photo by Brian Howe
Stephanie Leathers on Parrish Street
Stephanie Leathers: Home: the metamorphosis
Saturday, Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m.
On the map on the wall, the usual “You are here” marker is absent. In its place are multicolored circular stickers, plotting scalloped pathways through downtown Durham. Some of these stickers presumably answer the question, “Where do you fall?” The ticket-taker encourages us to interpret the question broadly.
’s Home: the metamorphosis
is friendly to queries of spatial orientation. The second offering from Durham Independent Dance Artists
in its current season, Home
is a traveling performance in the truest sense. Nearly every moment is locomotive.
Leathers and her fellow dancers—Kristin Taylor, Sydney Vigotov, and Ally Lloyd—cling to construction material, hang from fences, and weave in and out of passersby in the streets of downtown Durham, gently encouraging the audience to move from site to site. The piece begins at Empower Dance Studio (pictured right) on Parrish Street and ends on Main Street in the building that previously housed Fishmonger’s restaurant.
The encouragement is sometimes too gentle. The piece is easy to abandon if something else catches the eye: strolling NC Comicon characters, for example, or an arguing couple. The walk from Parrish down Main is one I’ve taken many times. During this one, I found my focus drifting to the seams of buildings. For much of the walk, the dancers were nowhere in sight.
This quality—the looming dare to walk away—strikes me as a real strength of the work. Leathers premises this project, along with her ongoing SundaySITES
series, on the transfer of agency from performers to audience. This transfer happens across urban space that Leathers asserts is shared, in tacit defiance of the metal construction fences she climbs on.
Aptly, the dance itself is highly permeable. Saturday’s show featured a handful of young impromptu performers who felt no qualms about springing up onto the water-filled barriers squeezing Parrish Street alongside the dancers (Duke Energy workers watched but did not intervene.) Farther down the way, a kid wrapped himself around a stop sign and unfurled his arm. The gesture ended in a single pointed finger, mimicking the pose dancers had assumed a minute earlier.
“One sec,” the pose seems to say to the rapid remaking of downtown, and it’s not an entreaty but rather a demand. The dance continues, though, building its own structure and culminating in the former Fishmonger’s space. En route to rehabilitation as a new restaurant, the interior makes no pretenses. Its deeper insides are backlit, its crevices exposed. The performers descend from the balcony in a tangle of ropes and sprint in and out of the three kitchen doorways. The black-and-white checkered floor is coated with a thin layer of dirt. Leathers swims in it, propelling herself across the floor in radials. The soot sticks to her body.
While the Fishmonger’s segment is the piece’s most structurally sound, it is also the least open-ended. It goes on for a little too long, and too much concordance hits at once: the space is industrial, the music sparse, the clothing drab, even Orwellian. The movement vacillates, a bit predictably, between fast and slow. Most compelling are structurally simple gestures that retain the loose simultaneity of the piece’s outdoor movements. Vigotov’s arm pokes out from one of the upstairs windows and swings across the still-intact chalkboard menu. Downstairs, Lloyd stands directly under a stage light, literally wearing the performance’s infrastructure on her head.
The youngest members of the audience want to know, moment by moment, where the dancers are going. It clarifies the question to hear it voiced aloud. As if in response, the dancers’ gestures help us figure out the bounds of the space. As they lie corpse-like and encased in ropes, the slightest elongations of their limbs invite the eye to track upward and elsewhere. Like the arm ending in a pointed finger (“One sec!”), these movements produce miniature revelations, like, hey, there’s a gap in that scaffolding.
unfolds from the assumption that by being embedded in the landscape of Durham, we already understand what’s at stake in its development. But here we are, mid-November, 2016, two weeks since Election Day. There is no map. There are only questions that beget incremental actions: Where do you fall? Where—and how—do you get up?