Site-specific dance refuses the confines of a concert stage. From sidewalks to airports, bridges to buildings, choreographers are reshaping our conventional notions of performance. When a dance piece is conceived in relation to a particular place (and is therefore “site-specific”) the location becomes as much a part of the performance as the dancer’s body. Brought out into the world, dance expands its imaginative repertoire, engages with new audiences, and helps reinvigorate a sense of communal space.
Site-specific dance performance, which rose out of the dance experiments of postmodern and avant-garde choreographers of the 1960s and 70s, continues to permeate the contemporary dance world. Last week, celebrated dancer-choreographer Benjamin Millepied premiered the first in his series of site-specific dance performances through Los Angeles' MOCA museum. A few weeks earlier in London, Elizabeth Streb and her extreme dance company took to famous landmarks around the city, dancing atop the London Eye, the Millenium Bridge, and City Hall to name a few.
From Noémie Lafrance's company dancing atop the Gehry designed Richard B. Fisher Center in Upstate New York, to Trisha Brown's famous Roof Piece restaged atop buildings overlooking the Chelsea High Line, click on for our favorite site-specific dances in recent years.
Sens Production/Noémie Lafrance
Noémie Lafrance is a critically acclaimed site-specific choreographer who heads<a href="http://sensproduction.org/" target="_hplink"> Sens Production</a>, the New York-based experimental arts organization. In 2008, members of Lafrance's company <a href="http://fishercenter.bard.edu/press/releases.php?id=1513" target="_hplink">danced atop the stainless-steal contours of Frank Gehry's Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts</a> at Bard College in New York's Hudson Valley. The piece, <em>Rapture (work in progress)</em>, celebrated Gehry's architecture as well as challenged the dancers' own physicality. Take a look at the corresponding clip from <em>Rapture</em>.
Trisha Brown Dance Company
For the 40th anniversary of Trisha Brown's acclaimed <em>Roof Piece</em>, the <a href="http://www.trishabrowncompany.org/" target="_hplink">Trisha Brown Dance Company</a> recreated the piece atop buildings surrounding the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/" target="_hplink">Chelsea High Line</a>. <em>Roof Piece</em> was first performed in 1971 around Wooster and Lafayette Streets in New York City. The dance company was founded in 1970 after Trisha Brown left the experimental Judson Dance Theater to pursue her own company. TBDC is known for performing in alternative spaces around Manhattan's SoHo. The associated clip documents the recreated <em>Roof Piece</em> last summer as seen from the High Line.
The award winning Director/Media artist/choreographer is internationally celebrated for his choreography and his original multidisciplinary site-specific performances. <a href="http://www.koplowitzprojects.com/" target="_hplink">Stephan Koplowitz</a> has choreographed pieces throughout the halls of the Natural History Museum as well as inside the windows of Grand Central Terminal (to name a few). Currently he heads the <a href="http://www.koplowitzprojects.com/grandsteps.html" target="_hplink">Grand Step Project</a>, which is "a site-adaptive work to be performed on grand staircases, all over the world." Koplowitz also directs a site-specific dance company, <a href="http://www.koplowitzprojects.com/taskforce/index.html" target="_hplink">Taskforce</a>, that works on a project to project basis. The following clip is taken from Taskforce's Los Angeles "tour" (june-july 2008), at the Los Angeles Farmers Market.
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
<a href="http://heididuckler.org/" target="_hplink">Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (HDDT)</a> stages dance performances in unconventional spaces that challenge the relationship between audience and art. The Los Angeles based company has performed everywhere from laundromats, to museum galleries, even on the 51st floor of an office building in downtown L.A. In 2010, they performed <a href="http://heididuckler.org/performance-gallery" target="_hplink"><em>Governing Bodies</em></a> at Los Angeles City Hall. Imbuing the piece with politics and civic affairs, they danced throughout the building. Check out the corresponding clip to see them in action.
Third Rail Projects
<a href="http://thirdrailprojects.com/" target="_hplink">Third Rail Projects</a>, artistically headed by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson, and Jennine Willett, "reframes" dance and performance and brings their shows to the public in a variety of ways. The New York company is currently working on a mobile, site-specific piece in a pop-up camper. Past work includes various theatrical and movement-based adaptations of Lewis Carroll's "Alice" stories, an immersive performance inside the great hall of the Hudson Opera House, and a performance on the steps of the World Financial Center in NYC. The following video is a trailer featuring their various immersive performances.
Dance Theatre Etcetera
The<a href="http://www.dancetheatreetcetera.org/" target="_hplink"> Brooklyn-based company</a> is founded on the belief that "<a href="http://dtetc.org/about.html" target="_hplink">the arts are an effective vehicle for social transformation</a>." The majority of their work is site-specific and ignites dialogue about local issues. The corresponding clip is a compilation of selected site-specific performances from 1993-2010.
Joanna Haigood/Zaccho Dance Theatre
Joanna Haigood is the artistic director of San Francisco-based <a href="http://www.zaccho.org/index.php" target="_hplink">Zaccho Dance Theatre</a>. The company creates work that "<a href="http://www.zaccho.org/about.php" target="_hplink">investigates dance as it relates to place</a>." In May 2007, the company opened the San Francisco International Arts Festival with <em>Departure and Arrival </em>, a site-specific installation at the San Francisco Airport International Terminal. The performance "<a href="http://www.zaccho.org/portfolio-detail.php?project=Departure_and_Arrival_2007_" target="_hplink">focuses on the history and the social and cultural implications of the African Diaspora in the United States</a>." Check out the clip from the 2007 performance.
Shen Wei Dance Arts
<a href="http://www.shenweidancearts.org/" target="_hplink">Shen Wei Dance Arts </a>was founded by MacArthur fellow Shen Wei, who was the lead choreographer for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Wei's company is internationally recognized for their interdisciplinary performances staged in a variety of alternative spaces. In 2011, the company performed <em><a href="http://www.shenweidancearts.org/nontraditional.html#undivided" target="_hplink">Undivided Divided</a></em> at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The following clip features work from <em>Undivided Divided</em> at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Andrea Haenggi founded <a href="http://www.amdat.org/" target="_hplink">AMDaT</a> in 1998 and is committed to creating "<a href="http://www.amdat.org/newWebsite/about/about_en.htm" target="_hplink">visual motion constructions</a>: live performances of contemporary dance that cross boundaries between art disciplines (video, film, architecture) and technology and find new possibilities for presentations in nontraditional site and theaters." The following clip is from, <em>Blast Wall Art</em>, a site-specific dance video performance that was loosely inspired by the concrete blast walls in Baghdad.
Wanda Moretti/Il Posto Dance Company
Wanda Moretti founded the Italian vertical dance company<a href="http://verticaldancecompany.blogspot.com/" target="_hplink"> Il Posto</a> along with musician Marco Castelli in 1996. <a href="http://verticaldancecompany.blogspot.com/p/wanda-moretti_28.html" target="_hplink">Moretti describes vertical dance</a> as a "shifting practice of space plains: space practice where performer can negotiate new borders and limits in vertical and aerial territories using a multiplicity of knowledges, sensibility and skills." The following clip is taken from one of the company's pieces, <em>Exuvia</em>.