Late July — when Seattleites were picking up fans and swarming lakeside beaches to escape the heat of the city’s record-breaking 90-degree streak — I spent an early Saturday morning lying on the living room floor of artist Juniper Shuey. apartment while watching choreographer and performer Zoe Scofield dance.
Dressed only in blue velvet leggings, she moved inside an installation made of crumpled and shredded thin copper sheet textile fragments that she would later describe as a “contained explosion”. There was an emotional intensity to his movements. She spread her arms, twisted around, slid to the floor, grabbed a piece of fabric and wrapped it around her face. At one point, she knelt down in the center of the installation, plunging her hands into a hole in the floor that held a bowl of gold paint. Bowing her head, she threw the liquid over her body – an adornment, a supplication, a purification.
Even though I watched Scofield dance, she wasn’t actually in the room with me. What I experienced was the virtual reality component of “The Other Shore,” a two-weekend show by dance and visual arts company zoe | juniper which will premiere at Seattle’s On the Boards in October.
Over four years in the making and with several iterations in its wake, “The Other Shore” is something of a homecoming. Zoe | juniper last performed there six years ago, but the group’s original and intersectional approach to performance (it sits squarely at the crossroads between visual arts and dance) has made group a mainstay of On the Boards in recent years. .
“Zoe and Juniper are truly multidisciplinary artists,” says Rachel Cook, Artistic Director of On the Boards, who first met Scofield five years ago while working at DiverseWorks, a center for contemporary art and performance in Houston. “They have a genuine curiosity for materials and they think aesthetic languages through multilayered and multidisciplinary expressions.”
Officially founded in 2006, zoe | Juniper evolved from a creative collaboration between Scofield and Shuey that premiered at On the Boards’ NW New Works Festival in 2005. The 20-minute piece, “I’m Nothing Without You,” drew acclaim attention of the then artistic director, Lane Czaplinski. , who approached the duo and asked them to create an integral piece.
Zoé | Juniper began producing work that was difficult to categorize but captivating to watch. A trained ballet dancer and modern dancer, Scofield codified a fascinating style of movement, whose performances were staged in brilliantly artful installations created by Shuey. Going beyond a set of moves presented on an ornate stage, the duo’s work provided worlds of escapism and dreaminess that elicited an emotional response.
In 2018, zoé | juniper began a residency at the performing arts space Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Mass., which would, over the next four years, evolve into “The Other Shore”. A radical re-examination of the traditional audience/performer relationship and the complicated power dynamics inherent in it, the work was set to premiere at Carolina Performing Arts in March 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic derailed those plans. .
“We were thinking about what happens when people are in a space together,” says Scofield, noting that during part of the show, audience members will be lying on the floor while dancers perform above and around them. ‘them. “There is a new level of intimacy to [this positioning]. There may be times when I sweat and breathe on you and we are both very vulnerable. Part of what I thought about is what it means to see and be seen, to consider yourself, in a way that isn’t as controlled or prescribed.
When the pandemic hit, instead of dropping the show, Scofield and Shuey pivoted his presentation. Instead of going to the theater, customers received home viewing experiences: a box with an art book and a set of cardboard virtual reality glasses that allowed them to watch performance videos of “The Other Shore” – the same ones I watched in Shuey’s salon.
“I’m really interested in the idea that the way you see something changes the way you see it,” he says. In “The Other Shore,” audience members each have their own solo experience rather than sharing an ensemble performance as they would if watching the show on a proscenium stage. All of these relationships – people’s thoughts, emotions and experiences – are part of the show and there’s beauty in that.
The first On the Boards will offer two performance experiences, each taking place over a different weekend. The idea is to eventually have both parts running at the same time, but the first one will present them afterwards. The first weekend’s performance, “The Other Shore: Always Now,” is the segment where audience members (14 per show) will watch from the ground as six dancers move around them.
The second weekend, “The Other Shore: Future Ancestors”, features dancers performing solos in the “contained explosion”. Attendees will purchase timed admission tickets and have a free-roaming viewing opportunity: they can sit in seats or walk around the facility, viewing the dancer from different vantage points.
Scofield says she’s been thinking about the viewer/performer relationship for years. It’s an idea she’s been exploring since 2013, when she first had audience members lie on the floor during a performance at Seattle’s Velocity Dance Center — but there’s something about the pandemic, and the resulting isolation and disconnection, which makes “The Other Shore” all the more prescient. In addition to the hierarchy of performance, Scofield also explores ideas related to lineage, transformation, and perspective, and examines whether we can affect or change the actions of those no longer with us in the form physical.
“If you look back at people’s lives and the choices they made over the decades and centuries before us, those choices have a very real impact on our lives right now,” she says. “I thought about how my actions can and will impact people in the future, future ancestors, and whether we can rectify the choices of those who came before us.”
“The Other Shore” takes place at On the Boards from October 5-9 and October 19-23. Ontheboards.org