In recent years, local choreographers have made a lot of work about the challenges of maintaining individuality in an artistic community and in society generally. Dance artists like Anna Barker, Leah Wilks, and Ronald West have explored the difficulty of navigating between different levels of identity by mixing prerecorded monologues and conversations between dancers with live performance.
In Echo, a collaboration between dancer-choreographer Justin Tornow and visual artist Heather Gordon at 21c Museum Hotel on Thursday, that multiplicity is expressed structurally. Tornow splits the same performance, presented differently, across several spaces within the hotel. Lean in the doorway of the tiny basement gallery to see her dancing inside Gordon's installation. See that dance televised live on a monitor outside the gallery. Then go upstairs and see the movement projected during Tornow and Gordon's artists' talk.
Gordon has transformed 21c's basement gallery using a process that visually maps personal data like locations and dates with geometric patterns of inch-wide, mirrored Mylar tape. By covering the walls, ceiling, and floor, Gordon has transformed the space into a crucible of identity.
"My work has a literal, practical basis in reflection—of myself either digitally in video or in the mirror on the studio wall," Tornow says. "My process is to always visually engage, even though I know that in some cases I might be able to go more internal and feel the movement differently, or think about the form differently, if I turn away."
Unlike traditional dance-studio mirrors, Gordon's parallel stripes give Tornow an image to work with that's both partial and true, the reflections disorienting and refracted. To Gordon, this captures the weirdly offset nature of defining oneself through one's relationships with a wide range of other people.
"Let's say that you fall deeply in love with a person and that you see the best parts of yourself in them," Gordon says. "If you shift your point of view just a little bit sideways, you create refraction, and then all of a sudden the thing falls apart. You've got to have this perfect angle so that it's all pie-in-the-sky beautiful with puppies and unicorns. And then this little sidestep and all hell breaks loose. The light hits the surface of things in such a way that the veil of them is revealed to you."
Tornow and Gordon have explored mapping life data onto image, form, and movement in prior collaborations at the Carrack and elsewhere. In Echo, they ask where that data analysis has gotten them, and express the contradiction that haunts their answers: If one assembles oneself through interactions, is there still something individual at the core? Reflection, often lauded as self-therapeutic, is acknowledged here as a splitting of the self for the sake of observation. But refraction affords new perspectives, which may lead to insight and well-roundedness.
It should all make for an entertaining and contemplative performance as audience members move through the hotel, including public parts that have nothing to do with the performance. This serves as a reminder that performance spaces are also real spaces—that you're never taking a time-out from experience to see a show, nor do you ever stop performing yourself.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Echo Chamber"