Landmarked: Uncovering the dance between space and place

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ST. JOHN’S – This past weekend, I had the good fortune of attending Landmarked. When I first heard about the event, I was intrigued. It was described as:

Part choose your own adventure, part conceptual art tour and part choreographic documentary. Landmarked is a site-specific interdisciplinary project that honors the past, is alive in the present and awakens the senses, transforming undiscovered, unused or undervalued environments into fully animated dance-scapes. Landmarked addresses the value of urban space by looking at personal, shared or historical associations to the geography of the city while exploring the interdependence of people and place.

After reading this description, I still did not have an very clear idea of what I was in for, but I was excited, and ready.

Sally Morgan, artistic director and choreographer for Landmarked said the the idea came from a conversation she had with Sarah Stoker (one of the dancers in Book of Hours) on the topic of city planning and development. Morgan says that here in St. John’s, they “haven’t thought about it [planning and development] here”, and hopes Landmarked will encourage people to be more aware of the surroundings, and to find new meaning in the spaces, and sites we see every day.

For me, the process of Landmarked began by stopping by the Anna Tempelton Centre, on Duckworth Street, in the heart of downtown St. John’s. Here, a map of the coming journey was purchased, and I was free to set off on my way. Part of what made Landmarked so great was the self-dictated pace. As it was explained to me, you can spend 4 minutes or forty minutes at each stop over the two-day span.

The map was actually a combination of map, collage, and information about the collaborators and performers. The eight sites were all in easy walking distance of one another, and luckily, the weather cooperated.

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Five of the locations were instillation pieces, ranging from a video piece in a downtown rowhouse window, to benches in public spaces with special wind chimes, to a simulated office building chamber in an empty lot, and even a video in a friendly individuals living room, complete with coffee and cookies. The diverse nature of the pieces made each stop exciting and unexpected. The common theme running through them was an awareness of the environment around us. A small note at each stop gave descriptions and instructions, encouraging the individual to take time to consider the environment — the sounds, smells, and tastes of nature, cars, people and the built environment. It forced the reader to consider what we so often take for granted, or ignore: our relationship to what and who are around us.

The other three pieces were dance/performance pieces which were as unique and wonderful as the buildings they occupied.

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Trinity - Observing and being observed

The first piece I went to, Trinity, was in the Rabbittown theater. This building, originally used as a school for the 7th Day Adventist church, is now a community theater. In one old, sterile, concrete classroom, there were a circle of televisions, some displaying static, some playing noises recorded and looped from the stairwell the audience had just come up. Other televisions which were turned on and off by the dancer showed images of the dancer giving instructions which they would then follow. The next classroom over held a television screen displaying a live feed of the audience from the room next door. By the description provided, the piece was “Looking at the Holy Trinity, the trinity of Id, Ego, and Superego, and playing with conscious parts of our personalities”.

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Book of Hours

The second dance piece I attended was entitled Book of Hours, and took place in the Basilica Museum — formerly Bishop Mullock’s Library. The large, ornate room, was strewn with books. At the front of the room were three books, open, with buttons stating “press me”. Each book would play a different song, to which the dancer would react. This high level of audience participation in affecting their experience was one of the great parts about Landmarked. The dance, and the scale of the room left the audience in awe.

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Love Letter

The third and final dance piece I visited was entitled Love Letter. The Commissariat House was the host to this piece, and was an amazing setting. The dance, and accompanying video (which spanned three walls, replicating the inside of another building), told a love story of a maid from Newfoundland, and a British soldier. The setting of one of the oldest buildings in Newfoundland, combined with the moving story told simultaneously through video and dance made for a powerful experience.

On Saturday, the first day of Landmarked, I was able to have a conversation with Sally Morgan after the day finished up. I was still very much awestruck by the whole experience I just had, but managed to have a discussion about the event.

Morgan says that the choice of dance as a medium for exploring our environment was a natural one for her. “Dance is my language, it is the first thing that comes to me.” The interconnections between dance and architecture also fascinate her, and make one natural to explore the other.

After my own struggles to classify what exactly I had just seen/heard/smelt/felt, I tried to press Morgan to define exactly what Landmarked is. It proved to be difficult, but the shortest, best description she gave me was that Landmarked is “a practice in experiential learning”. I think this description is apt. Although it technically spanned only two days, the lessons taught though the experience are meant to last. In a world where we blindly accept so much, Landmarked enabled participants to challenge and examine themselves and the world around them. Considering the significant development pressures in St. John’s, I think that the more often we can encourage such critical thinking, the better off we will all be.

Landmarked featured performances and collaboration from: Mark Bath, Tammy MacLeod, Sarah Joy Stoker, Andrea Tucker, Mark Edward Quinn White,  Catherine Wright, Craig Francis Power, Chris Driedzic, and Jesse Walker.

photos by Jessica Butler