AndAlwaysWhy, the "experiential live movement and music installation" that Ginger Wagg and Wild Actions will unveil at the Torus Building June 2–5, has been in development for three years. But in another way, it's the piece Wagg has always been working toward.
You might know Wagg more as a musician—in indie pop duo Veelee or experimental sound-and-movement project Reflex Arc—than as a dance artist. But she studied dance at George Mason and then worked with companies on site-specific dance projects in Washington, D.C., before getting sidetracked by music when she moved to the Triangle in 2008.
Her DIDA debut picks up that thread. The performance involves giant rolls of butcher's paper, ping-pong balls, monologues, movement, music, and seven performers, two of them percussionists. That's Wild Actions, aka local improv music mainstays Dave and Kerry Cantwell, who create a soundscape via Wagg's audience-responsive graphic notation.
In AndAlwaysWhy, viewers are participants, and the way they move through and interact with the space defines the performance. Interaction is one of the three I's that run through all of Wagg's dance work, along with improvisation and installation.
"Getting an audience out of a dark theater in a chair where they feel like they can't move has been part of my mission for a long time," she says. It's also a mission of DIDA's, whose invitation to Wagg to submit a piece was the push she needed to complete AndAlwaysWhy.
"It's structured improvisation, but only a few things are set in stone," Wagg says. "The magic of the mistake is essential to what I believe in and want to accomplish."
You also might call it structured collaboration. As the author of the piece, Wagg sets the conceptual bounds that her collaborators and audiences fill in. Sarah Honer, one of the piece's guides, was Wagg's closest advisor. Liam O'Neill, another guide, wrote the monologue about Marina Abramovi that began the preview we saw. Emily Withers and Katie O'Neil scribble whatever they feel on the paper, a centerpiece of Justin Blatt's set, which has as much presence as the performers.
More than an answer, the piece is a question: What happens when certain boundaries between performers and audiences are removed?
"I'm questioning the rules we assign ourselves or feel we're being assigned in a performance space," Wagg explains, "which sometimes traps a person into a smaller version of themselves. How do I do that for myself when I'm an audience member—experience what's around me and inside me at the same time?"
Wagg's piece has a history with the Carrack, after holding a preview and a fundraiser there, so it's apt that it has wound up in what will soon become the new Carrack. She's grateful to the Carrack's Laura Ritchie and the Torus's Alicia Lange for their commitment to her show.
"I was searching for five months, and I held off creating a lot of the structure because I knew it was going to be site-induced," Wagg says. "Just being in that building created much of the show, in a way."
As for your experience of the piece—well, it's really up to you. After it's set in motion, it's mostly out of its creator's hands, even as she performs in it. Wagg's only wish is that people stay from beginning to end.
"If they do more interaction than that, great," she says. "If they end up writing on a piece of paper or ripping some off, touching a drum—all that stuff is good. But that's not for me to decide. There are so many ways to interact that for me to have a list of possibilities would not be respecting their ability to make their own decisions."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ginger Wagg Tears Down the Curtain Between Spectator and Stage"