The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, sponsor of six different site-specific works this summer, was hit hard by the events of September 11, 2001. Liz Thompson, executive director at the time, rode the last elevator to descend from one tower; LMCC’s offices were destroyed; and an artist who’d spent the night in his World Trade Center studio was killed in the collapse.
So it’s encouraging to see the depth and complexity of the SiteLines project the organization launched this summer. Radically different in structure and style, these site-specific dances bring New Yorkers downtown to look at landmarks in a whole new way. Facades and plazas are enlivened by dancers, urban environments modified by commissioned music.
Giscard Games, a 15-minute work performed twice daily on the steps of Federal Hall around a huge statue of George Washington, inadvertently positioned choreographer Heather Harrington at the confluence of two breaking news stories. The opening performance on August 2 coincided with the heightened terror alert and ramping up of already tight security at the New York Stock Exchange, directly across the street. Spectators who braved the heat and humidity contended as well with a tangle of media trucks, lights, and operators carrying television cameras, while going nose-to-nose with police wielding M-4 semiautomatic rifles.
Quentin Chiappetta’s original score, full of bells and buzzers, held its own against the clamor of the financial district, causing workers on cell phones and camera-toting tourists to pause amid the traffic and watch eight hyperkinetic women interpret the actions of the mostly male auctioneers inside the exchange, bidding, waving, and signaling with fingers folded or held high. The dancers lined up along a stair railing, squatting and flinging their legs—surely a distraction, albeit a welcome one, for the cops on patrol in their dark summer uniforms.
The really poignant spin on Harrington’s octet comes from reports that the brokers her red-blazered dancers are dressed to resemble and the “open outcry” system their gestures strive to represent are about to be replaced by computers like those used at NASDAQ and other stock exchanges. The dance, for long-legged women who create an incongruous vista in the Wall Street canyon, winds up commemorating what it set out to illustrate—the stock market’s endangered floor traders and their 200-year-old auction system.
Tamar Rogoff’s site-specific Night for Day involves a blue bed centered on a turquoise drop cloth, and three 10-minute dance-dramas performed by Kyla Barkin, Brad Ellis, and a pair of two-foot-tall puppets by Eric Bass made to look just like them, with which they share the bed. The original score by Beo Morales combines street noises—bells and whistles, sirens and alarms—and the voices of children with ticking, water lapping on a beach, and clips from “sleep tapes” designed to relax a listener. I caught the piece at Chase Manhattan Plaza near Wall Street, where the acrobatic little playlets unfolded in front of Jean Dubuffet’s huge sculpture Groupe de Quatre Arbres.
A dance so intimate you could rehearse it in your bedroom transpires in the most public of spaces, with the puppets initially concealed in large attaché cases. Each section has its own mood, from convivial and conjugal to hostile and distant; each ending with the puppets embracing, even as the humans depart or drift off to sleep. A delightful miniature, Night for Day charmed the strollers and lunchers who wandered by.
While Harrington and Rogoff transferred studio-choreographed dances to public sites, the collective known as Tryst (Clarinda Mac Low, Paul Benney, Sean Bronzell, Janusz Jaworski, Alejandra Martorell, Robert Meyer, Aki Sasamoto, Arturo Vidich, and Kathy Westwater) tried something completely different—in fact, several different things—at downtown locations. I caught them on July 30 at the corner of Water and Broad, where they offered “assisted street crossings.” Dressed in white safety suits and blaze-orange vests, two artists would approach strangers and offer to carry them across the intersection—and back, if desired. A remarkable number of passersby took up the challenge, and were treated to rides in “the queen’s chair,” or held prone and carried as a “battering ram” (headfirst) or “Superman” (arms outstretched in front). You could get a piggyback ride, or a lift that let you call a friend on your cell phone while in motion. Astonishing that in Manhattan, at this historical moment, such an enterprise could flourish.
As my young companion, Lauren Morelli, put it, her “amazement and pleasure came from the idea that people would not only stop to talk to these creatures in hazmat-like outfits, but that they’d let them touch, hold, and carry them. In a culture where touching has become such a precarious practice, strangers are still entrusting their bodies to others.” It was marvelous, and silly, and more directly engaging than the formal works. Tryst promises an encore.
LMCC and the Joyce Theater (which is planning on setting up shop at the WTC site) join forces to present five dazzling free concerts in Battery Park after Labor Day, featuring artists from Savion Glover to the New York City Ballet. For full details, watch the dance listings or visit lmcc.net/EventsandExhibitions/Evening_Stars/EveStars_main.html.