“Gallery” tends to evoke an image of a rectangular space with white walls and (mostly) flat art statically attached to them. “Gallery Stroll” in Salt Lake City evokes images of people standing around, drinking coffee or wine, eating snacks, socializing, and either engaging with or ignoring said art. And there’s nothing at all wrong with this; Gallery Stroll is a great gift from the galleries that represent our local (and not so local) artists, and I join in every month, almost without fail.
Yet, periodically, something new arrives on the scene, something that offers a different take on what a gallery can be, what art can be, a new way of seeing and experiencing. And from January 18, coinciding with the Sundance Film Festival, through March 8 (yes, you can still see it!), that something is Arrivals/Departures, a film, video and dance event presented by the Rio Gallery in conjunction with loveDANCEmore.
Skillfully curated by Ashley Anderson and Samuel Hanson, Arrivals/Departures consists of 17 films/videos involving dance, displayed throughout the historically resonant Rio Gallery. During Gallery Stroll, live performances offer viewers the opportunity to compare and contrast live dance vs. dance film (dances choreographed to be viewed on film or video.)
The theme of the exhibit is both arrivals and departures, and the related theme of landscape, since without differences in space and place, the concept itself dissolves. The theme literally surrounds one in the Rio Gallery, formerly the Rio Grande train station, which echoes with the thousands of arrivals and departures that occurred there over the years, and that continues to witness a continual flow of people, both those who work there and those who visit the adjacent popular restaurant. Through March these arrivals and departures will be enhanced by the encounter with art and dance.
During the Gallery Stroll events, the space is also activated by live dance performances from 7-9 pm. Both the live dancers and the films work on loops, continuously repeating, so whenever you arrive, you’re on time. There’s no start or finish, only what the artists offer and what you contribute with your own experience, memories and interpretations.
Compared to the much longer history of proscenium (theater) dance, dance film is a new arrival, and the juxtaposition of the two invites comparisons. Is one better or do they complement each other? Which is more challenging, more artistic? Will one outlast the other? Live dance is ephemeral, departing as it arrives, ever changing, impossible to pin down. It’s also expensive to perform and challenging to reproduce in terms of paying dancers, rehearsals, training, sets, costumes, travel. Dance film is “frozen” in a sense, never changing. It can be archived. Anyone can access it online or with the relatively minimal expense of a monitor or projector. It can (and does in this show) leap international boundaries quickly and easily.
The live dances performed during the January Gallery Stroll included “Balcony Duet,” choreographed by Emily Haygeman, with performances by Haygeman and Cherie Mockli, which unfolded on the high balcony of the grand old building, accompanied by loud pinging sounds, evoking both a sense of precariousness and visions of ladies in long dresses in days gone by.
“The Windy Gap,” features Ashley Anderson dancing within an enclosed space, against a wall onto which both amateur and professional slides purchased at a yard sale are projected (during the week, a video of the performance is shown in the same space). The slides evoke the varied landscapes of this country, and Anderson’s deceptively simple, child-like dancing is cleverly aligned with the slides, sometimes highlighting the high reach of mountain peaks, other times “hiding” a bit of slide, echoing the lines of a tree or door, or simply rejoicing in a field of flowers.
January visitors also had the opportunity to experience Anderson’s “dead dog song,” featuring Ririe Woodbury’s Tara McArthur and Alex Bradshaw, which took the gallery’s front (south) stage, mixing floor movement, solos, stillness, a gravitational tension between the dancers — and a bit of lightheartedness involving some enthusiastic kazoo playing.
The dance unfolded between two video screens, creating fascinating synergies of live movements echoing filmed ones and vice versa, integrating what appeared to be isolated events and adding an extra layer of depth. On the left of the space, Sam Hanson’s “When We Were Young” utilizes both the landscape and the mythic history of the west. Shot on the salt flats, it features three dancers. Initially, one is wearing a balaclava and has his hands ties behind his back (a prisoner? a bad guy? a captive?) while he dances sinuously and emotionally. Sometimes all three dancers are in balaclavas, sometimes not; they dance, explore, lie and move on the ground, with only an electrical tower, the desert, a car, and themselves with which to interact, as A. A. Milne’s “Now We Are Six” loops in the background. Eventually the dancers lie motionless, the film dissolves to a striking image of an isolated and equally motionless bush, and then back to the three dancers, huddled unmoving on the ground.
Diana Crum’s “yellow” plays opposite and features several dancers, dressed in yellow, exploring movement and dance both within and outside the environment of the Salt Lake City main library building, and at times interacting with library patrons. According to Anderson, Crum was particularly interested in the contrast between this modern and expansive space and the tighter, older, more frenetic spaces of her home in New York.
The center of the exhibit holds two very unusual approaches to dance film. Adrienne Westwood’s “little films” require peering into a black box to watch tiny films, one a high speed sequence of women moving a table and chairs and one a serene and nearly motionless study of two women posing. These films are also available as flip-books in a nearby box.
The other approach is Juan Aldape’s “Performance Mapping Project”(PMP), a wall of QR codes that when scanned by a smart phone play a dance video on your phone. These videos are from Aldape’s PMP, an international community of dancers who share their dances and the spaces they explore online, creating and illustrating a deeper understanding of how we experience space, place and landscape. While the use of technology to share dance, the use of dance for mapping geography, and the opportunity to nearly instantaneously experience dance from around the globe is brilliant, as a gallery event, it is less successful: not everyone has a smart phone or QR reader, the phone screen is not an ideal viewing method, and there are too many films to view in one visit. (A QR code link to PMP and the dances is posted and for those without QR readers, you can find them at http://www.juanmaldape.com/sections/pmp.html).
Farther north, lies “untitled” (Perth Dickinson) by Karinne Keithley Syers, an improvisational video using stop motion to explore the movement possibilities of two soccer player figurines found in the street, one headless. Set to a moving, poetic monologue and music by America, their movements become more complex, interactive and almost “dance-like” as the film proceeds.
Opposite plays David Rousseve’s “Bittersweet,” a film which could have held its own among the Sundance short films. Featuring a different physical landscape, perhaps that of the south, and a different emotional landscape, that of the wounded heart, Rousseve’s film is mesmerizing, at times lyrical and at times gut-wrenching in its characters’ pain. Although Rousseve describes his film as being about race and gender politics, I saw a much more universal humanity that transcended such categorization.
Erin Kaser Romero’s “Split Screen Deconstruction” is shown on four screens simultaneously. It features dancers in various locations around Salt Lake City — on rooftops, parking lots, fire escapes, at Sugarhouse Park, ArtSpace and other venues. At times the dancers are on one screen while the others show stills. At other times, all four scenes mirror the dancers, while at others one shot is split into four pieces. Romero says she wanted people to see familiar places and things in a new way, to document the ever-changing nature of the city (in this case the creation of City Creek), and to evoke curiosity about what the dancers were doing in these places. Set to a gorgeous score by Jersey Reo Riemo, it’s an excellent example of what dance film has to offer.
By the east entrance to the Rio Grande are films by Ellen Bromberg and Prentice Whitlow. Bromberg’s “Motion Studies” plays with the concept of film and time by slowing the rapid frame motion to create an abstract blurring of the body in motion that is hypnotically beautiful and mysterious. Whitlow returns to the main library to explore the body’s ability to map space through dance.
Arrivals/Departures is a unique, intense, challenging event, that will abundantly repay the effort you put into it. The films on display clearly illuminate the additional possibilities offered by dance film and site specific dance, as very few could be performed live with the same effect, while the live dances offer both a contrast and the opportunity to sample a variety of approaches to live dance for free.
While thematically and spatially the Rio Grande building is an ideal setting for this event, the reverberation in the space can make the audio difficult to hear, and so much is happening that it is easy to get disoriented. If you’re serious about dance film, you may wish to plan one visit during Gallery Stroll to see the live events and a return visit during the week when things are quieter and you have more time.
Sarah Thompson is a retired physician and psychiatrist, as well as a writer and a fan of the arts. Her writing has been published in a variety of magazines and textbooks and she is currently working on a short story and a novel.