Wrecking: Material and Process
My thoughts as a dancer-participant on two “wreckings” of Susan Rethorst’s work, 208 East Broadway
Wrecking # 1, with Big Dance Theater:
Annie B. and Paul roll up their sleeves. I imagine them with heavy boots and goggles, traipsing across the freshly fallen snow of Susan’s choreography. Their footfalls punch holes in the thin, smooth crust of ice on top, allowing all sorts of other debris in and out. We eagerly respond to the specificity of their instruction. They alter and add material, bring in props. They change spacing, facing, timing, and make suggestions for our approach to performance presence. It’s fun. There’s a lot of laughter. I leave full of new images and material, wondering if Susan will “keep” any of it.
Wrecking # 2, with David Gordon:
Mr. Gordon arrives hours early, an advance agent sitting quietly in the front row, gathering information from our pre-wrecking rehearsal. His partner, the poised, elegant Valda Setterfield has come along to participate. They create an aura of formality. This is helped along by the presence of a microphone that Gordon speaks into, giving directions to the dancers and explanation to the audience. The atmosphere is academic. I feel like I’m in a college composition class. Simple, sweeping changes are made with spacing and timing of the material, an overlay of text is added, but the nugget of Susan’s choreography remains intact. I leave wondering if there is any “material” to keep.
Much later, back in rehearsal with Susan again, I figure it’s not really about “keeping” or “material” anyway. I imagine for Susan “wrecking” is much more of a process-based experience. Yeah, sure, she’s “keeping” or integrating a few of the ideas that came up in both wreckings. But I gather it’s more experiential than that. Sitting in the room while other artists muddle freely in one’s creations must be a puzzling, revealing, refreshing, maybe sometimes excruciating, but on the whole completely liberating experience.
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