The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, an incubator for arts of all kinds on the University of Maryland campus, is bustling with the NextNOW Fest, running through this Sunday, September 14, 2014.
A tremendous highlight in the festival is Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s The Garden. The premise: four audience members at a time enter a backstage space in the performing arts center, each audience member with his/her own track of music and instructions to follow playing through headphones, leading them on an individualized journey through the performance. The company performs ten shows, each lasting thirty minutes, each evening. To say that this thirty-minute sample of the work was delightful, thought provoking, and enticing is to do my experience in the performance little justice. Hopefully, with the popularity of the performance, the performing arts center will bring back the full work, and allow audiences to deepen their experience. I would love to go back and experience another track of the performance, and bring a whole slew of different people with me, to see what about the experience changes with a new group of participants.
Canuso and company plays with a number of interesting elements of the performance. The physical spaces used in the piece are very distinct, such as a room with exposed light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, a hallway, a brightly lit room, and a chair in a wing of the performance space, looking out to the other levels of the space. Each physical space invites a very specific dance, and perfectly tailored text and instructions through the headphones. These various spaces bring up individual ideas about movement, life, and coexisting in a space with other bodies. The piece is very contemplative, but not in a significantly heavy way. There is a deeply psychological element to the contemplation, and much like the performance on a whole, I feel that how deep one goes with the ideas of the piece is up to him/her.
I am deeply fascinated with a couple elements of the performance, and attribute these fascinations with the expert work of Canuso and her dancers. The way the work eased the audience into and out of this singularly unique experience is expertly accomplished. The tasks to follow at the beginning of the piece are fairly commonplace, but direct, so you don’t feel overwhelmed, and similarly, the piece ends with direct, every day directions, after a wholly creative experience. Along the same lines, I found it truly inspired that the pace at which you follow the directions is up to the audience member. At no time are you told the speed at which to move or accomplish a task. You could listen to a string of instructions and then perform them if you were so inclined, which I believe adds to the level of audience comfort and ease. The choreography is absolutely stunning in the work, but I realized after a while that this has also to do with where the directions tell the audience members to look while certain movements are happening. This direction of audience focus really shapes the piece, and is brilliant because Canuso had to be an audience member and a choreographer in order to come up with this composition.
With high expectations going into this interactive experience, I walked out with my expectations having been blow out of the park. The ability to create an experience where your audience goes into the performance with three other strangers, and doesn’t realize that they are a part of the work, and that the line between dancer and audience member has been blurred, until halfway through the performance takes a keen eye for detail and careful artistic hand.
The beauty in this work is its surface simplicity and underlying chaos, and the energy that is created and exchanged between the dancers and the audience is wholly palpable. I will have a great deal of trouble leaving this performance behind, even though that was the last instruction I received through my headphones. I can only hope to be lucky enough to catch a performance of the fully staged work, because this excerpt enticed and enthralled me for the shortest thirty minutes of my life.
If you are looking to have your senses delightfully stimulated, and experience an artistic event so unique in its creation that you’ll leave not knowing which part of the performance to reflect on first, make sure you check out Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s The Garden, at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center – Stadium Drive at Route 193, in College Park, MD.
‘NextDANCE’ at The NextNOW Fest at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center by Rick Westerkamp.
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s ‘NextNOW Fest’ is Tomorrow Through Sunday by Emily Schweich.