Go Deeper

PHOTOS + REACTION: bodies in urban spaces

Posted September 8th, 2008

Combine one part dance, one part performance art, and one part Easter egg hunt, and you might have the closest approximation to this weekend’s Live Arts show, bodies in urban spaces. It was difficult to keep a straight face at times as hordes of Philadelphians stopped traffic, flooded sidewalks, and created mass chaos on the streets of Center City while following the site-specific show.

<%image(20080908-bodies_doorway web.jpg|233|350|Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou/>But the festival atmosphere only added to the fun of urban spaces, which, to give a very basic description, consisted of brightly dressed dancers tightly wedged into the most impossible shapes and in the most unlikely locations around the city. They were piled on top of each other, under each other, next to each other, underground, above ground and anywhere else you could imagine, creating live human sculptures in the most surprising places. And best of all, the “sculptures” were both movable and malleable, as at the command of some unseen signal, the formation would break ranks and dash off at high speed toward the next designated installation.

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I’m sure Vienna-based choreographer Willi Dorner had a specific course in mind for audiences to follow on his live art tour, but Friday’s performance quickly degenerated into a free-for-all, dictated by the spotting of one or more of the sprinting dancers. Whoever viewed the oddly dressed runner would usually send up a yodel, and the rest of the audience would follow in pursuit of the next spectacle.

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And being nimble certainly paid off, as if you were lucky, you might have the pleasure of watching the sculpture assemble itself. For this, anywhere from one to twenty dancers would crumple into balls, crawl on top of each other, wedge themselves next to walls, turn themselves upside down, and then — freeze. For at least five to ten minutes. And then, when time was up, the sculpture would dissemble and hit the ground running to the next site.

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This process repeated itself scores of times around Center City as the performers cropped up in Love Park, next to a doorway in the Comcast building, under the lunch counters, squeezed horizontally on stair railings, stacked head-to-toe behind lampposts, crammed into archways, and most remarkably, upside-down in a tree guard, wedged so tightly that it took two people to extract the topsy-turvy tree hugger.

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Part spectacle, part traveling installation piece, bodies in urban spaces is a new look at how we interact with our environment. The installations were beautiful, and a remarkable testament to the flexibility and strength of the human body, but also seemed to comment on city living—the very act of cramming together groups of people in uncomfortable ways sets one’s imagination free to explore new ways of viewing the beauty around us.

–Lindsay Warner

Click here to learn about Willi Dorner’s photography exhibit, FEET, that runs through October 18 at the Painted Bride.

These photos were taken by Jacques-Jean Tiziou. Visit JJ’s website at