On a swampy DC afternoon I sat in a shaded corner of the sidewalk outside of the highly anticipated, newly remodeled Dance Place facilities with Sharon Mansur and Nick Bryson. Sharon and I first met in 2010 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, through our mutual involvement in the Midwest Regional Alternative Dance Festival (RAD Fest). Sharon’s undefinable and incomparable use of subtle movement and detail struck me as both earthy and otherworldly. She captivates, in the true sense of the word; you’re captured by her quirk as she explores space, time, the architecture around her, or sometimes her costumes or tiny lights, or whatever else she might be curious about in that moment. Nick, an established independent improvisational artist based in Ireland, was Co-Artistic Director of Legitimate Bodies Dance Company for five years and performed with Daghdha Dance Company and Elena Giannotti.
Acclaimed improvisational artists in their own right, Nick and Sharon will be presenting the most recent incarnation of their transcontinental collaboration, INSERT [ ] HERE, at Dance Place Saturday, June 21st, and Sunday, June 22nd. Nick and Sharon will be joined by guest artists Daniel Burkholder and Naoko Maeshiba, dancers Kathryn Harris Banks, Erin Crawley-Woods, Maré Hieronimus, and Lynne Price, along with musicians Alexa Cantalupo & Khristian Weeks, and experimental sound artist Tara Rodgers. This structured improvisation will be informed not only by their guest performers but also by the attending audience and the updated Dance Place building, itself.
Through our conversation I learned how Nick and Sharon connected through movement and through choices they make about how to exist in this world, and then how these choices and connections have ultimately informed their process of creating. After a first encounters in 2012, they reunited in Minnesota where this project was first devised and workshopped as a duet. INSERT [ ] HERE has continued to grow and shape-shift, effected by whichever immersive environment they are working in, whether it be on Nick’s home turf in Ireland, or set on a student body at University of Maryland, where Sharon is an Associate Professor of dance.
When I asked if they could explain how their duet turned, solo, turned structured-improv-for-multiple-players can live and breath as the same piece throughout these years of workshopping, Mansur said it’s the “arch of process that manifests in different ways." Bryson went on to explain that they devised and incorporate “threads of practice”, such as “gaze-body-follow” (which, as intriguing as that sounds I neglected to get an actual explanation of), that then act as a through lines from one version to the next. In the newest version of this piece, these threads were taught to the dancers in the short rehearsal process and then used as tools to guide the piece.
In the evolution of this work there seems to be a number of layers that have germinated as a result of such process focused creation. Nick spoke to “the energy you get from your environment”, in relation and influence to their work. With INSERT [ ] HERE being a site specific piece, Nick says they consider “making a space that is transformative." Appropriately, INSERT [ ] HERE will be the first contemporary dance piece shown in the newly transformed Dance Place facility, and this has a deep emotional and environmental connection for Mansur, who has an established history with the space. Additionally, Mansur and Bryson ask their dancers to bring their “whole person” to the process and to the piece, with respect to this layer of depth the individual performer may bring. They recognize that their dancers are in different places, mileposts, and transitions in their lives, and Nick remarks that the “synergy of connection to artists and environment”, is an important consideration and element to the piece.
During our dialogue I was drawn to another “thread” that kept finding its way back into the dialogue. While Nick reflected on the differences between the work ethic in the United States and Ireland, specifying a major difference in “how we structure our life to do our art”, I connected to a similar notion Mansur spoke to earlier in our conversation. She said she strives to integrate the art process into daily life, whether it is just through walking, finding time to write, or simply “creating the head space to let things wander around”, and practicing being present in her daily life. This idea of melding our artistic lives into our daily lives is so logical and sensible many of us look right past it; as artists art should be our daily lives, right? Further more, I realize for those working as improv artists it is necessary to remain in the present tense, in the presence of mind and body, and that is a luxury many of us (think) we can not afford from day to day.
So with that said, these are the questions I’m left with for my own self reflection: why would we perpetuate our programmed tendency to wash, rinse, and repeat our way through life, detaching our artistic-selves from our everything-else-selves if it makes us so discontent? Wouldn’t a more congruent approach allow us to live or linger in the moment a bit easier? Don’t we want to be synchronized? What is the point in living multiple lives, as if our real selves only acknowledge our art making selves a few hours each week? It encourages a division of self, something less whole, and less fulfilled.
But I'm going to spare you more of my theorizing and endless self-questioning and instead leave you with a video of Sharon's exploration of INSERT [ ] HERE at the Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music in 2013, with composer/musician Tara Rodgers. Let this speak for me, for them, and if nothing else get you out to Dance Place for the full experience.
You are invited to experience this interplay of environment, artists, and audience at Saturday, June 21st at 6:30pm & 8pm, and Sunday, June 22nd at 5:30pm & 7pm, at Dance Place. INSERT [ ] HERE is supported, in part, by a University of Maryland Creative and Performing Arts Award, the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts and the Birr Theatre and Arts Centre, Ireland.