Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Riener have chosen to make their whole process public, starting nearly from zero, giving dancers prompts for structured improvisations and building on those, day by day. A week into their turn, which culminates in a marathon session from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, the duo spoke about how it was going. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.
How did you approach the project?
SILAS RIENER We were both excited by it and interested in subverting it. So, of course, the first thing we did was ignore the circle and use the full area.
RASHAUN MITCHELL I tell the dancers, “You’re going to be confronted by people, a squirrel is going to run by, you’re going to stop to say hello to your boyfriend — all of that is what we’re doing.”
There’s a lot of outdoor dance in the summer, but a public residency seems different. Has it been difficult?
MITCHELL We’ve done a lot of work outside, but this felt more vulnerable, because we weren’t coming in with something set. The first day, my nerves were wild.
RIENER This part of every process is typically private, and I wasn’t prepared for how uncomfortable I would feel. The constant feeling of being on display, even in your rest moments. You can sort of hide behind a tree …
MITCHELL You can’t hide, because the tree is also looking at you. There are eyes everywhere.
How important is it to you that viewers, even passers-by, understand what you’re doing?
MITCHELL I like the mystery. It doesn’t come with a set of conventions. You have to figure out for yourself what you want to do with it. But when people ask what we’re doing, I try to talk with them. Because we’re in a public space. If we’re going to pretend we’re in a bubble, we might as well be in a theater.
How have people in the park been responding?
RIENER In other performances in public spaces, I have felt people reacting like, “You’re messing up my 15-minute break by being a weirdo,” but there’s a permissiveness here. It’s like, “I was going to come and stare in this direction anyway and you’re in my field of vision and that’s O.K. with me.”
MITCHELL One time, an older man started gesturing for me to come over and I started mirroring the gesture. And he got a kick out of it and started moving his whole body and we were in this dance together.
Has the experience changed for you over the first week?
MITCHELL I’ve dropped into what it is, and feel more aligned with myself and connected to other people. I hope that’s happening for the other dancers and maybe, maybe, there’s some tiny change that happens for one person in the public. It’s a hard time in the world right now, and in a weird way, this is therapeutic.
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