This week, POV Dance will open its newest, architecturally inspired performance “In My Own Space” at the Body Mechanics studio in Southeast Portland. Based on an athletic style of modern dance and drawing from contact improvisation, dancers will use and interact with and around the structural characteristics of the space—the ledges, doorways, walls and perhaps the audience members themselves—in order to offer audiences a new way of viewing the space.
“I hope it will give them a new perspective on movement, on the human body, on structure and human relationships,” said Mandy Cregan, one of the company’s founders and co-artistic director.
Cregan and her dancers are accustomed to exploring nontraditional spaces through movement. Collaboration is inherent to their choreography and rehearsal process, which began in February. They think of what they do as architectural rather than conceptual; they pull the movement out of the space and are dependent on the elements available to them.
“The work we do transforms those spaces, hopefully drawing attention to the architecture itself and how its forms already dance in unexpected ways,” said Taylor Eggan, a dancer with the company since 2010. “In other words, we help make architecture an event in itself.”
In this case, the audience will move through the space as the dancers perform. They will start outside, walking down a side alley, entering through the backdoor and through various rooms until they exit through an open garage door onto the sidewalk at the front where they began. The dancers are divided into two groups, and when one performance is halfway over, another one begins with another audience.
This not only makes audience members part of the space, but requires them to constantly choose where to direct their attention.
“In this piece, in which two dances are always happening simultaneously, the sense that you are missing something is always a part of the experience,” Eggan said. “I think this is unique, and in this regard, the performance is a little microcosm of daily living—it offers a forum, however humble, for meditating on the beautiful incompleteness of experience.”
Rachael Lembo, another dancer with the company since 2010, is also excited about how the audience will be engaged and forced to navigate the space, objects and other people.
“I think it adds to the playfulness. I hope some people will wander by with their Salt & Straw cones totally unaware of what’s happening and be curious enough to stop and follow the dance,” Lembo said. “What’s always fun for me with this work is that it feels playful and beautiful. The audience often ends up very close to us, and I love being able to watch them as they’re watching us.”
This project posed some new challenges for Cregan and the company. Each of their past productions has relied on a different location being offered to them. This time they were unable to secure any of the spaces they wanted. So Cregan resorted to using the pilates studio she owns, Body Mechanics, thus bringing previously separate parts of her life together.
“I had to completely decompartmentalize myself to have this process happen,” Cregan said. Having to have this space contain all of those parts of me was a much larger challenge than I anticipated. Normally being in a space that is not my own space I never really worry about dance. But being in this space I found, personally, it was hard.”
She worried about people coming into the space and how the dance would be perceived, bringing up her own fears of judgement, something she hadn’t felt before as a dancer.
The studio space also posed unique challenges, such as working around the pilates equipment.
“We tend to work with things that are more solid and stable,” Eggan said. “But in the case of Body Mechanics, we also found ourselves dancing with objects that actually moved: The reformers shift under you and the cadillacs have a tendency to topple if you swing too hard on them. So in this case the architecture dances with us in ways both literal and figurative.”
Another challenge was the budget. When they didn’t receive the grant they’d hoped for, the company was forced to modify aspects of the performance, such as the music and lights. While in the past they’d worked with live musicians and hired theatrical lighting designers, they couldn’t afford to do that this time.
Cregan said this piece would not be what it is without those limitations and she has grown immensely because of the challenges.
“The place I’ve gotten to is this ultimate ownership of my space. This is me, full on, all of me, in my space,” said Cregan. “The challenge has been the reward. Having to own all of myself. That has been the reward.”
In that sense she has received the same gift she hopes to give the audience—a new perspective.