Expanded Dance Space & the private choreography of public space.

Nine interesting presentations were given on the evening of 6th July 2011 during an event at The Basement in Brighton.

Each was brief and concise in Pecha Kucha format: a presentation structure invented by the architectural firm Klein and Dyson. Each presenter is limited to 20 slides (each lasting 20 seconds).

Often the Pecha Kucha format provides a platform for many and various topics but on this occasion the evening had a theme, Expanded Dance and Public Space in association with CiCi Blumstein and Movement 12.

The presenters were informed and experienced in their fields, which included dance/movement/performance/planning/architecture and design.

The following is my impression, recollection and notes of the event…

Paul Zara, an architect and runner, showed images linking these too passions of his in a presentation called Run the City! The ideal way to experience a city is on foot and what better way than whilst running. Paul went further to suggest that during early morning running the empty public spaces can be fully appreciated in a different way to busy day time. The images he showed of Brighton proved this as familiar places were shown in a fascinating new light; that of early morning.

Heidi Saarinen (sister suitcase) works with ‘performance and spatial choreographies’ in the built and and everyday environment. She showed some images of observation and experimentation including some blurred images evoking interesting atmosphere. I liked a comment she made regarding behaviour in public areas, along the lines that if you do something in a space it becomes a place.

The next presentation was by Jim Mayor and I found it very interesting. It was called Emotional Benefits of Good Public Spaces and he was speaking with experience of working for Brighton & Hove Council planning department. I was impressed with his enthusiasm for the importance of the human and emotional aspects of public spaces. He made the observation that road safety policy and rules are normally created by the road users, not by the people who may be most at risk e.g. pedestrians and children. Jim showed images of restrictions and barriers erected to prevent people from interfering with traffic,  this creates limitations to the movement and freedom of people and has negative social affects. Similarly he illustrated streets where children are forbidden to play, whereas what we surely want are streets where children can play, these are the best type of street; communal, safe and vibrant. He made a quote from Jane Jacobs (who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities); ‘..the street is a stage for the ballet of life..’ Jim also illustrated a survey of businesses in a part of Brighton that had been successfully pedestrianised; the vast majority agreed that it had been a success, in that they and their customers felt better, happier. This emotional response seemed more important than the financial aspect of the development.

Next up was Kirk Woolford presenting Motion in Place: Moving Through Public Space. He is a computer scientist who has had an interest in dance. He showed some images from around the world where he has been involved in projects using digital equipment to capture and represent the movement of the human body, including in a historical context. He claimed he was interested in getting people to go to some interesting places but admitted that many of his projects consisted of re-creating the environment for the audience to experience.

CiCi Blumstein  presented Impossible Walls or You Can’t Shoot While You’re Dancing. With images of various walls; paintings, graffiti, venice and urban spaces were included. She urged urban designers to broaden their influences to include choreographers.

Zoe Partington-Solinger provided a presentation entitled Naked Space. This was a fascinating presentation referring to disabled people’s experience of and in the environment. The audience was disorientated at one point when the screen showing her projections went blank, she pointed out that this is the  experience of a visually impaired person in an unfamiliar environment, or indeed any environment. She highlighted the often neglected aspect of the importance of acoustics in architecture and space design, and its importance to the sight impaired population. She pointed out that audio signage and other orientation assistance was often inefficient and that designed spaces would be much easier to navigate if they included aspects to assist the disabled from the outset; instead of later trying to provide guidance and signage through an existing difficult environment. To help this process she suggested that designers and, in fact, everyone have more contact with the disabled. She particularly urged those involved with creativity to ‘hang out’ with disabled people, for mutual benefit, since disabled people are used to being creative; in fact they must be, on a daily basis, in order to survive!

The next presentation caused a hush to come over the audience, it was a harsh and effective example of the importance and wider implications of architecture. Demolishing Homes, Destroying Peace, was the presentation by Terry Meade, a principal lecturer at the University of Brighton. Terry showed images of his experience in Palestine where he was re-building homes demolished by the Israeli army. We saw pictures of an approaching ominous convoy of army vehicles. These surrounded a small square concrete building, that was not much more than a shack but was nonetheless home to an extended family of nine Palestinians. After soldiers removed the contents of the building and put it outside (the inhabitants were not there) a bulldozer demolished the building. Within half an hour nothing of a building remained and the army left. The aggressive action of such power ensuring the destruction of something so pitiful left a lump in my throat. The images that followed helped to restore hope, if only temporarily. Terry and a team of international collaborating workers rebuilt the building! Within a week a building that looked liked an exact replica of the original had been constructed. Terry made it clear that although it was the Israeli army that demolished the building the re-building team consisted of an international mixture including Israelis, Palestinians and others.

Marina Tsartsara had the difficult task of providing the next presentation: The Intimate Public Body. It provided an interesting contrast; Marina is involved with dance and performance, often working site specific with live and recorded material. She showed images of a piece that included projections from cameras placed on performers, so the audience would see the performers point of view at the same time as their own. I was impressed by Marinas bravery (or was it naivety?) at taking performances to outside, possibly hostile environments. We were shown some images of performing outside in Hastings and Dover.

The last presentation of the evening was from Alan Thompson: Ten Observations on Performing a Building. Alan’s experience and knowledge is of Art and Architecture, he showed a presentation linking and illustrating both. From images of cubism we were taken through brief aspects of the history of design. Alan provided an example of a dilemma that I had not considered. The use of environment and movement of the individual within a designed space is not universal. He beautifully described how a king never has the exciting experience of opening a door! Through investigating how the human body can influence a space Alan posed the question could we not dance a building into existence?!

Afterwards I left the building, moving out into the street, along more streets until I eventually entered another building, I felt that I had taken part in movement, environment and existence.

More information and links here…




Eugene McCloskey, July 2011


About Eugene

Musician, Composer, Technician
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2 Responses to Expanded Dance Space & the private choreography of public space.

  1. yuko says:

    It seems to me that all the presenters are in search of something which counterbalances aspect of the city usually unconsidered by urban planners: personal engagement and experiences. Surely these are what makes the city rich and unique place!

  2. Katie says:

    I think the connections we can make between dance, choreography and the architecture of spaces and specific places, like cities, is the importance of the human being and their individual experience within their environment. The physical, emotional and intellectual body we all have extends out to the urban and rural spaces which in turn reflects back to us in what we do and create. I can see you absorbed a lot from these presentations Eugene, as the focus at the end of the night came back down to your own body and experience of walking between two buildings.

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