The Latchis, seen here, and the Hooker-Dunham Building in downtown Brattleboro are the stage for "The Rounds."
For advance tickets and more information about the festival, including travel/lodging options in the area, visit www.vermontperformancelab.org. Tickets are also available at VPL’s offices at the Hooker-Dunham Theatre, 139 Main St.
Originally published in The Commons issue #320 (Wednesday, August 26, 2015). This story appeared on page B1.
BRATTLEBORO—Everyone these days seems glued to their smartphones. But how far would you let your smartphone lead you?
That question will be posed in The Rounds, an unconventional performance experience presented by Vermont Performance Lab (VPL) as part of its upcoming Progressive Performance Festival.
French artists Martin Chaput and Martial Chazallon of Project SITU use smartphone technology as a choreographic tool that will guide participants to make the “rounds” of the town: to travel pathways, explore spaces, and experience downtown Brattleboro in a new way.
Each participant ultimately will be directed to either the Hooker-Dunham Building or the Latchis complex on Main Street and encouraged to discover the building in a new fashion.
Created in collaboration with local Brattleboro residents, The Rounds aims “to challenge perceptions of familiar places and shift the way we relate to our smartphones.”
Chazallon says that he and Chaput are choreographers who don’t create movement but rather the body’s relation to space.
“We want people, one at a time and on their own, to use their senses to interact with a building site,” he says.
The Rounds is one of three works in this second edition of the Progressive Performance Festival, which presents critically acclaimed artists whose works touch on social justice and cultural memory.
Produced by VPL, this year’s festival — which runs downtown Sept. 4-6 — includes The Rounds; Schwanze-Beast, by Carmelita Tropicana and Ela Troyano; and 2125 Stanley Street, by Dahlia Nayar.
According to VPL founder and director Sara Coffey, each of the artists has researched and developed work in Southern Vermont through VPL residency programs.
“They know the people who live or visit here seek artistic experiences that engage their emotional core and their intellect. The festival is an opportunity for audiences to experience completed, fully produced work that has been incubated in our lab,” she explains.
Although Brattleboro has hosted other dance and movement festivals, such as July’s Southern Vermont Dance Festival, Coffey says she thinks the Progressive Performance Festival is special for several reasons:
“First of all, there is the content of the work. We have international, culturally diverse perspectives on race, immigration, LGBTQ, cultural belonging, and inverting our relationship to handheld technology.
Second, she says, all of these artists have spent a lot of time in Vermont to research and develop new work. “These artists have been engaging with members over the last two years in a variety of ways: from working with local artists and adults and teens to create an unusual site work, to connecting with local scientists and members of our local LGBTQ community, to interviewing local residents of Asian and Asian American heritage.”
Third, according to Coffey, it’s all happening in downtown Brattleboro in a variety of spaces and involving different kinds of spectator experiences, such as gallery-style viewing, theater performance, and a choreographed walk using a smartphone.
Though all the artists have performed works in progress in the area, this is a chance for participants to see their completed works that were at least partially developed at VPL.
Carmelita Tropicana and Ela Troyano, veterans of the New York film and performance scene, will present their latest project, Schwanze-Beast, which they describe as equal parts performance, scientific lecture, and installation exploring how the future becomes a lens through which we can examine our cultural landscape.
Performances start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4, and Saturday, Sept. 5, at New England Youth Theatre. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students). Reservations are recommended.
Northampton-based choreographer Dahlia Nayar presents 2125 Stanley Street, a dance and sound installation described as tapping into notions of cultural memory in the context of home.
Developed with dancer Margaret Sunghe Paek and composer/musician Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, 2125 Stanley Street has one PPF opening night performance: 5:30 on Friday, Sept. 4 at Catherine Dianich Gallery on Main Street. This event is free. No reservations are required.
The Rounds takes place throughout the weekend, as Chaput and Chazallon, with the assistance of local residents, send audience members one by one out of the theater and into the streets for a choreographed solo journey of downtown Brattleboro.
Departures from 118 Elliott St. run every 15 minutes from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Reservations are required. As VPL expects slots to fill up quickly, call to reserve a place as soon as you can. If you don’t bring a smartphone, VPL will lend you one for the event. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students).
Coffey says she is especially excited to present The Rounds, which is having its American premiere at the Progressive Performance Festival. This site-specific work has had previous performances in Lyon, France; London; and Seoul, South Korea. Next spring, it will be performed at such prestigious venues as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass., and at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, Conn.
Chaput was trained as a dancer in Montreal, and later settled in France where he worked most notably with Jean-Pierre Perreault and puppeteer Philippe Genty, associating dance and work with materials, and setting up plastic arts.
He has worked since 1999 to create projects questioning the privacy of the dancer as well as his cultural and social identity.
Chazallon has been at work exploring the reinvestment of urban spaces through art installations and dancers’ bodies — and how creative processes can work to transform the places and their original purposes.
Since 2001, Martin and Martial have worked together to join dancers, visual artists, and composers around artistic projects questioning the importance and positioning of the body in spaces.
As the artists further explain at Projet in SITU (www.projet-insitu.com/accueil-english.html), “We create multidisciplinary performances where the presence of the bodies is at the core of the work: trying to unravel their sensitivities and their imagery. We see art as a space for dialog, a way to bridge people, a space for interaction and experiences.
“Creating an encounter between audience members and artists, accomplices or passersby and the experience they share is how we write our projects. They interact, enter a dialog in an unusual context, the audience member can appropriate and reinvent these situations by investing its physical presence entering the artistic process.”
Chazallon says that although The Rounds may have been performed elsewhere, it is such a site-specific work that each time it becomes virtually new. For the performance here, participants will discover through the downtown streets — and inside either the Hooker-Dunham building or the Latchis — the unique sensory specificities of space.
Those who take this journey will be backed by an app Chazallon and Chaput wrote that will have all the contents for the guided tour. In both settings participants will be aided by signage on the floor as well as audio recordings of how others have reacted to the space.
In these recordings, a group of local youth, adults, and area artists who had already explored the building share their perceptions.
Both the Latchis and the Hooker-Dunham have strong identities in downtown Brattleboro. Chazallon and Chaput say they want participants to experience them in new ways.
“The Rounds is not about the history of the building, but is a sensory exploration of the space itself,” Chazallon recently told The Commons. “We want you to be present in that space as you transform it through your energy. While you do this, you can listen through the smartphone to others’ experiences of the same space.”
He also said the recordings deliver both reactions and suggestions: “For instance, someone on the recording may encourage you to step on the table in the room, but it is the listener’s own response to decide what to do. By listening and reacting, each becomes part of an artistic process loop as they create a unique relation to space.”
The Rounds is aimed at becoming a “body and space interaction” that can turn the daily and ordinary into something unexpectedly extraordinary.
“This chorographical body imagination’s relation to space is not supposed to be a mental process but inside the body,” Chazallon told The Commons.
Chazallon and Chaput say they are excited to premiere The Rounds in Brattleboro as this is their first time presenting this work in a relatively small town.
In their past performances in Europe and Asia, they discovered that their participants reacted in ways distinct to their nation and culture.
“In many ways people are the same all over, but there are differences,” Chaput says. “For instance, in Seoul, when a participant is asked to step on a table, Koreans generally are more hesitant to do it than in European cities. In their more restrictive culture, Koreans seem unsure if they should act out of line; and when they do they often take off their shoes and polish the table clean before putting their feet on it.”
Chazallon says he believes that Brattleboro has been a great community to work with.
“The people here are very open-minded to new ideas, and have a strong identification with its downtown, which will make exploring the Latchis and Hooker-Dunham a very rich experience,” he says.
But no matter the partcipant’s culture, country, or community, Chazallon says, each is invited to inhabit the space and “unravel one’s imagination while moving, pausing, observing the visual environment — looking for new perspectives standing, lying down — discovering textures, forms, objects, or traces.”
Each, he adds, is on a journey that creates “an intimate space for a dialogue and complicity, leaving spaces for silences, elasticity of time; creating a space for the image that comes, the relaxation of the body, the refinement of the sense of hearing, the metamorphosis of space.”
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