Creating site-specific dance performance is a love affair, beginning with a profound connection to the heart of a particular place. Whether it be dancing throughout a historic coal processing plant turned UNESCO World Heritage Site in Essen, Germany, on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, or in rowboats in New York City’s Central Park, the first date, the first step in our creative process is to listen deeply in stillness.
What history and poetry resonate within the site’s architecture? What unique attributes of light and color and sound break our habitual ways of seeing? For us, creating choreography in any setting is our response to, and a duet with, the essence of that particular place.
The first three days of rehearsals are the romance. We fall in love with a particular stairway or beech tree, or the way the light creates shadows along a particular hallway. Our dancers and musicians—always our creative collaborators—begin improvising and choreographing intimate moments of relationship. An exquisite, rarefied atmosphere permeates the space, and there is nowhere we would prefer to be than right here, right now.
On the fourth day the world’s realities set in: it rains and we lose a precious week of work; or the bees or mosquitos or gnats arrive; or it’s so hot the dancers are in danger of getting sunstroke; or the powers that be decree that half of our fabulous ideas are not allowed; or days of dancing on decades-old concrete takes its toll on the body and spirit.
So we must listen to these things as well: how to respect and honor whatever the present moment gifts us? If we are fortunate, we make it through that dark night of the soul. As the dancers find their way back, bonding more deeply with each other and the space, our new work is realized shortly before the first performance. We—and hopefully the audience—enter a state of kansha (a Japanese expression for simultaneous appreciation and gratitude). And, as C. S. Lewis once said, we become surprised by joy.