Maria Bauman, Director of MBDance, choreographed “Limbs,” a solo dance performance for dancer/choreographer Marina Magalhães, which premiered at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California, August 15, 2015. I was commissioned to create a sculpture as a stage “set piece” to accompany the dance. The resulting artwork is constructed of corrugated cardboard, brass pins and velcro. Its dimensions are 3’ H x 20’ L x 1’ W, yet stores in a box 6” x 12” x 40”.
“Limbs,” spoken in Portuguese and English, is based on majestic trees... their linear physicality and the philosophical questions of beauty and history surrounding them.
The artwork’s integration with the choreography was crucial. The sculpture acted as both environment and “partner” to the dancer. The pragmatic considerations of ease of installation/de-installation, portability, weight and cost were equally significant to enable the set piece to easily and inexpensively travel on tour by plane with the dance company.
It was initially daunting, yet ultimately thrilling to successfully meet the design requirements: the sculpture needed to be 3’ high x 20’ long, free-standing, to visually reference entwined tree trunks, include negative space so that the dancer could be seen from behind it and literally move through it, be able to collapse for transport by an airplane passenger, all within a shoestring budget. ("Limbs" was performed in Mpumalanga, South Africa and Gaborone, Botswana in 2016.)
Once receiving the design brief, renderings and photos passed back and forth via email. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the choreography, sculpture and lighting were developed remotely in Virginia, Los Angeles and Brooklyn and only physically brought together during the week prior to the performance.
My initial idea to build the sculpture out of PVC pipe was abandoned in favor of plain, corrugated cardboard which was lighter, more compact, easier to construct and inexpensive. As a paper product, the material was literally connected to trees and its natural color referenced both wood and the human body. Despite the appropriateness of cardboard for this specific project, the choreographer needed reassurance that though the material had a reputation as common and unrefined, the resulting sculpture would embody elegance, humility, warmth and a vulnerability that would draw in the audience.
I have been profoundly inspired by dance performances and much admired dancer, Magalhães. I therefore chose to work pro bono (material costs only) to participate in this project’s creative team. I’ve long admired the collaborations between Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham and John Cage as well as Isamu Noguchi’s collaborations with Martha Graham. Although generally true of public art, it is especially clear in live dance that its value and potency lies in the audience's invitation to witness a moment-by-moment experience whose unfolding mirrors the passage of time in our daily lives that often goes unnoticed.
Limbs performed by Marina Magalhães & choreographed by Maria Bauman
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