Spatial Design- Leaving Room for Unpredictability

by Marsha Parilla

Assessments will change depending on the piece. Some pieces require a more balanced approach either aesthetically or conceptually. Other pieces need to feel/look unbalanced at times due to the narrative or concept and space needs to be assessed differently.

2. How have you used staging to contribute to your work, (i.e. for visual design, to communicate meaning, to create mood, to evoke social conventions, etc)?

I love space, and I love exploring with/in it. For example, I have choreographed duets, for which space becomes really important as there are only two figures on stage. The relationship between each other can be enhanced with the use of space (distances, approaches, location on stage, entrances/exits, lighting).

3. In what ways do you play with a phrase to achieve the desired spacing and staging?

Feedback. When I work with my dance students, we analyze different possibilities for staging a phrase. We will give each idea the opportunity to be seen and explored, and then provide feedback for each idea. “What do you see? Why? Does it work? How can this be accomplished better? Let’s try it!”

4. What challenges have you encountered when dealing with staging? What strategies, advice, or lines of thought have helped you overcome these challenges?

Space design. If for example we are showing in a space that has no crossover, then we need to redesign certain aspects of the piece for it to work. How will the dancers cross over? Can we incorporate that in the piece? The same goes for spaces that have very small (or no) wings, and you are working with a large group.

5. Have entrances and exits served any greater function in your work than getting dancers in and out of the performance space? If yes, what have been their functions?

Well, life is not predictable. Entrances and exits allow us to create work where there is room for unpredictability, where surprise may arise… This might be conceptual, narrative, or practical (as with the use of props).

6. What challenges have you encountered when dealing with entrances and exits? What helped you take on these challenges?

Stage design, number of dancers, size of wings, lack of crossover. It helps is to always plan as if you had the most limited space to work with. Have different plans and alternatives that can be applied last minute just in case.

7. How have your thoughts and approaches to space and spatial design evolved throughout your choreographic career?

I think at the beginning I was much more interested in exploring the basic elements of choreography (the powerful diagonal, center stage, etc.), based on Doris Humphrey’s contributions. Now I like to challenge that by using the space completely differently. I like to invite the audience to see another point of view, and to decode new ideas of what theater staging is.

8. If you had a philosophy about the role of space in your practice and in your work, what would it be?

Space is a gift. It is the second most important instrument in dance next to our bodies. Exploring it, decoding it, challenging it, and enjoying it can unleash many preconceptions and lead to truly creative work.