I enjoy weird shit. I’m declaring that right up front, because that’s how I pick what dance I want to see. Another admission: I didn’t follow the directions while watching V. Paul Vitrucio‘s #picturedance at Patrick’s Cabaret in early October. One more: I also know V. Paul as a photographer, and I’ve been on the stage when he’s been behind the viewfinder, documenting the show.
I liked the concept of this dance work: a photographer choreographs to a video score and we are invited to take pictures and post them using the hashtag #picturedance. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t do it right. I decided to Vine, and that was my first mistake. I should have been watching the dance through my phone’s camera frame, waiting for the moments I would try to capture, or otherwise viewing what was literally in front of me through the filter of the camera. Because with #picturedance, that’s the whole point: V. Paul designed a way to change the way I’m looking at dance and photography, two things I take for granted because I grew up as a dancer with a Dad who makes photographs.
So, I messed up by doing Vines instead of stills. And I messed up by watching with my eyes and not my camera. In fact, I didn’t really get it until after I left and saw some of the other images that were posted. But actually there weren’t many, and they were posted by V. Paul himself, so I’m not sure if the experiment worked how he intended. I did see many people whip out their devices in the first part of the piece and take some flicks. There were even some flash photos being taken! But for some reason this didn’t translate into posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. In the end, I didn’t even post my Vines, because I didn’t like them. I wonder if other people did not post their pictures of the show because they felt the same? Like their images weren’t good enough, weren’t up to the standard of a real ‘dance photo’ — the same way people say they don’t know anything about dance, so they won’t tell you what they think of a show.
Luckily, I’ve never held myself to that standard.
And, as we’ve established, I like it weird. So, with regard to the dancing itself, I had no problem with the random images in the projections and the random movements of the dancers. I had no problem with the randomness of the images and movement, but they also didn’t engage me and draw me in. At one point, there was a projected video of a rooster — a crowd favorite — but it made me feel weird (and not in a good way) as he stared down at the women laying on their backs, legs prone, bare legs in white leotards and short skirts. (Um, wut?) On the other hand, I was feeling the images of a moving flashlight spot/sun from another universe, as well as the way the piece ended with projections of a sunset from our solar system.
And V.Paul Virtucio, how you gonna choreograph? I watched the behind-the-scenes video on YouTube, but I want to know more about what that process was like. With all respect to the dancers, I wonder about the movement choices: too much pointed toes-and-symmetry leaves me feeling unhinged, and women flinging their torsos so their hair flies around makes me feel like looking around at other things. This is where I wish Patrick’s Cabaret had a large back wall that could have been filled with the projected images. As I watched the show, I had a sense that I was supposed to be able to take in both the movement and the projections at once, without dividing my time and focus between the two.
I’m going to say it: the costuming choices just made me angry. I’m going to say something very “Ananya Chatterjea” here: The choice to have these young white women dressed in babydoll dresses with white leotards that expose their fresh, white booty cheeks as they cartwheel and leap, perform deep lunges, or kick up their legs while laying on the floor is problematic, to say the least. It feels very “Blurred Lines”-ish, very Miley-at-an-awards show — and ain’t nobody got time for that.
When I think about #picturedance as a concept, I like it. It’s something truly different, and it calls upon the audience to engage in a specific, and new way with dance work. I loved the soundscape of the physical camera clicks and whirrs made by V. Paul and another dance photographer. It was a pleasure to look around at how other audience members were engaging with the art. If only I had followed the directions: “Bring your cameras or smartphones. He’s inviting you to watch dance the way he watches dance: through the selective perspective of a viewfinder.”
It’s an interesting idea, and V. Paul added another visual layer by having the dance scored by projected images rather than music. Now that its all over I am wishing that I would have been in the front row instead of the last, my phone out the whole time and making interesting image sandwiches as directed.
An aside: For more guaranteed weird shit, I’m going to be checking out Monday Live Arts in the Ritz studio every first Monday of the month. Each month, four different artists with innovative and exploratory approaches to contemporary performance join forces in the Ritz studio. Find the details about the new monthly series here, http://www.ritz-theater.org/studio-series/.
Kenna-Camara Cottman is a dancer, educator, and cultural artist. She directs Voice of Culture Drum and Dance, and is a member of Oyin Dance Collective. Among many other things, Kenna dances for Pramila Vasudevan/Anicca Arts, teaches at the TU Dance Center, curates non-traditional performances and creates her own contemporary work. Kenna is the mother of Yonci (14) and Ebrima (6) and is supported in all things by her parents, Bill and Beverly Cottman.