MFA Portfolio 3 (future)

Where: 4511 NE Prescott Street, Portland, OR 97218
When: September 30 – October 3, 2013, 7:30PM

Research element #1: EXTREME ARCHITECTURAL INFLUENCE Using non-traditional performance space and letting the reality of that space – architecture, furnishings and use – act on the content of the work.

Research element #2: PERFOREALITY – Highlighting the reality that audience and performer are involved in a performance where the primary content of the performance is the performance itself.

Research element #3: OBJECT ORIENTED CHOREOGRAPHY – Choreographic intervention by audience mobility and participation: visual-scores manipulated, rearranged, composed directly by audience.

Research element #4: SALON DU GARAGE – Making art without subsidy/support; removing the pressure of the business of art; art as part of normal everyday life.

In an overarching way I am examining performance as a utility, an act/art of the everyday for the every-person. By drawing audience closer into the act of making performance I attempt to diminish their fears about how to understand a performance and encourage them to simply experience a performance.

I value engagement in the creative act itself and seek to enroll my audience at the level of observer AND participant. As our culture continues to embrace and exploit the individual as creator, curator, promoter, financial supporter, critic and other as-yet-undefined roles in the dissemination of artworks, I sense both a desire to participate in everything all the time and a simultaneous disconnection from the live moment and a more prominent attention to the “replay”. In the act of documenting moments, a person misses potentials of the moment as it is happening instead engaging in composing the moment for later experience with others not present in the live moment, a once removed experience, an experience that the original “experiencer” curates for themselves and their audience. This sense of loosing connection to the live moment is one motivation to make performance experiences where the experience itself is the main event. I want this experience to be bodily. For me dance is first and foremost an expression of living in a body, a body that moves to greater or lesser extent that all humanity can relate to. Whatever concept an artist adds is supplementary and cannot sublimate this base subconscious bodily association. Viewers can only experience work through the filter of their own lives and I resist any desire to direct them to a different fantasy that is outside of their own life at this moment. Having an active awareness of the performance experience as it is happening is key for both performer and audience in my work.

I have a utilitarian perspective on sharing my performances. The more a person knows about any topic the more deeply they can engage with that topic. This is what being “elite” means. Being an elite in any community offers a different kind of engagement that can only happen within that community. In this way it can propagate a tendency to diminish or eliminate communication with those outside of that elite community. I believe that an elite audience can only express a portion of a full perspective on any given performance experience. I am attempting to create performance experiences that engage with both an elite and novice audience simultaneously. All of my research inquiries revolve around making performance an ordinary activity that any and all can engage with. And for me it begins with the site of performance. Towards this end I make solo and group performances where the content is generated out of a close examination of the physical architecture and the real and imagined activities that happen in a chosen performance space. I infuse the work with narratives and ideas that come directly from an investigation of the space. This investigation is step one of a creation model that will be further developed and modified through the creation and presentation of Salon du Garage #4: Maison non Complet, translated as House non Full.

My creation model is a portable template called PPP, Portable Performance Process. This process consists of a creative methodology and structural approach that can be enacted with any community. While the model begins with the investigation of a chosen non-traditional performance space it also embodies my other research inquiries of making the performance experience paramount, keeping the “business” aspect minimal and involving the audience at the level of participant as well as observer. I am the director of these projects but the community with which I work infuses their particular sensibility and relationship to the chosen performance space and therefore guides the content of the work. In tandem I have developed a workshop called Object Oriented Choreography. This workshop embraces the use of external objects, ranging from computer algorithms to physical things, as visual scores for movement invention and dramaturgy. As a creative process PPP lies under the umbrella of Object Oriented Choreography and is one version of such an approach. The space is the object.

The development of my ideas and subsequently this project began at the beginning of my graduate school experience and has been steadily progressing. My first performance showing in graduate school, this is what this is shown in August 2012, explored two main topics of inquiry: exploit the performance space by using it as creative content (Extreme Architectural Influence) and intensify the reality of being engaged in a performance (Perforeality) by addressing performance as content and by addressing the audience directly. In this solo I used projected video imagery of the dance studio in which the performance was happening, amplifying it by projecting it onto itself. I used an improvisational speaking technique to speak directly to the audience riffing on what and whom I saw there. Both of these creative choices highlighted the reality that performer and audience are involved in a performance together in a specific space right now. The space is the content and what’s happening in it in the moment is the meaning.

The inquiries of choreographic intervention via audience participation (Objected Oriented Choreography) and approaching art as part of “normal life” (Salon du Garage) came into my process in April 2013. My Salon du Garage performance series was a culmination of creative work done during Professor Wither’s class Aesthetics 2: Environment. This class was focused on the exploration of non-traditional performance sites and all of my studies were created in or near my house. What was first a convenience became a thematic choice. Using my home space has the luxury of zero administration, scheduling and additional cost in regards to my performance work while also supporting my desire to host events in an intimate and casual setting as a means of bringing my art closer to my public, bringing the work “closer to home” as it were.

A version of Object Oriented Choreography was created as a game structure in which audience members arranged tools on a table. Each tool had an atomic unit of movement or text associated with it. I performed the score, reading from left to right across the table, as the tools were being arranged in real time. The audience manipulated the tools in ways that I did not anticipate forcing me to improvisationally react in the moment. There were outfits that they chose and passages that they read, all of which determined how and what I performed. There was an overall sequential structure but each segment was improvised in direct response to audience input. The message was only that audience and performer were performing in a garage and the audience was asked to contribute elements that altered the performance. All of the content was developed by an examination of the space, using physical elements from the garage and allowing the implication of “work”, something that happens in a garage, to shine through.

Soon after the completion of the Salon du Garage series construction began on my house. The addition being built instigated conversations with friends and family about the importance my home holds for me. The word home has many definitions including one’s place of residence, a place of origin and the focus of one’s domestic attention among others.[1] There are many associations to this word and my personal association has changed over the past 25 years.

In my previous life of living in apartments and touring with dance companies, my notion of home was a portable one. I lived in ten different homes with my parents before high school and became adept in rebuilding “home” in an instant. I had no responsibility or loyalty to any apartment I lived in as a young adult always calling the landlord to fix or do anything, which left me feeling impersonal toward my “home”. I always had a few homey items in my tour case that would transform any random hotel room into a vaguely personal setting. In the case of touring with my own company Troika Ranch, my “home” consisted of my husband and myself; artistic co-directors who toured together as a way of living together. My divorce and ensuing move to a house of my own in Portland proved to be a monumental shift in my perception of home that has only become clear as a result of engaging in this process. Wanting to continue my Salon du Garage series as a method for presenting my work in Portland, in conjunction with my newly discovered feelings about the permanence and importance of my house/home, I decided that my thesis project would be performed in my house. My creative requirement that the performance space be address literally and used as content in the work means that my thesis concert will automatically, without external contextualization, be addressing my newly acquired perceptions of home.

I was required to show something of my process towards this project in the summer session of graduate school in August 2013. I struggled to come up with a simulation because I did not have my home with me in Washington. In an attempt to stay true to my interest in using non-traditional space I explored using the courtyard outside of the dance studio but was not feeling an authentic connection to what I had been investigating prior. At the last minute I succumbed to using the dance studio. I walked into the studio saying out loud “what is it”? I kept saying this followed by a question about an object in the room like “is it the air conditioner?” then doing a little dance in response. “No, it’s not the air conditioner” and moving on to another object. I was doing this to see if I could find an actual answer to what it was about this space that could hold my interest. I was applying the process of space investigation, the primary tenet of PPP, to the performance itself. There were other elements to what I showed for the class but in the end it did not feel connected to my vision and I was called out on being inauthentic and simply fulfilling the “assignment”. After the showing and discussion in class it became clear that I needed to be more direct about my topic of home and to be more vulnerable as a performer. This is the moment when the value of home as underlying content became explicit and I accepted that it needed to be further drawn out.    As an experiment I took twenty minutes alone to set up chairs in the studio in coordination with elements of my house then brought the class back in and lead them on a tour of the space (as my house) talking and dancing out responses to my room content and the people now inhabiting them. I then showed this version the following night for the public, as this is not what I thought this was. While not exactly as it will occur in my actual house, this version gave me a sense of how I might generate material from my house. In this version I brought audience around through the house with me. This made the experience very intimate. For my final project I intend for the audience to move freely throughout the house as an installation.

I am not interested in using purely pedestrian or “everyday” movement as content for this project as this approach has been exhaustively explored. Instead I will create material that veers wildly from the mundane to the absurd. I will make a “distributed solo” for four performers built sequentially by utilizing the architecture, furnishings and use of each room in my house. The room segments will be knitted together as one long phrase and taught to all the performers. The material will be performed in unison but each performer will be stationed in a different room thus having part of their material fitting with the room and most of their material needing modification to fit within the room they are in. I want to give the impression that all of the performers are versions of me. To this end the performance will begin with a text spoken in unison by all the performers that begins “Hello. My name is Dawn Stoppiello. Welcome to my home”. The performers will give some simple instruction about how to maneuver around the performance and will end by saying; “Follow me”. Each performer will travel to their designated room and the audience will be left to decide whom to follow.

Intervals of audience interaction will further highlight the “everyday” of the space and the reality of the performance we are in together. The performance of the “solo” will be strictly timed so that at precise moments there will be direct interaction with the audience, each performer engaging with whatever audience is in their room at that moment. During these intervals the audience, both in small groups and as a whole, will engage in choreographic interventions, times where they will be influencing the choreography directly. Then at the next designated moment the performers will return to the solo material, which will carry on as a through line between these other improvisational moments.

I have my first rehearsal with the four other performers in two days. As is my normal fashion, I will let all of my thinking, previous experience and research be present in my mind and body as I work, but the process of working in situ, with these specific performers, and in this next moment is what will determine the final outcome.

My research has been primarily action based. I have been deeply influenced by the writing of Susan Rethorst, not so much influenced as justified. In her book A Choreographic Mind: Autobiographical Writings, Rethorst’s perspective on “moving as thinking” validates my belief that movement speaks in another way that is different but equal to verbal language, that the base communication is bodily. Her statement of “I don’t want to make a dance that is about something, I want to make a dance that is something” supports my notion that the performance itself is the topic of the performance. The dance is what the dance is about. Her musings on how verbal language can overpower movement language supports my notion that whatever an audience is experiencing IS the meaning of the piece. Susan writes, and I paraphrase, that once the maker of the work has verbally defended their intention in a singular way that they have cut off other possible readings of the work. A performed work has an “affect” on its viewers that is beyond language and singular definition but can contain many, simultaneous interpretations.

Jonathan Burrow’s A Choreographer’s Handbook has been a pocket companion. His book serves as a reminder that all decisions are valid as long as they are chosen intentionally. Many roads lead to Rome (roam?). He reminds me to lighten up by stating; “it’s just a stupid dance”. I interpret this as saying that making a dance is no more or less important than making a dinner.

Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship by Claire Bishop touches on some artists that I feel a kinship with. Guy Debord and The Situationist International were a group of radical intellectuals who engaged in “constructed situations” using the term psychogeographical to describe their dérive experiments of wandering around cities. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.[2] I read of the Hegelian thought that “the most revolutionary demand of the historic Avant-Guard is the integration of art and life”. The suppressing of art as art so that it can show up in real life[3].

Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space is a deep phenomenological interrogation into the meaning of spaces. Specifically he writes about the house being the place where the personal experience reaches its epitome. He determines that the house has both “unity and complexity” and is made out of memories and experiences. One audience member’s written response to my performance of this is not what I thought this was reads; “it’s like a site specific piece where the site is in memory/psyche”. Bachelards’ text is dense and requires much more reading and thought.

Two concepts have come up recently that I resonate with my thought process. The first is aesthesis: an autonomous regime of experience that is not reductable to logic, reason or morality. In my own work I have called this phenomenon the “weird logic”. I know that when something belongs in a work it just belongs and sometimes you cannot justify it in language. This is related to Rethorst’s thinking. The other is tabula rasa: the mind before it receives the impressions gained from experience. This as a state interests me because of how impossible it is to attain. This state explains for me the fact that everyone who enters a space has an impression gained from previous experience of similar spaces that cannot be ignored. Even the act of being engaged in a performance is infused with an impression gained from previous experience of performances. No experience is void of the impressions of the witness and the maker. The inability to truly be in tabula rasa is precisely why I don’t try to make work about anything other then the experience of the moment.

The primary outcome of this process so far is that the process feels honest and authentic as a method of creation and requires further trial. I have performed three solos under the guise of this method. Salon du Garage #4: Maison non Complet will be the first group PPP performance. PPP is the method that encapsulates all of my research inquiries. I will be employing my method, PPP, during future residency activities in universities and elsewhere. I will know more about it once I have had these experiences. Performance is an inherently social form of making. Collaborating with the public. The encounter is what is primary and crucial and is the basis of judging the quality of the action. For this project I will again take the pulse of the audiences experience through formal and informal discussions with them. Each performance will end with a salon-like reception some with a moderator and others freeform. This process provides a platform for the inquiry of performance as an art/act of my everyday.


Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space: Beacon Press; First Edition (April 1, 1994)

Bishop, Claire: Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship: Verso; Original edition (July 24, 2012)

Burrows, Jonathan. A Choreographer’s Handbook: Routledge; 1 edition (July 10, 2010)

Rethorst, Susan. A Choreographic Mind: Autobiographical Writings: Theatre Academy Helsinki, Department of Dance, Kinesis 2. Teatterikorkeakoulu (2012)