Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Interview #2 with SoMoS choreographer Merián Soto by Josh McIlvain

SoMoS is a branch dance performance spectacle bridging nature and the urban landscape, to be presented in a parking lot at North 5th and Huntington Streets in the North Philadelphia barrio on October 12, 2012, at 8pm as part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio. This is a free event.

Interview #2 with SoMoS choreographer Merián Soto by Josh McIlvain

Q: What new developments have you discovered about SoMoS since the last time we spoke?

Merián Soto: My work is very process oriented. I am an improviser. My work develops out of contact with the materials. SoMoS was born of a vision that has been percolating over time, but it is in the playing with the materials that the piece is made.

New aspects: The summer tent will have projections of a tropical beach. It will be empty except for a white gym floor and  exercise balls.  I am hoping the audience will lie on the floor and look up at projections. 

Jumatatu Poe will be performing with a large bundle of branches. He has a station right outside the summer tent. He will be standing on a floor cut in the shape of the map of Puerto Rico.  Olive Prince will be stationed in the center of the entire conglomerate of spaces. Working with two enormous branches.

I am also including docents who are dance and movement artists and scholars. They will be available to help audiences negotiate the piece.

Q: What will be the process of transforming this vast parking lot into the set for your show in a technical/how-to manner?

Merián Soto: Transforming the parking lot involves careful planning. Equipment and materials have to be purchased, rented or borrowed, and stored. In terms of video and sound we need 14 projectors, 4 laptops, 20 speakers, etc. We are building a pipe and drape wall for projection. We need clean floors for each of the performing areas.

And we have to practice. Rehearsing the piece in its totality is a challenge as it is cumbersome and costly. (Ideally I would have rehearsed in a giant warehouse) Practicing in the parking lot is grueling. Its dirty, and noisy and the cement is rough and hard. In the summer it was excessively hot, now the wind makes it cold. There’s no water or electricity. Getting stuff there – the branches—is an ordeal.

And at the same time it's intriguing to think what the event will be like. It's beautiful to see such an expanse of sky, and to connect with the neighbors when were out there. The greatest challenge for me is that I won't really know what the work is until a couple of days before the event. Practically speaking, we will put it all together on site the days immediately preceding the event. But this too is a precarious plan. Rain will make it impossible to use any technical equipment.

Q: What will be the process of transforming this vast parking lot into the set for your show in a creative and performing manner?

Merián Soto: We go to the parking lot a lot and imagine how things will look, sound, and smell. We plan knowing that everything could change once we see it all there. I am excited for the first rehearsal in the parking lot with tents. I am looking to make the entire event a seamless whole. The challenge is to coordinate all the elements so there is an organic sense of connection and flow. 

Q: Parking lots are the ultimate urban dead space. How do you think SoMoS as a work will echo against its setting?

Merián Soto: There is a planetary crisis of the imagination. We fail to imagine solutions to the massive destruction of nature, the prevalence of war, and our dependence on fossil fuels, the collapse of education systems, etc. I see the parking lot as a blank open space. I want the piece to trigger audiences’ imagination of what is possible, to jump start sensations which may be dulled.

Q: SoMoS is an example of not just taking performance work outside of its "normal" theatrical setting, but of actually bringing art to the people. Does this affect the work at all, and how the audience relates to it?

Merián Soto: The audience is terribly important. Some of the standing challenges have to do with how to best invite and guide the audience into a sensory experience. How to help them take on the responsibility for this experience to become co-creators. The piece is like a travelling carnival that arrives in town for a day or so and moves on. Like a carnival, it's about creating a magical place. It's not entertainment in the way that one sits back and watches something (although, this will be an option for audiences who want to experience things in this way). The audience gets to choose how to experience it. Audiences don't necessarily have to like it, but I hope people can slow down and experience the juxtaposition of images in the urban space, the lure of the senses, shifting their consciousness of self, space and place with us.

September 24, 2012
Photos:  Merián Soto

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