John Dowell: A Public Intimate Space
Image Courtesy of The Barnes Foundation

John Dowell: A Public Intimate Space

“Standing here and taking in the space was something we really focused on in rehearsal,” recalls Arabia in the post-performance Q&A session, one of the three dancers performing John Dowell: A Public Intimate Space. As I first enter the Barnes Foundation’s courtyard, towering pillars of photographs printed on translucent fabric depicting Rittenhouse Square at night seem to be doing the exact thing Arabia mentions: standing here, taking in the space. A low hum vibrates the room as audience members navigate this mazed architecture of fabric stretched over scaffolded industrial pillars. Lights dance through their opacity, and as the hum of the soundscore drowns out pre-show chatter, John walks through the mazed architecture himself. He looks over his shoulder as if something is following him, again and again, until I lose him from view. His profile dances through the opacity of the screens, hidden and then once again highlighted through light.

The dancers emerge, engaging in the same dance of viewership that John did. Their shadows bend in and out of sight between the translucent fabric, and their profiles come in and out of view. The three dancers follow each other, their urgencies shifting as they stir the space. They make eye contact across the room, and their gaze burrows through each depiction of Rittenhouse Square. Their movement lumbers through the space, reaching deep below the floor with intentional, placed steps and lunges; throws of their arms that scoop and undercurve from the very center of them. There seems to be no obstacle to what can happen here as they shift the translucent fabric, wheeling them through the space and animating them as dancers. The photographs printed on translucent fabric move at the dancers’ will, though the images also seem to move. The longer I look at them, the more they shift in front of my eyes, bending light and becoming portals obscured and re-oriented through their duets with the dancers. The whole space blends and molds through the movement of the dancers – like they were shaping clay or creating currents through water.

John Dowell notes that his lifelong experiences in Rittenhouse Square inspired this work. One of these experiences: walking or sitting for some time and feeling a warmth, a presence by him. Spirit. The choreography by Zane Booker, and embodiment of choreography, deals with this very phenomenon: presence. The way this work shifts space brings the audience closer to the intangibility of space-between and things-not-seen. It happens in the dancing. Gestures and characters emerge, and the dancers keep moving, keep moving, keep moving, building on their relationship to the space in every instant while shifting direction, shifting gesture, shifting task, again and again; this happens in the way audience members are welcomed to move around the outskirts of the stage, stirring the space themselves; it happens when lights hit the floor, bouncing through screens and projections, casting movement through shadow as if another performance were happening on the floor.

That which moves through is held in John Dowell: A Public Intimate Space.

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