancers had to modify and ‘shorten’ their movement and it was a very, very intimate performance).
On the day of a performance the dancers and I arrived at the location three hour before start time, rearranged the furniture so the audience could sit in the round, and then rehearsed the dance to orient the movement in space and figure out entrance and exits. One home had a staircase that descended into the living room and made for great entrances and exits. In the railroad apartment how the dancers opened or closed the door to the room became a part of the piece. At a performance in a loft apartment we hadn’t finished rehearsing when guests started arriving. The host directed everyone to her bedroom where people reclined on her bed drinking wine and eating cheese and grapes till we were ready. It was awesome. How often do you get to hang out in a stranger’s bedroom? It felt very illicit. I love being able to shift and stretch boundaries.
More important than the space is the audience, as the audience influences the tone, direction and experience of the work. In 2007 Andre Lepecki invited LIAISONS to Berlin, Germany as part of Nomadic New York, a program he curated at the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt (HKW), in celebration of its 50th Anniversary. I was concerned as I didn’t know anyone in Berlin. Lepecki and I brainstormed and decided that I would roam the streets of Berlin and ask random strangers if I could dance in their living room. I worked with Katrin Schwermer-Funke who helped translate if a person only spoke German, and Wolfgang Bush who documented the experience. My goal was to find three homes. I spoke with about 180 people and three ultimately said YES! It was an incredibly liberating experience, a fun way to promote Delirious Dances, and to inform people that HKW had reopened. The areas where I was successful in finding hosts were the public library and the park. The worst places to talk to people were in front of a grocery store, by a train station and the post office. I was deeply grateful for people’s trust in letting complete strangers into their home, especially Heiko who was teaching a philosophy class when we wanted to arrive at his apartment, so he asked a neighbor to let us in. Heiko’s apartment was fairly dusty and disorganized. Not only did we rearrange his living room, we swept, mopped and watered his plants. He returned to a transformed space. He actually liked and kept some of the changes we made.
RE-CONTEXTUALIZING Through LIAISONS I was interested in examining stereotypes. The work included a loving supportive, romantic duet for an African-American couple, as too often the media depicts African-American relationships as being physically or mentally abusive. It also included a sensual duet between two men that ended in a prolonged kiss. I wanted the audience to watch two men kiss and navigate their comfort or discomfort at observing intimacy between two men. I was also interested in referencing how in 2006 HIV and AIDS was spreading most rapidly among African-American women and that many black men were on the “down-low” (in relationships with women, but secretly seeing men). I was also interested in upending power dynamics and objectifying a white male. In LIAISONS a white male dancer is blindfolded and stripped to his underwear by two female dancers, and dances a solo in his underwear. As part of the solo he displaces his anger towards the two women onto the audience. Another issue I wanted to subvert is how black men in America are often perceived as threatening. In LIAISONS people in the audience were invited to hold the hand of a Black man and share the gift of a personal exchange through dance.
A CATALYST FOR DIALOGUE A crucial part of the work, and in many ways for me the point of the work, were the discussions afterwards. Depending on the host, the end of the performance transitioned into the guests informally talking, or into a formal discussion about the images and ideas presented in the work and the issues and emotions that arose as people watched it. There was always drinks and food, so people would interact before and after the performance. The food ranged from serving watermelon and water (a favorite) to baking bread, which the audience could smell as the dance progressed, and then serving freshly baked bread at the end of the performance. One host arranged for Smirnoff to provide free Smirnoff Ice drinks and catering by Spoonbread as part of a Smirnoff promotional campaign.
FINANCIAL LOGISTICS The number of people who could attend a performance was determined by the size of the space. Audiences ranged from eight to about eighty people. The fee was a sliding scale depending on if we were performing in a home or in a theater. The basic goal was to pay the four dancers $100 each for a performance and to cover the expense of washing costumes, publicity, studio rental for a rehearsal, etc. There were several financial structures:
The host invited their friends and at the end of the performance we passed a “hat” and people made a donation. This structure rarely achieved our basic goal.
The host and I determined in advance how many people the home could accommodate and then set aside several seats for the host and their friends, and the other seats were sold through Brown Paper Tickets or at the door.
The host paid for the event and invited just their friends.
The venue produced, advertised and paid for the work.
LIAISONS was auctioned at a fundraiser for the Joyce Theater. The auction package was for ten guests and included a performance of LIAISONS, along with a celebrity chef who served appetizers before the show and dinner afterwards.
I am deeply grateful for a residency at Joyce SoHo (2005/06) that allowed me to create LIAISONS; to choreographer and educator Phyllis Lamhut who mentored the creation of the work; everyone who generously opened their home and hosted a performance of LIAISONS; and especially to the dancers who brought the work to life!
Cast 2007 – 2011 Choreography: Edisa Weeks in collaboration with the dancers Dancers: Ben Asriel, Melissa Guerrera, Bafana Solomon Matea, Maxx Passion
Cast 2005 – 2007 Choreography: Edisa Weeks in collaboration with the dancers Dancers: Jenni Hong, Kate Johnson, Ben Kamino (2006-07), Jeffrey Peterson, Trebien Pollard (2005 -06)
LIAISONS Performances 2006 – 2011 Chat Room, curated by Krista Saunders, BRIC Arts, Brooklyn Heights, NY – April 20, 2011 Bartle, Bogle, Hegarty, NYC – May 13, 2009 Starry & Walter’s Living Room, Princeton, NJ – October 18, 2008 Lauri & John’s living room, Princeton, NJ – October 17, 2008 Kimberly & Nick’s Living Room, Williamsburg, NY – September 27, 2008 Hell Lab, Bedford-Stuyvesant, NY – September 26, 2008 Tracy & Drew’s Living Room, Fort Washington, NY – September 20, 2008 Geraldine Page Salon, Chelsea, NY – September 19, 2008 Goddard Riverside Community Center, Upper West Side, NY – May 30, 2008 Artist-in-Residence, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, NYC – April 5 & 6, 2008 Andrea’s Living Room, Park Slope, NY – February 16, 2008 Debra’s Living Room, Park Slope, NY – February 8 & 9, 2008 Theo’s Parlor, Staten Island, NY – February 2, 2008 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Maryland – November 13, 2007 Nomadic New York, Curator Andre Lepecki, Haus der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin, Germany – August 22, 24, 25, 26, 2007 Garland’s Loft, Newark, NJ – May 20, 2007 Dixon Place, NYC – April 26 – 28, 2007 Goddard Riverside Community Center, Upper West Side, NY – March 30, 2007 Pierre’s Loft, West Village – March 25, 2007 The Bernhardt’s Living Room, Upper West Side, NY – January 26, 2007 Joyce Soho Artist-in-Residence Showcase, Joyce Soho, NYC – January 21, 2007 Lucy’s Living Room, Fort Green, Brooklyn, NY – December 16, 2006 Mark & Ann’s Living Room, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, NY – December 10, 2006 Kenya’s Living Room, East Harlem, NY. Catering provided by Smirnoff ICE and Spoonbread – November 19, 2006 Laura, Mark & Jack’s loft, SoHo, NY – November 18, 2006 Food for Thought, Danspace Project, NYC – October 14, 2006 Melissa’s Living Room, Upper West Side, NY. Joyce Theater Auction item. Catering provided by Perfect Pear – Sept. 9, 2006 The Yard, Martha’s Vineyard, MA – June 30, July 1, 2006 The Puffin Room, NYC – May 19 & 20, 2006