If any denizens of downtown Norfolk had happened to look out their windows a few Sundays ago, they might have wondered why the company members of Todd Rosenlieb Dance were leaping and strutting around on the roof of Freemason Parking Garage dressed in black bodices and biker shorts. It was a chilly day.
What had gathered us on the roof—braving sunburn and the inevitable bloody toes from the friction of skin on concrete—is a collaboration between choreographer and company member Janelle Spruill and local filmmaker and musician Matt Francis. Janelle’s new work will premiere in the company’s upcoming studio concert series this April and May. Matt is using footage he took of us dancing on the roof to create a video that will be projected as the backdrop during the piece, which is set to an electronica score by AGF and Pentaphobe. Company dancer Melanie Ortt created the costumes, sewing into the wee hours of many a night.
Janelle has been mulling over the idea of incorporating film projections into choreography for more than a year, and she settled on Astral Projection as the title of the work because the idea of dancing with an image of yourself felt to her like an out-of-body experience.
“I love the idea of ‘soul walking,’” she said to me the other day as we sat on the stoop outside the dance studio. In her research on astral projection, Janelle discovered that term in descriptions of out-of-body experiences. With all the screens that fill our lives, the question of how we relate to images of ourselves seems particularly apt.
I heard an interview recently with Myrna Packer, of the New York–based Bridgman/Packer Dance, a company that incorporates film and choreography in its works. Packer talked about some of the questions that arise when you mix film with dance.
“Who is the voyeur?” she asks. “Is it the audience looking at us? Is it us looking at each other? Is it us looking at our video images? Is it our video image that’s watching us? Is it another part of our consciousness observing us at any given time?”
This question of who is watching whom came up in many of the rehearsals for Astral Projection. Rather than interacting with each other, my fellow dancers and I spend long moments of the dance staring at ourselves on screen. Matt is working on the film right now, so I don’t have any idea yet how it will feel to dance with myself. I wonder how it will feel to have images of the faces of my friends projected onto my body and in the space around me as I dance.
In previous columns in this Dancer’s Diary series I’ve been writing for AltDaily over the last couple of years, I’ve been confronting issues of what it means to look at yourself in the mirror for hours every day and the way dance is innately an impermanent art form, disappearing as soon as it is created. For the next few weekends, we’ll be dancing in a fleeting moment juxtaposed with a permanent film of ourselves.
If you come see us, you can watch us watch ourselves watching ourselves. I wonder what we’ll see.
Come see us dance! Todd Rosenlieb Dance’s 10th anniversary season will continue with the upcoming Studio Concert Series, a mixed bill concert of ballet and modern dance presented by Todd Rosenieb Dance and Virginia Ballet Theatre. The concert includes works by Todd Rosenlieb, Ricardo Melendez, Joni Petre-Scholz, and Janelle Spruill. Performances are at 8 p.m. on April 29 & 30 and May 6 & 7, and at 5 p.m. on May 1 & 8 at the Benjack Studio Theatre at TRDance at 325 Granby Street. For tickets and information visit trdance.org or call 757-626-3262.