Overhearing someone’s music echoing off the walls is often times a regular occurrence in a parking garage.
But this time, for the 2017 NEON Festival, if you hear music from a parking garage, look up! Because local artists and Old Dominion University dance professors Natalia Schradle and Megan Thompson are turning the NEON District parking garages and sidewalks into stages.
Their two-part performance series, called NEON Pop-up Dances, will take place on each evening of the festival.
Thursday, ODU Dance faculty, alumni and current students transform the d’Art Center parking garage into a glowing display of movement, live music and drumsticks. Friday, 2 x 2 neon squares, placed strategically for visitors to stumble upon and enjoy snapshots of dance, will be live culminating in a group performance at 8:15PM at the Widows Walk mural.
The inception of concepts for this performance began last year, when Thompson wanted to create pop-up pieces that embraced the accessibility of ethereal performance art.
“I like this idea that inherently live performance takes place and then it’s over,” Thompson said. “It’s for a limited time. We pop up and do a performance and its eventually over.”
Her third year performing in the NEON Festival, Thompson feels creating performance art with a mission to cultivate appreciation of all of the arts is an important cultural component to appreciating public art.
“Public art is often thought of visual art because it can stay there permanently,” Thompson said. “We wanted to bring visibility to the medium of dance that is accessible and site related, theatrical and innovative. Often times, people don’t associate those things with dance.”
First mission on their agenda: activate a space with energy and movement. To do this, Thompson and Schradle secured neon tubing, pedals, rented a truck, found dancers and created site-specific choreography.
Site-specific dances are similar to thumbprints: each piece is uniquely designed for the space and intended for that space.
Scouting for locations began in early August. Rehearsals started soon after requiring the dancers to rehearse on benches so they’re prepared to squeeze through the tight cubbies or cut outs in the parking garage.
“I usually perform on a stage,” Taylor Warren, current ODU student and NEON Pop Up dancer said. “Executing movement confined in a really small cubbly-like space is a challenge, but we incorporate facial expressions and develop our own characters.”
For the parking garage piece, artists Thompson and Schradle aimed to integrate the movement into its surroundings: a creative, fun, vibrant, urban environment. The first section will feature music being played from a parked car. The second involves moving music:
“We rented an open-bed trailer so the trio [live band] can drive by,” Thompson said. The trio includes a drummer, bassist and a keyboard being played on a keytar.
Friday night includes dancers in two-by-two feet, neon-tubing squares that are activated when an audience member or passerby steps on a pedal.
“The audience can choose when to turn on the stage,” Thompson explained. “It’s performance on demand.”
The pedals are on a relay and designed to stay on for the length of the performance, which is approximately four minutes. When the neon light disappears, the dancers find stillness until someone initiates the performance again.
Their second mission was to create art that feels accessible to a moving public.
“We’re bringing the museum to the streets. We’re bringing the theater to the streets for people who wouldn’t normally see it,” Schradle said.
For Thursday’s performance, they kept it energized and lighthearted.
“Thursday night for a non-dancer is something fun,” Schradle explained. “There’s a live band, they’ll be doing movement that you recognize even if you’re not a dancer.”
For Friday’s performance, “we’re framing ourselves,” Schradle said. “It’s like we’re three-dimensional paintings.”
Schradle and Thompson hope the movement and neon lights draw people in; a pause in their lives to experience vibrancy and boldness in movement and living. This hope manifested itself in a way that Schradle and Thompson added a fourth neon box that will remain open to the public.
“The community has a way to be a part of it, literally,” Thompson said.
Their third mission was to connect with the community and boost the city’s efforts of public art with the NEON District.
“We asked ourselves, ‘what is possible in the space?’” Schradle said.
It’s a question that many city representatives find themselves asking while building up the NEON District. Schradle and Thompson received a micro-grant from the Downtown City Council and have worked closely with the city, using dance to support its collective mission.
“I feel really excited that the City of Norfolk invests in the arts,” Thompson said. “That’s no small thing.”
Schradle, who recently moved to the area in August, has found a new community through this project.
“I’m getting more familiar geographically with Norfolk, but doing a project like this, you get to meet and engage with a lot of different people,” Schradle explained. “Seeing what’s going on in downtown Norfolk, seeing who the dancers are here; it’s a really great lab to get to know new people.”
Now, months into planning and rehearsing their pop-up pieces, Schradle and Thompson are excited to see the life that will surround it.
“It’s big, it’s raucous!” Thompson said. “Who wouldn’t love to headbang with drumsticks?”
D’ART Center Parking Garage
740 Duke Street, Norfolk, VA
7:30pm – 8:15pm
Join Natalia and Megan along with ODU DANCE Faculty, Alumni, and students as they transform the d’Art Center parking garage; complete with a live band and neon drumsticks!
Various Locations in the The NEON District
See Map for Details
7:30pm – 8:00pm – four different locations, ongoing
8:15pm – Final Group Performance in front of Widow’s Walk Mural (The Eye)
For the events on Facebook, click here.