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Much-heralded duo bring avant-garde performance to New Canaan's Silvermine

Published 5:38 pm, Wednesday, January 16, 2013
  • Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman in a previous production of "Voyeur." Photo by Tyler Silver. Photo: Contributed
    Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman in a previous production of "Voyeur." Photo by Tyler Silver. Photo: Contributed

 

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At the Bridgman/Packer Dance performances of "Voyeur" at the Silvermine Arts Center this weekend, the performers will bring the audience to the stage.

This is not metaphorical art-speak. For 15 minutes before the performances begin, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, and at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20, the audience will be allowed and encouraged to explore the set.

Such an addition to the show is only one of the ways that "Voyeur" transcends a typical dance performance.

The show, performed in the arts center's auditorium, is also staged in unorthodox spaces, like Silvermine, rather than auditoriums and halls.

Finally and perhaps most important, the show is a blend of live dance and video installation, in which the performers interact with each other and their partner's video image and their own throughout changing scenery projected onto the white walls of the set.

"Voyeur" is described as a work inspired by Edward Hopper. Hopper was an early 20th-century realist painter perhaps best known for his work "Nighthawks," the iconic 1942 painting depicting two men and a woman inside an otherwise empty but brightly lit bar.

Hopper was from Nyack, N.Y., which is where dancers/choreographers Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer live.

The duo was approached by the Nyack-based Edward Hopper House Art Center, which commissioned the work and provided space to shoot video. Characteristic of Hopper's work is that his subjects are viewed through windows or inside buildings. From that comes the title of the show and a centerpiece of its production, voyeurism.

"We started exploring the idea, and the essence for us was figuring out a way to have his paintings be a taking-off point, and making something that was uniquely ours," explained Packer. "It was more about how his paintings would affect our creativity. The aspect where the characters are seen through windows and doorways often makes you want to know more. Who are these characters? Are our own videos watching us? Is the audience the voyeur? (Those questions) became very potent."

The innovation associated with the show is something that attracted the attention of Silvermine Arts Center Executive Director Leslee Asche, who said this weekend's performances will be the fruition of more than a year of pursuing Bridgman and Packer.

"It is something I think people will be very excited about. It's stretching the lines. I'm trying to make everything we show have a unique aspect to it for us at Silvermine," Asche said.

Bridgman explained the use of video technology and unorthodox performance spaces.

"What we've realized over the years is that our work has gone much beyond traditional dance, as we've included video," he said. "One attempt is to not limit our venues to traditional spaces, but to go into museums and galleries. We have a set. We bring our lights, projectors and black curtains to create a theatrical stage where an audience wouldn't normally go to a dance performance. We pretty much ... create a theater in their space."

Inviting the audience up to experience their set and video technology, said Packer, was a logical outgrowth of the interactive nature of the duo's performances in non-traditional spaces.

"The set gets more complex through the performance because the video transforms it," she said. "It can be the inside of a building or outside in nature. Our use of lights, which refers back to Hopper, creates shafts. All those elements became interesting to us, in and of themselves, and so we decided that there would be an installation before the performance. All of that really comes out of the idea of performing in galleries and museums."

Bridgman and Packer, who have worked together for more than 30 years, have received some high praise for "Voyeur," including from The New Yorker and The New York Times.

The critics are impressed by the way in which the pair are able to transform traditional dance with modern technology.

Working not only with previously recorded video, but also with live video recording and projection, the performance has plenty of sensory stimulation.

The use of video technology also can be seen to bring a conventional art form into the 21st century.

"Our intent is to blend live performances and video images to the point where you might not know what's live and what's recorded," Bridgman said.

"The whole question of what is reality and what is image is in everyone's environment," added Packer. "This whole exploration interests us because it's a comment on live performance. It's the energy and power of live performance blended with this thing that can seem so real but isn't."

As the world around us becomes increasingly technologically advanced, interaction between and among people has become increasingly digitized, to the dismay of some.

For the audience at "Voyeur," Bridgman and Packer hope to harness technology to convey an experience with all the power of humanity in the flesh.

For tickets and information, visit www.silvermineart.org or call 203-966-9700, Ext. 22; twoods@bcnnew.com; 2033-972-4413; https://twitter.com/Woods_NCNews