Spatial Design- A container for the possible
by Joshua Legg
1. What are you assessing when you look at the spatial design of bodies and vocabulary in your work? Do these assessments change with the piece or are you guided by more overarching principles?
Most of the time, my sense of design (bodily and spatial) will change depending on the specific piece I’m making at the time. For instance, if I am working in a classical approach, my design will be highly formal and shape oriented. I’ve only been working that way for about seven years or so. For most of my life as a dancemaker, I’ve worked from a more post-Judson approach to things and avoided that kind of structural or architectural use of the dancing body or the space. Once I started working in this more classical/formal way though, I found myself exploring geometry. While I don’t want to work that way all the time, I am really enjoying the process of creating designs and patterns. If I had to give a name to the principle that has emerged from this, I’d have to call it Kaleidoscoping. That’s in contrast to a principle I use in my more post-Judson influenced work that I call Mapping, which helps me avoid regular patterns, and clearly defined/identifiable shapes. There’s also the Image principle, which I’ll come to in an answer below.
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)?
If/when I use staging/décor, it has to have a practical purpose. I want the cast to interact with it in some way. A work that uses a stage piece for visual affect can be lovely, but that’s just not how my mind works. I want everything in the space to be a tool that furthers the action on the stage, not just an immobile/immoveable set piece. I guess my sensibility is a bit utilitarian in that way.
3. In what ways do you play with a phrase to achieve the desired spacing and staging?
I suppose most of my answers in this entire discussion come with an assumption that we’re talking about traditional European-American stages in theatres–this answer in particular: Regardless of whether I’m working in classical or contemporary ways (in dance or theatre), images have become more and more important in my work. I’m a photographer and have done a little film work. As much as motion is my overarching focus, I find myself creating image-after-image on stage regardless of whether the work uses linear or nonlinear narrative, or is completely abstract. Image, then, is another principle in my work. Therefore, even as I manipulate a phrase to get the motion/movements “right,” I will continue to make adjustments that allow the motion to produce a series of images as well.
4. What challenges have you encountered when dealing with staging? What strategies, advice, or lines of thought have helped you overcome these challenges?
My answer to this question dovetails with the answer to Questions 5 & 6 below, so I’ll combine them.
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?
6. What challenges have you encountered when dealing with entrances and exits? What helped you take on these challenges?
There’s a famous story about a dancer running through the crossover backstage during a performance of Balanchine’s Serenade. Apparently, her pointe shoes were not broken-in well enough, and the audience could hear her pounding her way backstage in the midst of this gorgeous ballet. Mr. B. is said to have lit into the ballerina, screaming, “You ruined my ballet.”
I use entrances and exits–a lot of them–in my group work. That’s especially true when I’m making a highly formal, geometric piece. They help me achieve lots of the images I talked about earlier. The challenge for me, is to create these entrances and exists without using crossovers. Aesthetically, I am one of those dancemakers who never wants to hear a shoe land on stage, let alone off. Practically, if you think a work might ever go on tour, you run the risk of a performance space that doesn’t have a crossover, or one where the crossover takes the dancers through a crazy maze of some kind. I work (hard sometimes) to avoid them by making any stage crossings happen on stage. I have to work them into the movement that the audience sees.
7. How have your thoughts and approaches to space and spatial design evolved throughout your choreographic career?
See Question 1.
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 container (though sometimes, loosely defined) that helps us create movement/motion that makes visual and kinesthetic sense.