Arts Dance with Me Preview Theatre

Preview: An Interview with dance artist and creator of installation ‘Come On In’ Faye Driscoll (Esplanade’s da:ns focus 2023)

Dance is often thought of as an art form that’s enjoyed seated, and performed on a big stage. It is a passive act of consumption, rather than an active act of participation. When the performance is over, we politely applaud and admire the dancers for their physicality and skill, and think to ourselves – wow, I could never do that.

But American dance artist Faye Driscoll is set to change your perception, with an invitation to join her in her installation Come On In, which runs at the Esplanade Annexe Studio this weekend. Faye may not be physically present at the installation, but her presence will still very much be felt – and heard – when you listen to her voice, guiding you through the meditative experience, as you become part of the work, and ponder over unanswerable questions about self and other, body and world. Sitting, lying, standing, observing, participating – where does the performer end and the viewer begin? That is an open-ended question left for you to decide yourself, as you find new ways to connect.

Originally commissioned by Walker Art Center, Come On In has been exhibited at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and On the Boards in Seattle. This presentation in Singapore marks its first installation outside of the United States. Speaking to Faye Driscoll, we found out more about the concept behind the work, her philosophy behind dance and performance, and the act of communication through dance. Read the interview in full below:

Bakchormeeboy: Come On In is in part inspired by your trilogy Thank You For Coming, dealing with the forces between the viewer and the viewed. How does this idea of the viewer and the viewed come into play with Come On In, especially considering the intensely personal nature of the work and how the audience is also the performer, in a sense? 

Faye: In my Thank You For Coming trilogy I was interested in activating the “third space” between audience and performer. By the final work in the trilogy called “Space” I removed the ensemble that had been in the first two parts of the trilogy and it was just me, alone with the audience, conducting them.  For Come On In, I removed myself and it is now just the audience alone with each other.  In Come On In, the “third space” is between my voice and the body of the audience, and the audience witnessing each other and everything that occurs between them. 

Bakchormeeboy: It’s interesting how Come On In was first presented in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. While no one could have predicted the pandemic, the intimacy and solo, meditative nature of Come On In seems to coincide with that strange period of lockdown. Did you feel the work grew to take on new significance from the pandemic, beyond what you initially intended for it? 

Faye: Yes it was very strange, even though I did not make the work for COVID, it felt as though it was perfectly made for that time. We all went online and life became so visually represented. So these intimate texts made of just the voice alone, the aural rather than the visual, were quite powerful. I am curious how the sound of a voice can be a kind of touch, it can change you. 

Bakchormeeboy: There are many artists out there who feel the beauty of dance is precisely because it is such a visual medium, and surpasses the need for spoken or written language. Yet with Come On In, the medium is primarily spoken – did that lead to any kinds of restrictions, or did it open up new pathways/opportunities for you to explore your artistry precisely because of the new medium?

Faye: In my Guided Choreographies for the Living and the Dead (the audio pieces in Come On In)  I thought a lot about the way language extends into the body. The way we are moved by concepts and how we move then creates who we are, and the world we inhabit. My performance and choreographic works often have text in them and I use a poetic way of speaking and scoring to direct my work.  Language is one of the ways I reach into the bodies and minds of my performers to direct them.  It was exciting to explore this aspect of my work in a new way in the GCLD and to invite the audience into the choreography through directing them. 

Bakchormeeboy: The audio work in Come On In comes from your other work Guided Choreographies for the Living and the Dead, each audio recording an invitation for listeners to reconceive the human body in a private act of meditation. Could you explain more about that, especially why it also applies to the ‘dead’ as well as the living? 

Faye: The GCLD are lamentations, strange prayers, and wild directives. In them, I often refer to you by saying things like, “I want your body”.  For me, “you” has many meanings. It is you, the audience who I will never meet, it is a part of me I am trying to feel through you, it is someone I am longing for who is dead and it is a call and a demand to be embodied.  Our bodies are not separate from the rest of the world. We are catastrophically interdependent. Our bodies are made up of millions of microorganisms, made from our ancestors bodies, made from the air we breathe. The activations and prompts in GCLD are meant to enliven the dead, dissociated, addicted parts of our bodies that we’ve left in the dust of great technological progress. Capitalism makes bodies into problems to solve or fix. The audio pieces are incantations to playfully invite you to consider an alternative; a much less linear way to be. 

Bakchormeeboy: Could you elaborate more on the set design that goes into Come On In? What kind of environment did you want viewers to find themselves in, and how much awareness did you want them to have of each other’s presence in the same space? 

Faye: I collaborated with Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin, my long time visual artist collaborators, on the installation aspect of Come On In. We wanted the space to be intimate, mysterious and comfortable. A place you would want to lay your body down. The carpet and pedestal beds are cushy and soft and you must remove your shoes to enter and lay down. The light is slowly moving and gently pulsing, inspired by a Rothko chapel. And it is dim so if you decide to move you don’t feel like you are too much on the spot.  The pedestals were all built to different heights so when they are filled with audience they create a tableau vivant.  We think of them as sculptural bases as seen in traditional gallery spaces/ancient sarcophaguses/ contemporary bedrooms. The headphones are noise-canceling because I wanted my voice to be close—right next to you. You can rest on the beds, or on the carpet, or sit on the bench cubbies and just watch.  I hope the space invites all these options. 

Bakchormeeboy: Choreography is the bedrock of any dance artist’s practice. At this point in your career, what would you say your approach towards choreography or developing new choreography is driven by? 

Faye: For me, the body is at once a site, a process and a continually emerging state. When I was making my evening-length duet You’re Me with Jesse Zarrit, we often tried to become each other. For hours we did this very strange mirror practice that often slipped over into hysterical laughter. As he tried to become me and I tried to become him, he became me-becoming-him, and I him-becoming-me. We found that a third person emerged between us, neither me nor him, and we called this person “Chad.” Ever since, we call this practice “Chadding.” Chadding is the state I aim to create with each audience for my work—the feeling of a third thing we co-create—the sensation of mutual culpability. 

I want to call us back to our mutual culpability through this time of crises, retraction, contagion, division and fear. I want to expose our complexity, uncertainty and permeability and to examine the alchemical, phenomenological and slippery nature of identity.

Bakchormeeboy: As a work that’s so focused on self-meditation and becoming more aware of the self through one’s own body, how would you say you practice heightening that sense of awareness in your own body, or centering/reconfiguring your perspective of the world in your own life? 

Faye: Vulnerability is one of my primary values in my artistic value system, and it’s something I’m most drawn to in other people’s work. There’s no prescription that it must look a certain way, but there’s a certain presence of fragility and mortality in the work. Vulnerability is a daily practice for me… a rigorous daily practice to not clog myself up and numb myself out and be so guarded that I can’t participate in this life and in this world. Vulnerability is not what’s most encouraged in most cultures. Our culture structure is much more produced, encouraging “harder faster better younger.” 

Photo Credit: Bobby Rogers, Image courtesy of Walker Art Center

Come On In runs from 5th to 7th May 2023 at the Esplanade Annexe Studio. Tickets available here

da:ns focus events run from 14th to 16th Apr 2023, 5th to 7th May 2023, 13th to 15th Oct 2023, 1st to 3rd Dec 2023 and Mar 2024. More information available here

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