The following review is courtesy of Gulgun Kayim, Co-Artistic Director of Skewed Visions
As with many performances seriously engaging with the dynamics of space and architecture Daylight (for Minneapolis) by Sarah Michelson is a work reliant as much on the unique experience and autonomy of the viewer as on the manipulated events created by the artist. What meaning is eventually extracted from the piece depends as much on the mood, disposition, circumstances and attitudes of the spectator as the expectations of the creator. When my husband asked me after the show if I liked the performance I honestly answered like is not a relevant term for this experience’. The experience of Daylight is so individualized, depending on so many factors that I’m betting no two viewings of this work will ever be alike.
Daylight is very much a work that challenges audiences to become aware of their environment and how it is manipulated by various forces, artistic and administrative. Michelson’s manipulation of concepts of space and performance extends out to embrace the entire Walker to include, not just the architecture of the building, but also the people who inhabit its walls, who design, commission, curate and make decisions about the program. Daylight it seems to me, asks that we consider everything within the charged space of the Walker as an act of creation and performance including the indiviual’s presence as spectator.
My experience of the work began across the street as I approached the building from the Vineland place entrance. Looking through the glass panel doors from a distance I could see large images of senior performance curator, Phillip Bither. As I got closer to the doors, four large monochromatic portraits became apparent, arranged in a corner in proximity to the familiar self-portrait of Chuck Close. In among the portraits a male dancer (looking from behind, very much like Phillip) faced a corner, alternately standing or reflexively jerking, leaning and pulsating to the music played overhead. My progress took me through the building along the long glass corridor where dancers were arranged in intervals against the glass wall. They were positioned to look away –heads and bodies inclined from the building’s interior –out, onto the side walk towards the cars and passers by, their postures suggestive of melancholy and contemplation, alternately moving similar to the dancer in the entryway.
From the ticket desk, I went up towards the theatre encountering tableaus of dancers arranged outside the glass walls. The two I saw featured a standing figure dressed in dark shorts and shirt wearing an eerie smiling, monochrome Mickey Mouse head. This figure faced in staring at the gallery of spectators disregarding the two dancers laying at his/her feet, bodies splayed in the grass. The images though passive seemed perverse, mingling references to Disney, with suggestions of Americana, anesthetized images of cruelty, suburbia, and the arbitrary violence of civilized people.
Making my way into the theatre the performance continued as I was led into the McGuire Theatre and invited to sit in raked risers positioned on stage facing the back wall of the performance space. Like the booth and lobby area this space also featured large monochrome portraits (this time of the dancers) propped against the back wall. Looking around I could see people already seated in the balconies, watching my entry. It was here that I became aware I was as much a performer in this event as a spectator. No one sat in the main floor audience seating, although it’s now clear to me that if I had chosen to do this, I would have been allowed.
The next phase of the performance began abruptly. The house lights were snapped off and four dancers entered and initiated, what traditionally would have been the start of a dance performance. The dancers moved sharply flaying in the very thin space left available to them on stage between the audience and the back wall. Sitting in the very last row of seating I became aware, as did those around me, that in fact the performance was not only in front of us, it was around us. Behind us on the stage, above us in the balconies, lights came on dancers appeared, heads bobbed up and down as audience members tried (sometimes in vain) to view both sides of the stage and auditorium.
The dancers in front of us were ignored as I began to watch the choreography of bobbing heads. Sometimes my view was blocked for minutes as the people in front and lower down tried to see what was going on. As the performance continued the agitation and animation of the spectators increased, as did their attempts to watch. Then the end came. Or so we thought. The house lights signaled’ end and we clapped, unsure of ourselves and began to uncertainly and slowly trickle out of the space only to be stopped by another dancer who appeared and danced on stage in the dark. When her performance finished she exited and some audience members clapped as an after thought. That was definitely the end; though I continued to sit in my seat and watch those around me quietly file out.
While it was clear to me that ideas of space and spectatorship were being played with in the main building, I was even more impressed by how cleverly Michelson had destabilized audience expectations inside the theatre space. In this work we are challenged to question what a dance performance is supposed to be. Michelson very simply dismantled the elements of performance by repositioning the audience’s relationship to the stage and removing the normal modes of experience, particulary our ability to fully see. In so doing she revealed our dependence on the conventions of performance in order to understand it. We were forced to make decisions; to choose to experience the dance’, or ask ourselves was the dance us? Were we the spectators and performers of this event? As I finally left the space I overheard a woman asking uncertainly, “ is this the end? “ No, intermission” said her companion, “ this is where there would usually be an intermission”.
In a broader sense, through this work Michelson examines human relationships and their impact on the world –the relationship between architect and environment, between audience and performer, between artist and curator. As an artist whose work is concerned with spatial and human relationships I was particularly interested in and appreciative of this work and the foresight of curator Phillip Bither to commission a work that engages and challenges all the dynamics that constitute the new Walker.