Go Deeper

Submerge yourself in the luscious wonderment of the Explanatorium

Posted September 7th, 2007

Do not resist the liquid state of reality that is Headlong’s Explanatorium; it is truly magnificent. Within the majestic, slightly dilapidated interior of the Rotunda’s domed sanctuary, Headlong Dance Theater has created an experience that seems separate from time in the traditional sense, and a place that feels slightly removed from the regular world—I’ll take the risk of calling it a space-time continuum. Audience members are gradually invited into the space and encouraged to think about experiences they’ve had which they can’t explain. This might seem hokey to the brittle skeptic, but once immersed in this lush, luminous world and surrounded by curiously engaged dancers and fellow audience members, doubts begin to peel away.

<%image(20070906-Headlong2medblog.jpg|350|272|)%>Questions are asked and answered, some through speech, others through movement. The dancers seem like natives of the explanatorium. Their movement and speech suggest a unique style of living, something that the rest of us may not be familiar with—but they are gracious hosts; they invite us to relax and join them. They dance, they speak, they play individual pipes from an old organ; it is almost as if they are part of the space, like little saplings of the massive pipe organ that looms above the pulpit of the Rotunda, a former Christian Science church.

The lights go down and we are invited to lie with our heads at the center of the room. Dancer Amy Smith introduces us to the oculus—the top of church’s dome that is made of glass. It is the eye of this ornate fortress of wonder, and suddenly it’s unclear whether we’re looking out or in: the experience has the grandiosity of a solar system and the intimacy of an unspoken thought all at once. Smith compares the oculus to an eye, a wheel, a donut, understating the fact that while we are all snuggled in here together, looking at the same fantastic site, we may each be seeing something different.

This is one of the more stunning moments of understanding in Explanatorium. There are also many lovely moments of collective silliness, but I won’t give these away, nor can I. In large part, the experience of Explanatorium is affected by the nature of its audience.


After Explanatorium, I had the pleasure of speaking with Headlong co-founder David Brick, who told me about the evolution of the piece. He explained that the company spent a long time considering this query: “how do things mean in art? What do they mean? What happens between the moment in which you see or experience a piece of art, and the moment in which you decide what it means?” Concurrently, they asked the same question about life—how do we explain what happens to us? When something out of the ordinary happens, why do we react as we do?

Brick points out that, “so much of art is just there to be figured out. A lot of times, you either get it, or you don’t.” The idea here was to investigate the getting. Explanatorium is a sort of (for serious lack of a better term) meta-analytical experience that can be about how you explain things in art, or how you explain things in life. Brick calls it a “hot spot of engagement and being awake.” I call it a great idea. Visit the Explanatorium, and do not forget to dress in blue.

Explanatorium opens tonight. Click here here to purchase tickets.

All photos were taken by Matthew Hollerbush.