It would probably be possible to present the choreographic elements of Pat Graney’s House of Mind on a traditional proscenium stage. An audience member could purchase their ticket, enter the theater’s “house,” find his/her seat, and watch at a comfortable distance as dancers move exquisitely about and interact with portions of a carefully constructed set. It could be done. Fortunately, Graney and a team of supporters had an alternate and more expansive vision.
As it stands, ticket-holders for the latest event at Houston’s DiverseWorks Art Space, gain access not only to a stellar performance, but are admitted entrance to an arcade of Graney’s own memories. This quite literal house of mind, which has transformed the whole of Diverseworks’ theater and gallery space, has several rooms, each containing images, items, and representations of the choreographer’s past. Viewers are invited to roam through these alcoves which include a reconstruction of Graney’s childhood bedroom, a closet full of gigantic party dresses that evoke the perspective of a young child, and the office of Graney’s police officer father as viewed through a remote and hazy window. Having passed on while his daughter was still young, the patriarch is also represented in a hallway lined with his typewritten police reports dating from the 1940’s and 50’s. Through these somewhat mundane artifacts it seems his vague or fading imprint is solidified.
The audience meanders through each nook, eventually trickling into and exploring what will become the performance space. In this expanse spectators, who have been granted a unique opportunity to first touch, sense, relate to, and even interact with artifacts “on display,” take their seats. At this point their role is perhaps more conventional, however, their engagement as the dancers occupy and maneuver within the space is not.
The movement vocabulary within the performance work is both creative and familiar. Those expecting flamboyant virtuosity from the dancers may be disappointed for, instead, the audience is treated to inventive inhabitation of the space and imaginative manipulation of a collection of battered but sturdy wooden chairs (relics extracted from a period of Graney’s early development as a dancer/choreographer) as well as a set of over-sized kitchen drawers. The talented dancers shine in moments of both precise unison and individualistic expression born of the collaboration which Graney fosters in her creative process. Participants in the generation of movement, the dancers’ own memories and experiences mingle with Graney’s in a way that reads universally to the audience.
Soundbites and musical selections such as Crimson and Clover, Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter, and even one dancer’s spirited version of You’re the One That I Want from Grease, are expertly woven into the fabric of the piece. It is within the sound score that Graney’s mother recollects family lore and poignantly discusses the evaporation of her memory due to Alzheimer’s. The work also makes clever use of projected images, film, and home movies that, to great effect, occasionally appear in unexpected places.
More than a performance, Pat Graney and her colleagues have created an entire environment within which dance is viewed. The pleasant side effect of such a concept is that the audience is drawn in as they connect with the objects, characters, ideas, and even smells with which they are presented. Although the inspiration is clearly Graney’s own experience and memories, the recollections of each spectator are activated as they investigate this rich atmosphere, transforming them into willing participant. Adding another dimension to the traditional, albeit equally valid, two-dimensional proscenium stage set-up typically utilized in dance, this work/installation is (metaphorically-speaking) contemporary dance art in 3-D.
The installation for House of Mind will be on view in Houston, TX at DiverseWorks during gallery hours through February 21st. Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public. Remaining performances, however, are scheduled for February 5-7. See the DiverseWorks website for more information and to purchase tickets.
Audiences in New York and Miami will also have the chance to see a re-creation of this unique work. To learn more about Pat Graney, her company, upcoming performances, or other projects please visit PatGraney.org.