Dance Companies Pull Audience Members On Stage To Engage

Civilian dancers "take a selfie," one of the steps in Boléro Silicon Valley, at Bing Concert Hall April 2 and 3. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

pARTicipate-button-400x400 On a recent evening at Stanford, an army of amateur dancers gathered at Bing Concert Hall to rehearse for the latest version of an interactive dance work, Boléro Silicon Valley. Among their number was Stanford web developer Anne Shore, who hadn't given a public performance in decades.

"My last performance was in the second grade, and I was a frog," Shore said. Shore is from Ukraine originally and heavily into folk dancing. But she generally practices her art form in rec rooms, not in front of a live audience at a theater that seats more than 800 people.

Sitting in the dark is not enough

In this age of engagement, where arts lovers aren't simply content with sitting watching pros perform in the dark, it’s often not enough for dance companies to merely put on a show; they're sometimes inviting audience members to join in on stage. The trend for audience participation in professional arts endeavors is growing, and the event at Stanford is no exception.

New York choreographer Larry Keigwin began pairing civilians with Maurice Ravel’s famous orchestral piece Boléro nearly 10 years ago. He's since mounted some version of the production all over the country, such as in Santa Barbara and Denver.

"You know, I’ve always been attracted to the piece of music. It’s this iconic score. And I wanted to have real people, and not dancers," says New York choreographer Larry Keigwin about teaching "real people" to dance Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.
"You know, I’ve always been attracted to the piece of music. It’s this iconic score. And I wanted to have real people, and not dancers," says New York choreographer Larry Keigwin about teaching "real people" to dance Maurice Ravel’s 'Boléro.' (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Keigwin picked Boléro as the music for this project because the work is so well known and because it builds slowly and steadily over 15 minutes, culminating in a big, satisfying  finish. "Boléro is fascinating, because it is, in essence, repetitive," said Katrina Hong, a staff researcher at Stanford medical school and participant in the production. "But it’s so intricate, and it develops over time and picks up the pace a little bit and just, it’s intense."

 Keigwin also said Boléro also lends itself to just about any staging idea. For each production of the piece, Keigwin has developed the choreography on site, choosing simple moves likely to resonate with the local audience. "Celebrating the local community with real participants from the community," Keigwin said. "So we create it with them, for them, and about them."

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The Silicon Valley version is all about connection and disconnection, which is to say, smart phones. Keigwin has the dancers march about on stage, pretending to have conversations, oblivious to everyone around them, until they pause to take selfies with each other.

This isn’t the first crowd-sourced dance performance at Stanford, and it’s safe to say it won’t be amateur dancer Ken Moffeit’s last. He’s a particle physicist, recently retired from Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Lab. "When you try it out and you see how you make a performance in a couple of weeks, how that whole operation takes place, you appreciate things in a different way than whenever you see a live performance," Moffeit said.

Doing the "washing machine," a warm up exercise, before learning moves to pair with Maurice Ravel’s Boléro.
Doing the "washing machine," a warm up exercise, before learning moves to pair with Maurice Ravel’s 'Boléro.' (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Dance companies across the Bay Area are capitalizing on the public's desire to do more than sit in the dark. As part of its annual Cal Performances residency, the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for instance, is teaching sections of the company repertoire for a flash-mob on campus. Later this month, Oakland Ballet hosts an open technique class.

Meanwhile, the upcoming annual dance extravaganza Bay Area Dance Week includes tons of public participation: 10 days of workshops, classes, and open rehearsals. "It’s really a simple concept that we borrowed from the visual arts community about open studios, opening your doors," said Wayne Hazard, who runs Dancers Group of San Francisco and organizes Dance Week.

Getting the audience involved is not an optional for for performing arts organizations today, Hazzard said: "We’re all sort of overwhelmed these days with options, you know, in terms of what you can read and what you can access. And everybody’s saying “Come! See me! Pay for me!” There’s over 800 companies in our region. That goes from classical Indian to classical ballet and classical Cambodian dance. I mean, the range of activities here is phenomenal."

So slip on some comfortable shoes and sign up for a dance event near you.

Anne, Ken and Keigwin+Company perform Boléro Silicon Valley at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall on Saturday, Apr. 2 and Sunday, Apr. 3. More information here.

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