Boards, Geometry, Choreography
By Gregory Holt, March 16, 2013
When I was a kid, I had a globe coin-bank, which I loved. Once, my older brother used it to show me how the rules of geometry become distorted in curved space. Start at the North Pole and choose two lines of longitude that are 90° apart, like the corner of a square. Follow each of the lines down to the equator, and they will cross it perpendicularly, forming two more right angles, joined by the equator. The equator and two lines of longitude form three sides of an equilateral triangle, but with three square corners. WHA! Think about it for a second. It's an impossible concept in flat space, but easily done on the surface of a sphere.
Space has a shape. When I'm dancing, often what I'm doing is feeling out the contours of the space—which for me is never even, undifferentiated, consistent. Euclid aside, what I'm feeling for is more about an emotional, relational contour, which provides opportunities for distortion, folding, exaggeration, and unexpected meetings.
That may be an intuitive process, but there is something practical and literal about it as well. We construct space as well as experience it—through habit, activity, architecture, design, choreography. As part of the Day of Dance presented at Bryn Mawr, we played with an interactive installation Boards, where Susan used long wooden planks to disrupt a projection of a still figure aimed at a flat wall. The planks were leaned at various angles within the projection space to lift and distort the image off the flat wall. Watching this, I felt an irresistible movement come so close to overtaking the figure—an arm slipping out from the wall and then jumping back to it; her mouth stretching open an impossible distance. The lines of the boards were like a rhythm, percussive angles with dramatic flair.
Susan invited us to look from different angles, but I often found the sense of movement overtook me best if I held my ground. Then it was the dancer on the wall who played antics with her face and slipped out towards me, not my moving perspective. Several of us traded turns shifting and placing the boards while Susan periodically changed the image on the projector. It was the best scenario for creativity. The stakes were high: the boards were pretty unwieldy and didn't always balance easily. But the responsibility was low: the way the image landed was almost always unpredictable. Often we tried to “catch” some body part or another—a hand, a foot, an eye—and pull it away from the rest. Other times, the boards themselves were what were most interesting, creating just the right cross point, or tilting the planes into a valley or ridgeline.
Wooden boards feel like construction, but piled against the wall they hint at toppling over. The experience of manipulating them feels like choreography—an insertion of a movement principle into supposedly empty space. The feeling is a little mischievous, disruptive, careful, unpredictable, could-go-wrong, anticipatory. When I see the angles intersect, and the “performer” move along them, a sense of active, thickened space arises for me, and the emotional, affective geometry of my proposal creates shapes which would be impossible in any other space.