Performing Arts Senior Curator Philip Bither talks about why he chose to bring the work Structure and Sadness by Lucy Guerin, which was inspired by Melbourne’s bridge collapse:
I was only a minute into my season preview talk for Walker staff members on a hot August day when our Performing Arts Coordinator, Emily Taylor, rushed in: “The 35W bridge has just collapsed…” The meeting immediately broke, everyone dispersing in all directions to watch news, call family, connect with friends. It seems like everyone in the Twin Cities remembers where they were when they heard about that surreal, wrenching moment: I immediately got on the phone with my wife who had just dropped our daughter off at the Triple Rock for an all ages show, just a few blocks from what had just turned into a smoking, twisted wreck of a bridge. The emotions remain part of us, embedded.
Two years later, when I arrived at New York’s filled-to-capacity Dance Theater Workshop to see for the first time the work of Australian Lucy Guerin, I wasn’t fully prepared for the beauty, nuance or grace of her movement exploration of another bridge collapse one that happened not four but 40 years earlier in her home city of Melbourne. In 1970, a section of the 8,500-foot span crossing the Yarra River broke loose, falling 165 feet and killing 35 people. From this starting point, Guerin began choreographing around the ideas of balance, tension and suspension — direct human parallels to the physics of a highly engineered structure like a bridge. While her piece Structure and Sadness isn’t a factual narrative, it does mine the resulting emotional devastation — or, as one critic put it, “the unknowable grief and chaos” — that rips into a community when such a trusted structure fails in an instance. I expect that resonance will be especially deep during this weekend’s Walker performances of the work.
But I think it also has universal resonance. My sister-in-law Madeleine, who lives in suburban New Jersey and rarely goes to see dance or performance work, had joined me for the DTW show in 2009. She was as moved and impressed as I was. This was clearly an artistic experience that speaks to people beyond the dance world and beyond just those who live in cities that had experienced recent disasters. Or as another writer, John Bailey, adroitly commented, “Catastrophe is both a social phenomenon and an individual experience, and it is in bridging these two realms, between the shared and the intensely private, that Guerin does justice to the charged territory with which the work deals.”
From Guerin: “My interest in making a work about the bridge is both technical and emotional. A lot of the movement was constructed using principles of contortion, compression and different tensions; as well as the human side of this story…”