Residency Reflections Part II by Yanira Castro

Performing "The People to Come" in MarlboroIn asking questions about participatory work in my last blog post, I suggested that The People to Come is an attempt to be in some way transparent about the process of the piece. It endeavors to create a shared knowledge base in which everyone in the performance space—performer, director, designer, audience member—has a shared and specific involvement in the outcome of the event being played out live.

What has been remarkable to me in watching the piece unfold, is how this process of transparency has created a frame (quite incidentally) for the invisible: the thought process of choices being made that create a spontaneous sense/structure/ways of perceiving that make the dance. Why the performers link one element to another—one gesture, word, sound, step—is a process never entirely visible and definitely personal. These links and pathways become revelations of the performer's process within a specific situation. And the interpretations are multi-layered: the performer's, the audience member's. It is this friction of creation and interpreting, this messiness of translation between all the individuals in the room that is a performance.

Jacques Rancière states in The Emancipated Spectator: "An emancipated community is a community of narrators and translators," and in his book, he argues that this is what happens in the performance/gallery/museum space. Each member—performer, audience member, director, artist—is involved in the process of both narrating and translating. In watching performance, we "narrate" for ourselves the performance that we witness in how we translate the actions of the performers who are narrating/creating their own particular translation of the performance score they are engaged in. The process of observation is an engaged process. The spectator is emancipated by virtue of his/her own thinking process and not through any particular action of the artists involved. We are already free.

But while we may be free in our thoughts, we may not feel as free in our actions. What societies do by framing a mode of participation through the construction of theaters, museums, etc. and the rules of engagement put in place in those environments not just by architecture but also by signs on the walls, ushers, etc. is frame the boundaries of our actions in relationship to our seeing and our perception. How close we can get and how we can respond to our own feelings about the work is socially proscribed.

For me, ultimately, it is not about "activating" an audience--getting people out of their seats. That seems didactic. It is about exploring an ancient relationship and asking a very simple question: I am here. You are here. I am dancing. What do you do with that?


Since 2006, VPL has hosted over 80 residencies