Interdisciplinary Arts Collective Invade Steel Factory to See What Happens

The audience arrives in a steel factory’s yard comprising stacks of large steel bars, machinery, and dirt. We are greeted by a young man who hands us goggles, which are mandatory for the performance. To his left is a keyboard with four keys taped down and dried orange peels on top; it produces the sound of a continuous chord. This is the work “Organ2/ASLSP” by John Cage, and other iterations of this piece have played and are now still playing for decades. The sound and this idea create a sense of whimsy and connect the work for me to other places and times.

The performance begins, or rather it has already started, but this is when we first see the performers. The steel factory doors open, and it seems we have arrived at a funeral. The performers are dressed in ponchos and protective gear and don’t quite seem sad, but rather their mannerisms express boredom; occasionally, they open their arms, which reference a wing. The coffin is decorated with cloth and fake flowers, and a story is read like a eulogy, but, rather ,it speaks of sorcery. A musician plays the guitar while looking out into space. The reading finishes, and the performance disperses around the factory. The audience is told and encouraged to move around. All over the space, simultaneously, are group choreography, duets and solo dances, the playing of various instruments, and climbing on the metal structures. For some of the performers, the initial expressions of boredom have turned to that of engagement, which draws me in along with the flashes of gorgeous movement. Yet some performers, like part of the audience, still seem lost, looking around to see what is next. The funeral and then the explosion of exploration that followed spoke to me of how creation and destruction are different sides of the same coin.

“A Wall for the Body, a Circle for the Soul, a Fruit for your Memory” draws from John Cage’s “Musicircus” along with Jeanette Winterson’s novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and of course, the location itself of the steel factory.

“Musicircus” is the invitation to bring together various groups, allowing them to perform simultaneously, resulting in the sense of wonderful chaos; as John Cage says, “You won’t hear anything, and you’ll hear everything.” John Cage’s “Musicircus” also inspired Allan Kaprow’s Happenings. Allan Kaprow, who coins the terms Happenings in the 1960s, is a member of Fluxus and a student of John Cage. Happenings, despite its name, are pretty structured and often have combined elements of painting, readings, and dance staged as live-action. All of those aspects were part of “A Wall for the Body, a Circle for the Soul, a Fruit for your Memory.” The over two hours of the performance contained elements such as group choreography on the driveway, music gatherings, the reading text, and various Happenings. For me, the most exciting moments of the performance were reminiscent of Happenings. For example, when the performer wraps herself in feathers, the eating of the oranges, and the incredible moment at the end where a performer jumps out of the coffin — you realize they have been there all two hours. The audience at the end is then asked to join the dance party. These moments were exhilarating and felt unexpected.

At first, I wasn’t sure why the performance took place in a steel factory: What is the history of the site? Why was it used in this way? As someone who appreciates site-specific research, I did at the time want the performance to reference more the literal inquires of the site itself. Yet through time, I saw the power of the symbolic nature of the space in terms of steel factories as places of creation, building, and assemblages. The performance delves beautifully into questions of creation and notions of sexuality, such as the oranges, which symbolize Jeanette Winterson’s novel, a coming-of-age story of a lesbian girl. This is expressed by the fruit and the sensuality underlying many movements and actions. At times the work seemed very organic and flowing. At other times stiff or robotic, which I related to the mechanical of the factory.

“A Wall for the Body, a Circle for the Soul, a Fruit for your Memory” doesn’t aim at linear logic; rather, the meaning is open to the audience’s interpretation. It becomes a Rorschach test of what we choose to witness and how we link together the dots. For example, themes I saw throughout the work were flight and birds, soot, glamor, childhood, sexuality, and the creative process. But perhaps other audience members would have seen and interpreted different components since you can’t see all the performance at once. I felt most invested in the work when the performers were deeply committed to their actions, even if that was absurd, silly, and confusing. Yet when the performers lacked confidence or seemed self-conscious, my attention as an audience waned. For example, the performers didn’t always seem assured in unison with the group choreography. Yet when the performers jumped into the work, so many amazing moments emerged throughout the show. For example, a performer covering herself in glitter, a group telling personal stories with gestures, dancing and singing with electric fans, humming in a group while huddled, and so much more. Overall, it was a delight to watch the work, and I am grateful for this kind of experimentation taking place in the art community in Salt Lake. I appreciated the ensemble work, the drawing from an array of evocative sources, the myriad of wonderful and surprising moments, and the playful and deep investigation.

Interdisciplinary Arts Collective presented a Musicircus. June 3, 4, 5 at West Valley City’s Uintah Steel workshop.

Categories: Dance

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