The watchers become the watched in “PYLON,” a dance performance at Olympic Sculpture Park that reacts to — and records — its audience.
As an audience member at a dance performance, I have the luxury of sitting unobserved by the artists I am watching. I can clap at things I like and grimace at things I don’t, all from the comfortable anonymity of my dark theater seat. But how would I behave if the performance were happening all around me, in an arena where the audience is as visible to the dancers?
Audiovisual artist Ethan Folk, co-creator of the living installation “PYLON” (with choreographer Coleman Pester), believes that an audience will react very differently to a performance that takes place beyond the proscenium stage.
“Audience’s actions,” he said, “are driven by that central concept of identity: How we see ourselves, and how that changes based on our perceptions of how we’re being watched.” This weekend at Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, “PYLON” audiences will be part of that experiment — a mix of dance and media that will respond to its viewers in real time.
7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, Olympic Sculpture Park, Broad Street and Elliott Avenue, Seattle; free but RSVP requested (206-654-3100 or seattleartmuseum.org).
“PYLON” will take place at night in the Olympic Sculpture Park pavilion, where attendees will be guided by stewards through a variety of installations and movement exercises. A large architectural structure — designed and built by Cameron Irwin — will house cameras and projectors that gather images from the show and project them onto various surfaces, shifting audience members’ focus between the artists and themselves.
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As the evening progresses, Folk said, the stewards will invite audience members to participate in a series of directed tasks. In one, stewards will create two lines of attendees and instruct them to observe each other while trying to block out all the other activities in the room. Small groups of audience members will be led through dancers as they perform, sometimes instructed to watch only one dancer at a time.
Movement based on the choreography of Coleman Pester, founder of the local, experimental-performance group Tectonic Marrow Society, will be performed by Pester and local dancers Jody Kuehner (also known as the performance-art drag queen Cherdonna Shinatra), Lucie Baker and Marlys Yvonne.
While some of the dancing will be improvised based on audience reactions, Folk said Pester’s choreography is particularly well-suited to the Olympic Sculpture Park pavilion: “Architecture is central to Coleman’s work,” Folk explained, and uses “the influence of harsh structures and the way they frame tender, fluid movements.” Audiovisual designs by Matthew Witschonke and live music by Maiah Manser and James Squires, also created in real time, will accompany the dancing.
“PYLON” promises to be like visiting a museum where you can reach out and touch the art without setting off an alarm — and transform some of the mystery and inaccessibility of contemporary dance into a visible, friendly, tangible process.