There’s something oddly personal about walking into a dark room with five projection screens and music playing in your ears. Whether you’re alone or in an audience of 50 people, a dialogue between the installation and yourself is inevitable. This is the case for “Allegorica: A Videodance Vaudeville in Nine Acts,” a filmed dance sequence by former Martha Graham dancer and longtime Dance Prof. Peter Sparling.
“Allegorica” teeters between a film and an exhibit. Not only does the audience watch projected images, we’re invited to walk through and examine the objects scattered across the room. The objects are illuminated as they are presented in the sequence and, in a sense, are used as symbols for the themes Sparling experiments with.
A set of wings, a large stool, a guitar, a briefcase full of pennies and two tree branches are a few of the props Sparling interacts with throughout the improvised sequence. As he does, the audience can’t help but wonder if and when to interact with them as well. Although seemingly unusual as a collection, each speaks to the pieces in different ways. In an interview, Sparling described this area of objects as “a dream space” because of the flexible range of meaning it inspires.
“It takes a full viewing to figure out why these objects are there,” he said. “Their purpose can be to exemplify, symbolize, become a catalyst or a memento.”
“Allegorica” becomes a collage of statements on the human condition. Sparling testifies to themes of greed, physical suffering, unfulfilled ambition and lost love in what he calls “modern-day parables.” These themes were born out of the improvisation, which is set to music by such artists as Bach, Frank Pahl and Frank Williams. Certain melodies allowed Sparling to magnify his feelings with the projected images.
Not only does the style of dance vary between each act, they sometimes transform within them. Sparling plays with the concept of multiplicity when he changes characters. Each role can be defined by certain movements and parts in the music.
In a sense, the audience is also improvising its movements. We can either focus on the main screen, look right or left at the smaller screens or simply move to the center to explore the various objects.
In order to maintain a complete experience, one’s attention must remain divided.
“In a way, I wanted to parallel how we are challenged in real life to take in simultaneous happenings and to somehow draw meaning and to connect them into a sense of our own orientation relative to all those events happening,” Sparling said.
Fragmented images overlap on the screen to tell a story from various angles.
“This was partly to challenge the audience to open their frame. Dramatically, it was to allow for multiple perspectives of the same moment,” Sparling said.
Such video technology derives multiple meanings from multiple sources, which is something we cannot normally experience during a live performance. As a result, each audience member “choreographs,” as Sparling said, her understanding and experience of the installation.
Allegorica: A Videodance Vaudeville in Nine Acts
Noon to 7 p.m.
At the Media Commons in the Duderstadt Center