Dancing and Advancing to the Edge
In preparing Together () Apart, a performance installation by performer and MFA candidate Isabelle Kirouac.
Word + Photos by Andi Icaza-Largaespada
Midday on a Sunday towards the end of May, Isabelle Kirouac and Willoughby Arevalo are hand knotting a surprisingly complex structure made up of bamboo logs and white fabric on the floor of SFU Woodward’s Studio T. Surrounded by thick black drapes, the labyrinth-like performance space is still in process of installation—a couple days prior most structures were up, but technical precision requires revision. “I’ve never done installation work like this before” explains Isabelle, who now definitely has and for long hours. Instead, she has trained extensively in dance, movement improvisation and somatic practices, as well studied music, physical theatre, acrobatic stilts and literature; Isabelle has been dedicated for the past several years to performing, which brings us up to the extremely intimate event opening this Friday, June the 5th. A candidate for the School of Contemporary Art’s Interdisciplinary MFA, Isabelle’s finishing the last few aspects of her full-length performance installation Together () Apart.
In early January, Isabelle invited me to a free movement workshop in which she was continuing her year-long research on the concept of borders. The outcome was an intimately extensive process of developing the individual actions that now, months later, are going to be performed, observed and/or engaged with. One director, seven performers, two set designers, and a handful of collaborators built up a delicately interwoven interdisciplinary experience for an audience of one (at a time).
How do we construct our mutable identities? How far does the air we exhale travel? How permeable is the boundary of our flesh? How far can we stretch our perception of space? Do we feel closer to each other when we are together or apart? What lives in the space in-between us?
Rather than proposing the answers, Isabelle has been opening up these questions, constructing spaces for them to exists and actions for them to be explored through. And I wonder, when, if ever, do we realize that spectatorship is simultaneously a performance? The one-on-one format will certainly provide an enhanced opportunity to consider the presence of the spectator as an agent within a show. Reiterating that observing is as much an interaction as an actual physical response, Isabelle is nevertheless conscious that the word “interaction” can have different types of implication. Listening and paying attention is already participating. Without a third person to influence the exchange between performer-audience member, Isabelle hopes to break social masks that often restrains people from actively engaging with each other. She offers an open invitation to respond—a gesture, a simple phrase—which is left to the audience’s interpretation. The performer continues the score with a space to bend if prodded but without a stop.
Drawing from somatic practices, solo and contact improvisation, everything from the colour of the costumes to the division of spaces to the order of performances have been crafted to provide an encounter with the other. The intention arises from a desire to explore empathy and the tensions that move us, but Isabelle has prepared for different degrees of engagement and reactions. “I love the audience being in the piece directly” confesses Isabelle, but she is aware that ultimately only the spectator can control their willingness for an intimacy that develops, or doesn’t. This follows a process of getting the audience involved, which Isabelle employed in her previous performance, Borderlines. For this piece the audience was confronted with revealing aspects of their lives to a larger audience. Reflecting back on this, the immersion of the audience was stripped down for Together () Apart, exploring the inherent conflict and empathy in just the physicality of a one-on-one encounter.
Because of the intimacy of the show, the 75 minutes each audience member has acquired should be felt fully. Certainly, a quicker, less intense arrangement would not have reflected the extent of the processes through which the final show was harvested. I had the opportunity to observe and participate in some of the initial rehearsals, realizing that there are so very little moments where we allow ourselves to explore the edge of our emotional, physical and mental boundaries on a daily basis. This, I believe, is accentuated in our contemporary society in Vancouver by the safe distance we keep from each other on buses, the contracting span of a goodbye hug, or even the reduced motion for fear of looking “crazy” whilst dancing. This infiltrates performances more than we expect. Nonetheless, the idea isn’t to break all boundaries, but to test them. To discover the poetics of the border is to acknowledge the porousness of where one ends and the other begins, or if there is such thing as an end to our mutable identities.
“I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Interviews/Entrevistas
Strongly inspired both by the immersive theatre of Barcelona-based Los Sentidos theatre company and chicana cultural-theorist Gloria Anzaldua’s idea of contagion and work around the US-Mexican border, Together () Apart is an immersion into performance and installation seeking to infiltrate the spectators through an array of media. With sound, performance, sculpture, video, and text, this labyrinth-like moment will attempt to spread an awareness of what’s at stake in defining what’s inside, outside and in-between ourselves and an-other.
Together () Apart opens this Friday, June the 5th on SFU Woodward’s Studio T (2nd Floor) through to Sunday, June the 7th to a sold out audience of just over 50 people.
Artistic Director: Isabelle Kirouac
Performers/Collaborators: Ashley Whitehead, Emma Garrod, Emmalena Fredriksson, Hailey McCloskey, Kat Single-Dain, Michael Undem, Willoughby Arevalo, Leslie Castellano
Music/Instrument Design: Willoughby Arevalo
Space Installation Design: Chelsea Louise Grant, Steve Gairns
Lighting Design: Kyla Gardener
Supervisors: Rob Kitsos, Steven Hill