Branch Dancing at the Barnes with Merián Soto
Merián Soto brings her seminal branch dance to the Barnes Museum tomorrow night. The world-renowned choreographer and dancer performed the work most recently in a Kensington parking lot last October, where dancers continued her exploration of nature and movement in what is often a very mesmerizing and sensual experience. We caught up with Soto about the change of scenery, props, and weather.
The event will be held at 8 PM on Wednesday.Even though its a private event, passers-by can catch the outdoor performances along the reflecting pool and the entrance starting at 8:00PM at no cost. If you are attending the conference, make sure you plan to stay to the end of the event so you see the entire 30 minute performance which begins at 8PM.
FringeArts: Compared to the barrio, how does it feel to perform at the Barnes?
Merián Soto: Performing at the Barnes is in a sense the opposite of performing in the barrio. With SoMoS I created a nature carnival in a dirty cement parking lot located in a working class and poor neighborhood bordered by busy streets on three sides. I wanted to create a an immersive experience for the audience that reminded us the we are (somos) nature. To achieve this I used geodesic dome tents, video projections, and surround sound. It was a very intense experience, full of contrasts, extremely demanding on many levels, and thrilling.
In contrast, the Barnes is a private oasis, with impeccably manicured landscaped grounds and exquisite architecture, in the heart of an affluent neighborhood. Performing the Branch Dances here is easy, completely harmonious. All that is needed is the dancers to start the practice to immediately connect to the aesthetic and expressive power of the work. Projections were disallowed by the Barnes so we are going at it barebones, back to the origins of the work, the straight-on branch dance practice: the body, consciousness, awareness, moving into stillness, dynamic balance. I am presenting three branch dance scores developed for SoMoS: Olive Prince’s dance with two giant branches, Marion Ramírez and Jung Woong Kim’s vining duet, and Beau Hancock is performing his own version of Jumatatu Poe’s solo with a huge bundle. Christine Darch has made new costumes for the occasion and I’ve invited Harold E. Smith to perform his sacred music outdoors. Like SoMoS the dancers are spread indoors and out in their own “stations,” encouraging the audience to move around, change perspectives, and view at will.
FringeArts: How does the Barnes play on the meaning of this performance of SoMos, or vice-versa?
Merián Soto: It’s a whole different experience. The parking lot was a populist and carnivalesque experience. Audiences were free to move around. One tent (summer) was designed for audience particpation. It was, as some audiences remarked, as if extraterrestrials had landed in the middle of the concrete parking lot, a carnival of light and color. The Barnes is exclusive, private, even if the grounds are public. It is all subtlety, everything in its place, high art.
FringeArts: In the spirit of your work and the recent deluge in Philadelphia, would it interest you to perform with rain?
Merián Soto: The Branch Dance practice was developed outdoors in Wissahickon Valley Park. Dealing with the climate, the seasons, and weather is an integral part of the work–how does temperature and weather affect consciousness, what inner resources must be accessed to deal with extremes, how do we do that? (This is how you do it in a blizzard) We have conducted many year-long seasonal projects that have included dancing in snow storms, rain storms and other extreme weather. You may recall the extreme cold that descended unexpectedly on Philadelphia the night of the SoMoS performances. Moving infinitely slowly for 3.5 hours in 30 degree temperature with wind is definitely the most challenging performance experience I have ever had, and I’ve been performing for a very long time!