Volume 19 • Issue 9 | July 14- - 20, 2006

Photo by Paul Antico

The locales for the site-specific works in LMCC’s Sitelines series get zanier with each passing year. Above, Heidi Duckler’s “Laundromatinee,” a dance concert that will have its New York premiere in a laundromat at 168 Elizabeth Street. Below, a scene from “New York is Here!,” performed within the historic AT&T Long Distance Building at 32 Avenue of the Americas.

Sitelines: Helping make Downtown avant-garde again

By Lori Ortiz

Why does the English sparrow choose to live in the city instead of the prettier green suburbs? More importantly, why do WE choose to live here in an atmosphere of dust, construction, and emergencies? Performance artist Aaron Rosenblum asks these questions in his poetic “New York is Here!,” a site-specific performance he created for 5,000 square feet of unfinished space on the ground floor of Tribeca’s AT&T Long Distance Building. Within the formidable art deco landmark, he delivers a multi-media answer using scenes from our grandparents’ time to 2020, voice-overs that evince horrific events from Swing-era police blotters, and dancers who bring talkie films to life. Sparrows, grandparents, us, too — we all chose to stay.

The show, which runs through July 15, is part of Sitelines, a free, summer series of performances created by The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 2004. Just four dance artists appeared during the first season. This year, nine groups have been commissioned for 64 performances that began in May and will end this August.

The idea for Sitelines, according to curator Nolini Barretto, was to make Downtown “a little less grim by sprinkling around things that are unexpected and delightful.” With imagination, and 20 years in the dance field, she finds performances that can work outside the theater context. (A Chinatown laundromat and a restaurant balcony are just two ersatz hosts of dance this summer.) Barretto said residents and business owners “are very happy to have something the community and their workers can enjoy,” adding, “I don’t think this attitude was as prevalent before 9/11.”

Downtown performance is hardly a new concept. As far back as 1800, there was a theater district in Lower Manhattan, and its vestiges remain in Theatre Alley, between Ann St. and Beekman St., where carriages once dropped off Park Theatre patrons. But at one time the words “Downtown” and “experimental” were synonymous. Think “Art on the Beach,” the visionary Creative Time series that took place on the Battery Park City Landfill in the late ’70’s and early ’80s. Or Judson Church in the Village, which was an important incubator of postmodern dance.

Sitelines is a continuation of Downtown’s avant-garde past, and each year Barretto experiments with broadening the series’ parameters, despite the challenges of working outside a theater. “Somehow, dance delights and amazes,” she said. “People are given an opportunity to see something even as they pass by. With theater it’s harder. You have to really be sucked into that universe.” Still, Barretto is pushing the envelope and trying theater pieces this year. Just this week, the New York Classical Theater staged “Mary Stuart,” an imagining of a meeting between the famous Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, at Castle Clinton in Battery Park City.

Like putting two chefs in the kitchen, Barretto is also pairing choreographers together in another new Sitelines development this season. In May, Keely Garfield, well-known for her comic timing, and Zach Morris of Third Rail Projects, put their different skill sets to work in “Hope and Anchor,” which they performed around Fulton Street in an homage to the Seaport’s maritime past. The pairing of Douglas Dunn with Elke Rindfleisch resulted in two improvisational visions interestingly juxtaposed at the 55 Water Street Elevated Acre. And in mid-August, H.T.Chen and Sharon Estacio will create an “Oasis” in Columbia Park.

Courtesy Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

Barretto said she chooses artists with outstanding stage presence and the ability to field unexpected, impossible-to-predict variables, which can add unintended meaning and poignancy to a performance. In Sitelines’s inaugural year, for instance, a man was riled by Tamar Rogoff’s dance and puppet show, which was performed on a bed she had placed in City Hall Park. He was moved to take the “stage” with an impromptu monologue about setting up beds in the park for the homeless.

“A special, stoic artist would want to do this kind of work,” Barretto explained. “The contact with people is more intimate. In a theater [the audience] would just sit there but here they could just up and leave if they didn’t like it.” (Or join the performance, as the case may be.)

For the first time this year, out-of-towners were also invited. In the spring, ballerinas in “electro-acoustic tutus” performed with Berlin’s sound and movement company Die Audio Gruppe at the elevated acre at 55 Water Street. Later this month, Toronto-based Bluemouth will put on a theatre piece titled “What the Thunder Said,” in the same raw space where “New York is Here!” was presented. And next week, the L.A. “queen of site-specific performance” Heidi Duckler will hold a dance concert in a laundromat at 168 Elizabeth Street.

Duckler created “Laundromatinee” in 1985 for Collage Dance Theatre, her company of six women. “In those days the dancers all brought their laundry to rehearsal and were able to wash and rehearse,” Duckler said in a phone interview. But she’s looking forward to the challenge of a site unseen. “It will be an interesting experience for us to dive in and adapt our work to a new location and make it fresh,” she said. The performance, which is about near relics — the housewife and the laundromat — is choreographed to the song, “Stand by Your Man.” Duckler cast a male dancer for the New York premiere, which she said “will put a different spin on things.”

In the final performance of the series, Ellis Wood’s 20 fiery females will emerge at noon on the balconies of Cipriani’s restaurant at the landmark 55 Wall Street. Sensuously contrasting the massive architecture in “Fire on Wall Street,” the dancers will bare skin under acres of red tulle. Wood said she is celebrating the strength and passion of women like Joan of Arc, who “followed her own instinct so fiercely that she would let fire obliterate her body.” A poem by William Wright called “Venus Lives Here” and “Fire,” a commissioned score by Daniel Bernard Roumain, will accompany the fifteen-minute dance.

Just when you thought the term “Downtown dance” had become archaic, Sitelines is infusing it again with experimentalism and fun – in some very unusual spaces.


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