Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preview: Blake Beckham's Artist Talk on Threshold

Blake Beckham ('01C) gives us a sneak peak at what she will be discussing in next week's Opening the Space: Artist Talk about her latest work, Threshold. Beckham and her Lucky Penny design team built a life-sized two-story house made entirely out of cardboard and created an acclaimed dance within it. Don't miss this event on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 7:30pm.

How exactly did you come across such a unique idea as performing in a life size house made of cardboard?

The initial idea was to create a performance piece addressing the fragile nature of home. In the course of my research, I started dreaming of a house of cards - an image that eventually transformed into a house of cardboard. The concept and material, I realized, evoked the tension at the heart of the work. Most of us associate houses with permanence, security, and stability. The cardboard box suggests transiency, packing, moving, even homelessness. To see a fully designed house made out of cardboard is a compelling contradiction. For me, its both provocative and evocative.

How does the theme of crossing thresholds into environments that are normally kept private and out of public eye come across in your choreography?

In the piece, we destabilize home by building it out of paper and fragmenting its architecture. We also call into question the fluid nature of its thresholds - spaces of transition where we might lose ourselves. From the very beginning of our creative process, I was interested in the dialectic of interior and exterior. Thresholds are icons of boundary that call our attention to this tug: inside/outside; public/private; the sacred/profane. Home is a refuge, but because we feel protected there, its also where we unleash something of ourselves usually kept hidden from the outside world. I wanted the audience to have a bit of a voyeuristic experience - to feel that they had gotten a little too close to the intimate relationships played out by the dancers inside this house. As such, the dancers expose themselves through an intimate physical language that's both tender and terrifying, dreamlike but familiar.

What were the challenges of choreographing a piece while simultaneously building the set in a limited amount of time?  Did these challenges influence your choreography in any way?  How did the structure of the set in general influence your choreography?

DramaTech Theater was incredibly gracious to offer us a five-week residency in their space, during which time we built the house, conducted all the technical rehearsals, and performed the piece. The short timeline for construction meant that our efforts had to be heroic. Thankfully, we had a devoted crew of 30, plus over 70 volunteers who made the extraordinary commitment. It took over 2,000 hours in 28 days to build the house, through a complicated process of gluing, cutting, assembling, hoisting, hauling, and problem-solving. We were physically exhausted, stretched to the limits of our endurance and imaginations. The dancers demonstrated incredible resolve, learning in a very short time to work with the set and its moving parts. In most of our rehearsals, we had to rely upon just drawings, models, and renderings to envision how the choreography would fit into the space. That was a fun but complicated challenge for me - to develop the work for the set, but without the set. And to create something that used the space without destroying it. Despite its hefty appearance, the house itself was actually fragile. With use, it would easily sag, dent, and rip. 

What do you think you will take away most from this experience?

Threshold generated an amazing and diverse community - people who came together to participate in the work, volunteer on our behalf, and assist with financial and production support. These were professional artists representing a host of disciplines, local arts patrons, architecture aficionados, all kinds of students from the Georgia Tech campus, moms, friends, members of the stage hand's union, and others who recognized that this was a very substantial effort for Atlanta's performance scene. The ambition of the project was magnetic. Those who helped build the house were empowered by the process. It was truly a remarkable sight: to start on day one with nothing but a giant pile of cardboard, and end several weeks later with a monumental structure. I think the artists at the center of the work (myself included) were all challenged in meaningful ways. I think we grew as creative thinkers and expanded our vision of what's possible. 

All Opening the Space events are free.  Please see our Facebook page for more details. For information on the Emory Dance Program, please go to our website

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