The latest dance performance to appear at Mass MoCA won’t take place on a stage, but that’s not the only way it parts from tradition. Big Dance Theater’s “This Page Left Intentionally Blank” will wind its movement through the museum itself, taking the idea of a guided tour and using that to create new ideas not only about dance and performance but about museums as well.
“It was definitely conceived of as a piece for a museum, a theatrical alternative version or meta-version of a docent art tour,” said company co-director Paul Lazar. “It is that. Everyone meets the docent and off you go, but the nature of that person who is your docent, and the kinds of things that occur, are more things that a dancer and an actor, which the docent is, is capable of than, say, an aspiring academic which may be a traditional docent.”
Lazar is hush-hush about many of the details of what will unfold — after all, he and choreographer/co-director Annie-B Parson want some surprises for attendees, but he will say that the event takes place within the Sol LeWitt Gallery, at Wall Drawing 146A, which constitutes a whole room, providing a perfect space for performance as well as a thematic undertone.
“It’s a hieroglyphics-related in that it’s about translation, translating an idea into instruction and translating the instructions into executions,” Lazar said. “Many things have that sequence, but certainly dance and theater do, so there’s a kinship with those mediums or those genres.”
In the performance, attendees will wear headphones, which will feature whatever the docent says to them and sound work by Tei Blow. Lazar says the audio is a rich and textured component to the performance that adds an aural level of trippiness.
The idea is for Big Dance Company to play with your mind a little bit, transform the experience of visiting an art museum into something multi-sensual, and making the museum itself part of the art. According to Lazar, what you perceive in a museum affects you in more than an intellectual way, and the goal is to take advantage of any other possible perceptions.
“We try to discombobulate you and throw you in a lot of different directions in order to reinvigorate perception,“ he said.
That means creating a specific experience through the performance that is different from any other experience you might have in the same space but at a different time.
“When you look at 146A specifically and the whole journey to and from 146A,” Lazar said, “you have an experience and your perceptions are different from what they would have been if you just walked to 146A, looked at it, and walked back to the lobby. Your perception of everything along the way and the work itself is going to be influenced by what we do to you, and that’s the offering that we make.”
Big Dance Company will perform this work following a three-week residency at Mass MoCA, giving it the chance to further develop the idea in real museum terms, with the plan to take it to other museums in further site-specific performances, which was always the plan. Its next venue is the Menil Collection in Houston, TX, this April.
Lazar believes it’s a natural fit, point out that alternative theater has always been more rooted in art history than performance history. At the same time, the art world and the performance world has always at a distance from each other. Lazar’s hope is that this is one small step to bridging that tradition gap.
“Because those two worlds have always been a little allergic to each other, it’s a challenge to see if we can move across that strong border and dissolve that kind of rigid border a little bit,” he said.