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The Carletonian

BodyCartography’s FELT ROOM: A new dance experience

<dyCartography Project’s residency at Carleton College is in full swing, and the fruits of their collaboration with Carleton’s Semaphore Dance Company can be seen twice weekly at performances of the Project’s FELT ROOM in the Perlman Teaching Museum.
In conjunction with performances of this dance piece are sporadic associated events and talks throughout the residency, the most recent being a lecture given last Thursday by Sandra Teitge: “On Dance Constructions, Plastic, and Public Collections.” These talks are certainly necessary, as the BodyCartography Project concerns itself with aesthetic and choreographic questions unfamiliar to the everyday student.

In her lecture, Teitge explored the current trend of the infiltration of choreographic sensibilities and installations into gallery spaces that have been, for so long, solely dedicated to the visual arts. She took an introductory and explanatory tone, carrying the audience through examples of dance installations and events canonical with the concerns of BodyCartography. In doing so, Teitge set the stage perfectly for the event itself: FELT ROOM.

Felt Room is a dance installation performed in a small room adjacent to and part of the larger Perlman Teaching Museum, and last around two hours. Most of us have been exposed to dance in some way, but that generally takes a very traditional form, in which the stage clearly divides the audience from the performers who, in an extremely aestheticized manner, dance highly-choreographed routines. FELT ROOM, as hinted at by Teitge’s lecture, blurs all of these definitions and divisions.

The audience and the performers share the same space, each free to move amongst the other. What is more, the vast majority of these movements and interactions occur in near-total darkness; therefore, as suggested by the title of the performance, these interactions often take the form of touch, whether that be brief brushes in the darkness, longer, intentional caresses, or “hand-dances.”

These moments of touch take different forms depending on which distinct phase of the performance the dances are in, which means that, at any one moment, the clear demarcations between the audience and the performers are questioned. In choreographed moments of improvisation, the audience holds a level of control, which then is promptly surrendered when the dances coalesce into fixed “set pieces” more recognizable as typical, though still experimental, choreography.

In the end, the experience of FELT ROOM is so unique, expansive, and, to be frank, bizarre, that no textual description can do it justice; instead, some tips and strategies for participating in this installation are merited.

First, do not fear the dark and, in the process, recede into the edges of the space. No one will jump out and startle you, for that is not the goal of the piece. Explore the space, use your body, and make yourself central. Second, if you are able, embrace touch. Allow the dancers to wash over you and respond in kind. Do not shy away. Finally, be observant and courteous. FELT ROOM is an intimate experience that one should not betray.

FELT ROOM raises more questions about dance than it answers, but, much like the Chinese art exhibit in the gallery next door, it provokes curiosity towards a genre of art many of us have not been exposed to before. Two hours of darkness, sensory exploration, and artistic expression are rare to come by on this campus. Attend FELT ROOM, set aside the time, reflect, and grapple with the questions it begs. Engage and disengage, find peace and stimulation, and upset your preconceptions about the visual and physical arts.

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