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November 20, 2019

Site Specific Dance In Support of a Church and a Dance School
by Carrie Stern (, published online 08-31-2011
By Carrie Stern

Performance is always a meeting of performers and audience. This is particularly true in site-specific choreography, where, without the constraints of seats and stage, the audience is a visible and audible presence. When stages change during a single performance, it requires additional chorography for the audience, through guides, signs or spoken instructions. These can add to the performance or break into its magic.

At a mid-August, Cora Dance in Red Hook expected about 30 people for Prey, Cora Artistic Director Shannon Hummel’s remounting of her 2008 work. The performance was staged in Red Hook’s 157-year-old Visitation Church, across the street from Red Hook Park. Nearly a hundred people showed up, a remarkable mix of south Brooklyn dance-world personalities, church members, families from Cora’s pay-what-you-can dance school and Red Hook locals. It was not the usual dance crowd, and in some ways, this made it so much better.

The audience crowded into pews on either side of the church’s beautiful chapel, with its lofty, arched, bent wood ceilings, ornately carved pillar capitals and the beautiful painted alter piece over the apse. The a capella singing of Richard Einhorn’s moving “Voices of Light” seemed right at home filling the church with sound as the dancers raced down the aisles. Stopping in low crouches, they looked at each other, then at the audience, before turning and moving on. After surrounding the audience with movement, they disappeared as suddenly as they had arrived, ushering us into Prey, a world of women from an unmarked other time.

By gesture and word, assistants led the audience out of the nave and around the corner. Near a fenced side entrance the audience crowded together, cheerfully sharing umbrellas with those who didn’t have their own. Moving and moving again to find a site-line, the audience created an unchoreographed dance of its own.

The two sections that followed — one beginning at the top of the stairs ending with dancers escaping like deer into the park, followed by several small vignettes and a lovely interlude in the church’s side yard — were the most coherent.

Appearing at the top of the long flight of stone stairs, with arms around each other’s shoulders, were dancers holding and helping each other, balancing together, catching each other as tender pairs making their way down the stairs. Rounding the side of the church, the audience found dancers putting on and removing their multiple layers of shiny rags.

Passing through a narrow, worn concrete alleyway the dancers moved through a small line of trees. Like Robin Hood’s men, they peered around, dancing in spiraling, circular paths like MacBeth’s witches. The misty rain softened the lines, making the scene impressionistic, adding mystery and magic.

Here the audience movement became a sideways contra — having left the limited seating to the elderly and children, the rest of us stood behind the chairs, with good humor, pacing back and forth, umbrellas lifting, ducking and bobbing as people leaned in to see, moved to a better spot. Returning to the chapel, two strong solos that were danced in the aisle pulled together the visual imagery, as the audience watched fondly, indulging the bond created through the joined experience.

It was not just the audience’s willingness to brave the elements that made this special — that’s the bargain that audiences of site-specific work have to make. Instead the audience was unusual due to the mix of experienced dance observers and those new to dance, and especially the excitement of the children, whose teachers were on stage.

The dance needed work. In this setting, some of the coherence of the earlier version was lost perhaps, because the movement, no matter how strong, does not stand up to the vastness of the church. Also missing were the two strong central characters, the older “mother,” whose role in this version was minimal, and the wild one, who was replaced here by several performances that were strong but still need refining and clarity.

But for this special performance, none of this seems important. The bond between this struggling church and the dance company was the evening’s true star; proceeds from the performance will be divided between Visitation Church’s restoration fund and Cora Dance’s scholarship programs. The event could be a model for others in these difficult economic times of hardship. The church, which provided ice cream and coffee for the entire audience, can build its profile and raise money through this relationship; Cora gets a free performance venue. As the relationship evolves, who knows what other possibilities may emerge.

For Cora classes, performances and other activities go to

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© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2011 All materials posted on are protected by United States copyright law. Just a reminder, though -- It’s not considered polite to paste the entire story on your blog. Most blogs post a summary or the first paragraph,( 40 words) then post a link to the rest of the story. That helps increase click-throughs for everyone, and minimizes copyright issues. So please keep posting, but not the entire article. arturcatt




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