The muggy summer air was just beginning to cool as the colors of the sunset bathed Liberty Park in golden light. I dialed in on my cell phone to join the zoom call, ready for Halie Bahr’s voice to guide me through an innovative technological experience. After a brief explanation to the assembled attendees about the logistics of the immersive performance, we dispersed to wander the park as the piece unfolded.
During the pandemic, I became accustomed to video being the primary medium to consume dance. It was a pleasant surprise to have technology be used in a way that carved a path for new possibilities. Most dancers are familiar with the frustrations of using zoom for class: the constraints, technical difficulties, and the impersonal experience. Using only her voice and no visuals, Bahr was able to use this technology and weave it into a performance that navigated those difficulties with nuance. It was the most effective and unique use of Zoom conferencing that I have ever experienced throughout this pandemic. This was by far the most impressive use of technological dance art I have seen this year.
It’s easy to begin zoning out during video performances, but Bahr’s work forced a pull of focus in the present moment with grounding exercises. It was an interactive performance that required shifting the roles of the audience members, who were also the performers. Listening Party pushed the margins of what dance could be. The dance, though not separated by individual pieces, had different elements that were dances in and of themselves. The pedestrians in the park, my own reflection, and the story of a woman named Claudia told by Bahr created a complex weaving of artistic throughlines over the course of the evening.
The story was of a woman coping with thoughts of death, and what I interpreted as dissociation. There came a moment, near the end of the story, that made this performance feel like it was coming full circle. The somatic practices that Bahr had incorporated into the work rooted us in the moment through practices of mindfulness and grounding. In a way, I felt like this work was an allegory not just of the woman in the story, but of my own healing from trauma.
As a child of a deaf adult (CODA), I couldn’t help but think of how this work could become more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. In the same vein, how does this type of work become accessible to people with movement constraints or other physical conditions that prevent them from participating? What barriers to access does needing a cell phone create in consuming this art? In interviewing Bahr after the show, I was encouraged to hear her speak of her own musings on how this work could become even more accessible to the public.
An even larger question: Is this work really a dance? I believe that it is. Furthermore, I think it paves a path toward a new way of dancing and conceptualizing dance as an art form. With movement of the body and mind, Bahr was able to inspire me as a participant to express something larger and more emotional. Ultimately, I felt more connected to the world around me hours afterward.
Halie Bahr’s Listening Party was performed June 5 in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.