When you enjoy a show by interdisciplinary performance company anonymous bodies, fair warning: there is no sit-back-and-relax. Director of the site-based installation company Kate Watson-Wallace is a dancer who loves to “choreograph the audience.” She views her performances as “live films more than dances,” and her alterna-approach to the medium has birthed such provocative, stunning, and critically-acclaimed works as HOUSE, a performance that takes place inside an actual home, and STORE, a piece that explores American greed. Her latest work, the currently funding Kickstarter project AUTO, is a re-staging of 2008’s CAR, an anonymous bodies performance that contained the audience inside a vehicle. Located in a parking garage, AUTO lets the audience wander freely through performances as they happen in and around the public and private spaces of cars. The piece will inhabit a Henry Avenue garage in Philadelphia the last three weekends of April. We caught up with Wallace to learn a bit more about what drives her.
Tell us about when, how, and why you started dancing.
I started dancing when I was a kid and got into visual art, performance art, and DIY culture in high school and college. I have danced for a bunch of folks professionally, including Headlong Dance Theater, Group Motion Company, and Myra Bazell/SCRAP. I formed anonymous bodies formally in 2007, though I’ve been creating work in Philly since 2003 or so. We create a wide variety of performances-mostly site-based. I’ve made a dances in row homes, cars, warehouses, nightclubs, and on-line.
The Philly Weekly wrote of your work: “It’s this postmodern condition of society as spectacle, of perpetual observation, of technology constantly negotiating intimacy - that Watson-Wallace explores most effectively.” What do you think of this analysis? What does your work mean to you?
I would say that quote is pretty right on. It was written by a really fabulous writer, Tara Murtha, who writes for the Philly Weekly. She did a cover story on me when I made CAR, which was my first experiment with a moving vehicle. I am very interested in re-contextualizing how and where we watch performance. There is a huge movement currently, and for years now, in the performance world, where choreographers and directors have been performing in sites that aren’t theaters. They bring the art to the people. I am a part of this trend. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t charge a thing, and I would do public art that everybody had access to. I do believe that it is important to pay artists/dancers/performers a good rate for their time though, so I do charge. I am particularly interested in small audiences, in choreographing the audience, as well as the performer and literally re-situating them (having them lying on a bed looking at a dance on a ceiling, putting them in the back seat of a moving car, etc.) so that they have the opportunity to see from a different perspective. I think the whole construct of audience and performer is pretty funny in and of itself, so I like to play with that.
Can you deconstruct what you mean by “movement installation” and “performance vignette” on your project page?
A movement installation is an installation of sorts (whether it is built, or the installation is the site) that contains movement. A performance vignette is just what it sounds like: a short vignette or section of a performance. I think I’m actually a visual artist in my heart (with zero visual arts training) with a whole bunch of training in dance and choreography, so I’ve borrowed terms from the visual arts world because they make more sense to me. I see my performances as live films, more than dances. I storyboard everything.
How did you arrive at the “performer”/”witness” dichotomy? How did you come to see the act of driving or the experience of ‘car-hood’ in those terms?
I arrived at that during an early showing of the work in 2007 at the Susan Hess Studio. Ralph Lemon was there giving us feedback. Two things I remember him saying were: “Take more risk”—with the car, the bodies, the interaction between them! (And so I did.) And he also felt that the audiences were “witnesses” to what we were doing, which I think is true—the whole idea of bearing witness.
What about your interest in the car as a space of communication?
I think it is hysterical that many of us drive around in these little boxes on wheels, in our own little bubbles. Cars are our protective gear. We think we are in private, but we are actually in between private and public when we are in a car. This fascinates me. People do absurd things in cars. They are so much a part of suburban life in America.
Can you talk a bit about the logistics of performing within a parking garage? When can you rehearse?!
Haha!!! Well, there’s a lot of charming folks to get them to understand and support what we are doing. There’s a lot of logistical stuff—stopping cars from coming up the ramp when we are rehearsing, keeping the dancers safe. We have a whole safety code that we use in rehearsal. I have very strong, risk-taking dancers!
Do you always offer carpools for your performances, or just this one as it’s so delightfully appropriate…?
Just this one!
AUTO runs 4/16 - 5/1 2011 @ 3300 Henry Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. You can learn more about and support Wallace’s project here