Huddle from Simone Forti's Dance Constructions. Photo: Jason Riker
Simone Forti’s Dance Constructions (1960-61) are simultaneously sculptures and performances. Made of inexpensive materials such as plywood and rope, the sculptures prompt ordinary actions, including climbing, leaning, standing, or whistling, giving these gestures focused attention. This union of commonplace material and seemingly conventional action is in keeping with Judson Dance Theater’s interest in using dance as a way of exploring our experience of the everyday world. This presentation of the Dance Constructions is the result of a workshop led by the artist Simone Forti in collaboration with collection specialist Athena Christa Holbrook and instructor Sarah Swenson. These specialized workshops, conceived during the acquisition process together with Judy Hussie-Taylor, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Danspace Project in New York, are a collective venture for training performers. They also allow the curators in MoMA’s Department of Media and Performance to consider the "afterlives" of historical performances: How do works first created and performed decades ago remain vital and seen? How can we ensure that their integrity is maintained?
The exhibition Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done features five of the nine Dance Constructions, and is the longest public performance of the Dance Constructions since their acquisition into MoMA's collection in 2015. These specific works were selected for their importance to the group of dancers that would go on to form Judson Dance Theater in the basement of Judson Memorial Church. The Dance Constructions are performed every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. over the course of the exhibition. On December 3, 2018, photographer Jason Riker documented the work of a cast of nine performers (out of a group of 20).
The full cast of the Dance Constructions includes Martita Abril, Christiana Cefalu, Christhian Diaz, Ayano Elson, Talya Epstein, Jessie Gold, Miguel Ángel Guzmán, Samuel Hanson, Elizabeth Hart, Savannah Knoop, Columbine Macher, Jody Oberfelder, Laura Pfeffer, Lee Relvas, Lindsay Londs Reuter, Alex Rodabaugh, Alex Romania, Alexis Ruiseco-Lombera, Quenton Stuckey, and Vanessa Vargas.
The cast on December 3, 2018, was Christiana Cefalu, Talya Epstein, Jessie Gold, Miguel Ángel Guzmán, Savannah Knoop, Lee Relvas, Vanessa Vargas, Jody Oberfelder and Alex Rodabaugh.
The cast assembles in the green room, a private space built into the floor plan of the exhibition where performers rest and warm up between performances. Assistant performance coordinator Sammy Roth is on hand to ensure they have everything they need.
After performances at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., they stretch and put on shoes to prepare for the next show.
At 3:30 p.m. performers leave the green room and head into the galleries.
Made at a time when Simone Forti had just moved to New York City, the Dance Constructions feature interactions between people and simply-made objects. Forti said, “I made the Dance Constructions out of the need to feel things as simple and basic as the gravitational pull between my mass and the rest of the earth.”
The performers place their shoes in the corner of the gallery and prepare for the first performance, Huddle.
Huddle is a continually shifting mass of bodies. Seven to nine performers create a solid base and take turns climbing over the group. In doing this, they create a sculptural form Forti has often described as a mountain.
The participants in Huddle gather together in an intimate circle as if to strategize, motivate, and support each other.
The performers negotiate to be part of a group as they rely on the weight and balance of their fellow performers for support.
While Huddle is intended to be performed in bare feet, the other Dance Constructions are performed in tennis shoes. Here, the performers put on their shoes and prepare for the remainder of the works.
In Platforms, Vanessa Vargas and Christiana Cefalu lie on the floor beneath plywood boxes of different sizes. Forti has described this piece as akin to lovers asleep next to each other; they are both together yet in their own separate worlds. Vanessa and Christiana whistle with each other in an intimate duet.
Sound escapes through the small crack at one side of the plywood box. Lee Relvas and Miguel Ángel Guzmán sit on the floor, listening quietly for the duration of the piece.
The quiet intimacy of Platforms is followed by an entirely different kind of duet. In Censor, Savannah Knoop sings loudly while Alex Rodabaugh shakes a pot full of nails and screws.
The organic nature of Savannah’s voice contrasts with the metallic sound of clanging. The two sounds are disconnected, but performed simultaneously, filling the gallery with cacophony.
Slant Board features a 45-degree wooden incline with ropes fastened along the top. Left to right, Talya Epstein, Lee Relvas, and Jody Oberfelder brace themselves with the ropes and move across the board, navigating one another’s presence. Occasionally, the performers rest, standing or crouching while bracing themselves with the ropes.
The simple insight of Slantboard comes from the performers’ sense of their own weight and anchoring. In her notebooks from the period, Forti wrote about moving to New York in spring 1959 and finding the city to be a depressing “maze of concrete mirrors… I remember how refreshing and consoling it was to know that gravity was still gravity. I tuned into my own weight and bulk as a kind of prayer.”
In Accompaniment for La Monte’s “2 sounds” and La Monte’s “2 sounds” (1961), Jessie Gold stands in a rope loop hanging from the ceiling. Miguel Ángel Guzmán winds up and releases the rope. 2 sounds was recorded by La Monte Young on Anna Halprin's Dance Deck, an outdoor performance and workshop space in northern California, the previous year and features two sounds, as stated in the title: the sound of metal scraping on glass, and metal scraping against wood. Rather than having the choreography follow a musical composition, as in traditional dance, Forti inverts this relationship so dance accompanies the music.
The soundtrack, a full 13-minute-long composition by La Monte Young titled 2 sounds, plays for the duration of the piece. Jessie listens, absorbed in the music, silently encouraging the audience to do the same.
After the final Dance Construction, the performers take a bow and return to the green room.
Performances as a part of Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done are produced by Lizzie Gorfaine, Producer, with Kate Scherer, Manager, Performance and Live Programs.
Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done runs through February 3, 2019. Buy tickets today.