Dancing Down the Lane

Dancing Down the Lane

Article originally appears on Art Attack Philly. See the original here

Do you ever miss middle school? Amidst all of the acne, the awkwardness, and the bad haircuts, some fun times were had by all, often in the form of iconic games such as Spin the Bottle, Truth or Dare, and Telephone. Telephone, also known as Whisper Down the Lane is a word game that involves the evolution and contortion of a simple phrase, hastily whispered from one ear to another. For example, “The zebra is lying in the zoo,” might become “The pizza is playing the kazoo” as it is passed down the line. The change in the phrase occurs for a variety of reasons, such as human error and potential creative liberties taken by the participants. The Telephone Dance Project, running May 9th and 10th atMascher Space Co-Operative, is based on the concept of a basic game of Telephone. The project presents a refreshing throwback to this middle school classic with a more sophisticated, artistic twist.

The Telephone Dance Project is an experimental dance performance, created by four dancers who reside in different states. The choreography is based on a written script of descriptions, imagery, and specifically defined movements. However, because each respective performance utilizes an element of improvisation, a different experience is created each time the performance debuts. Telephone Dance Project dancer and choreographer, Eliza Larson, explains, “For this project, each collaborator retains complete artistic autonomy in creating the performance in their home city. One artist may choose to bring out the more playful elements of the work, another artist may choose to have us speaking while we dance.” Each dancer, while sticking to the established “script” of choreography, explores the numerous variations made possible through the highly subjective, interpretive nature of language. Similarly, as Larson notes, the mood of the performance fluctuates in each city, as the choreographic interpretations of each respective dancer will be featured in her own home city. What you may have seen in Washington D.C., while based on the same general script, will not be the same as what you will see in Philadelphia.

Choreographers and dancers Barbara Tait, Eliza Larson, Rachel Rugh, and Katie Sopici Drake came up with the concept behind the Telephone Dance Project because they felt frustrated with the physical distance that separates them. Each dancer resides in a different state, which has been limiting of their creative abilities. Tait says, “The main source of inspiration for the project was really the desire to work with each other, using our distance as a creative obstacle.” She adds, “Rachel and I collaborated a lot in college and haven’t been able to work together since. We all had connections to and fascinations with each other in different ways.”

Despite distance, the Telephone Dance Project dancers have clearly established a clever way of maintaining their artistic relationship. Working primarily through snail mail (which entails physically sending letters through the mail, for all of you oblivious, techie kids out there), the dancers were able to choreograph the majority of the performance using short, nondescript phrases. Rugh states, “In the beginning of the process, we were very intentional about only using snail mail to create the movement phrases. Once we all got together and shared the movement material we’d generated through the mail, I was struck by how similar the phrases were, even in their differences.” She continues, “Everyone might interpret a direction like ‘swing your arm’ differently, but the phrasing and dynamics stayed somewhat intact.”

While the dancers have managed to compose a cohesive, and ultimately unified work, the comical, lost-in-translation aspect of the game of telephone, remains intact. Tait says, “Seeing the ways the phrases evolved for the first time was really exciting… a lot of funny things happened. For example, Eliza wrote ‘RDJ’ in one of my letters.. Since I know that Rachel likes to work a lot with making movement out of letters, my brain instantly went to creating a movement for the letters ‘r,’ and ‘d,’ and ‘j.’” She explains, “Later I found out that RDJ was meant to be an abbreviation for ronde de jambe [a common leg movement in ballet] – and I was like, ‘Oh, duh.’”

Here in Philadelphia, Barbara Tait is the resident dancer for the Telephone Dance Project, and thus her take on the choreography will be featured at Mascher Space Cooperative on May 9th and 10th. Spread the word, but make sure not to mumble, or your message may be misconstrued!


Photos courtesy of Mountain Empire’s Telephone Dance Project.