By Megan Bridge & Peter Price, April 12, 2013
Megan Bridge and Peter Price continue their conversation about Susan Rethorst’s 208 East Broadway.
Peter Price: One thing that struck me about 208 East Broadway was its feeling of almost clinical structuralism – its concern with elucidating line and spatial relationships made it feel almost more like visual art than performative to me (at least the first part – the duet at the end had a completely contrasting almost over the top romanticism). As a performer, does this reception by an audience member make sense to you? Does it resonate with your experience of the piece from the inside?
Megan Bridge: Hmmm....that’s interesting. Somehow I find it surprising that you use the word “clinical.” For me, from the inside, 208 East Broadway feels very human. Sensate. I agree that Susan is absolutely concerned with space and line, and that the work has a strong, carefully designed visual aesthetic. She spoke with us dancers very little about how to perform the work. She explained that each movement takes the time that it takes, we shouldn’t be careless or sloppy but not precious either. For me, though, the slowness of the work and the kind of patience and attention it required brought me to a deeply embodied presence. It made the piece very experiential to perform, and I felt like some, but certainly not all, audience members were right there with me in this deep experience of time, space, and the materiality of my body and the other bodies and objects on stage.
I wonder how, or if, any of this relates to “affect.” Susan talks a lot about affect in her book. She never mentioned it in rehearsal. I understand “affect” as a way to talk about pre-conscious feelings or emotions. Vibes. From the inside, I experienced 208 East Broadway as a very vibey piece.
PP: “Affect” seems to be a buzz word right now and so it is being used in very different ways by different people. My thoughts around affect are colored by Brian Massumi. He has pointed to the “primacy of affect in image reception.” I think the fact that 208 East Broadway presents such carefully constructed images, but much less narrative guidance, opens up this cognitive space that contributes to what you are calling ‘vibey.’ But ‘vibey’ is not a bad word for it. I definitely got this sense as a spectator as well. One
could say, also following Massumi, that the images that Rethorst crafted had not only content and a qualitative dimension but another dimension of ‘intensity.’ This is the realm of ‘affect’ - functioning in a non-linear way through resonance. Vibey.
MB: I want to talk more about ‘intensity.’ This is another word that I have heard used in many different ways. My understanding of ‘intensive’ properties is that they are in opposition to ‘extensive’ properties. So, with a table, for example, its width and length are extensive properties...I picture these properties being extensive because they extend into space. An intensive property of the table would be, for example, its current temperature. The width and length of the table in 208 East Broadway are details that are visually available for the audience’s reception. Its temperature is not. It makes me think about intensive versus extensive properties of a dance. I imagine that a dance’s extensive properties would have to do with line, spatial relationships, visual imagery and duration. Intensive properties might involve things like adrenaline, embodiment, presence, and relationship.
PP: I was also very struck by the role of video in the piece. The simple conceit of a window providing a glimpse of an outside to the piece’s almost claustrophobic ‘inside-ness’ I found very effective. Then when the view changed and the video/window framed the movement of strangers another counterpoint developed that I found compellingly complex. As a performer were you aware of this element added by the video design?
MB: Not at all. Susan spoke to us in rehearsal about the video, but only briefly and usually as a reference to a cue for something that might happen in the dance. At first we dancers would all look at each other, puzzled, when she said “and then we go out the window” until she explained how the video functioned. Although I didn’t get this from the inside, I do have a sense from talking to audience members and from Susan’s comments in rehearsal that “going out the window” is a major structuring device in the piece. We start with lines, shape, and intensity. Going out the window takes the viewer to a different “reality,” which is then augmented by the hyper-romanticism of batting eyelashes and “Ne me quitte pas” on stage. Which is more “real,” the intensity of a cast of five professional dancers tracing the outlines of furniture, and each other, on a stage at a college in Bryn Mawr PA in front of a gathering of fifty or so live, warm bodies? Or the projected view onto a basketball court with ordinary strangers in New York City some years before?
208 East Broadway. An apartment. A choreography. A portal to a reality of vibey intensities. Far out...and far in.