Bridgman | Packer Dance and the Art of Video Partnering

By Hailey Nuthals, Highlighter Editor

Enter the world of Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, the creative minds behind Bridgman | Packer Dance. It’s a world of illusion and manipulation, of visual confusion and wonder. The pair, who have been dancing and choreographing since 1978, are most well known for their exploration of what they call “video partnering.” The method uses video projections, both live and pre-filmed, to create mesmerizing pieces that leave the viewer stunned at the complexity of what can be explored with two bodies, a camera, and a set.

This week, at the Sheen Center, the pair is performing two of their much-lauded pieces, “Voyeur” and “Remembering What Never Was.” Both pieces are New York premieres, and play with the video partnering that the pair is so known for.

Voyeur photo 4 Bridgman Packer Dance

“Voyeur” works within a universe fashioned by none other than American painter Edward Hopper. The work, co-commissioned by the Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York, where Hopper was born and raised, explores “the role of the voyeur – how [Hopper] asks the viewer of his paintings to be a voyeur in that often his characters have scenes where they’re looking in windows or doorways or even peering out of windows or doorways.” The set itself, a structure of simple wood with several windows and doors cut in with a few different levels and angles for viewing, was inspired by Hopper’s 1928 painting “Night Windows.” As the artists were keen to point out, the unique construction allows for each audience member to have a one-of-a-kind view that cannot be replicated from any other seat in the theater. The dancers weave in and out of the structure while video footage created with the help of filmmaker Peter Bobrow both live and recorded is projected around them. The total effect is incredibly provocative, artfully bringing out what Packer called “this under-the-surface eroticism that is so much a part of voyeurism. It’s separated by architecture, viewing something by looking inside, or being inside looking out.”

Their second piece, “Remembering What Never Happened,” takes a closer look at memory and perception. The themes are ones that are often difficult to explore through the medium of dance – without words, it can be hard to look at processes that happen inside one’s head, and to explore reactions as opposed to events and emotions. But through the use once again of their video partnering, live images are manipulated, exaggerated, repeated, and toyed with to force the audience to look at how our memories themselves experience the same alteration. Packer herself describes it best when she says,

“In ‘Remembering What Never Happened,’ we take the live footage and it goes through various computer processing that we’ve chosen to use and the human body starts to transform. So our photorealistic image might become more of a wave. You still see the kinetic element, but it becomes more amorphous. There are times when you only see the outline of an image, so it’s almost like a cave drawing or a spirit image… We did a lot of research with what techniques might be available to us and which ones had an emotional resonance, because there’s so many possible effects. There’s so many possibilities with work with video. It can be very seductive. We were very conscious in choosing the effects that would have some emotional resonance for us. Here we’re dealing with memory, which is very amorphous and very changeable. For us this is a lot more about the interplay between memory and imagination, and how every time you remember something, you remember it differently. And how two people can have an experience, and remember it differently. And the use of videos became a metaphor for that transformation that happens in our brains…”

The effect of the piece overall is wonderfully explorative. Together, Bridgman and Packer manage to create two distinct pieces that both take advantage of the sometimes undervalued way in which visual technology can augment dance to reach so many more themes with more depth than would be otherwise possible. Their experimentation is to be lauded and admired, and above all, not missed.

Bridgman | Packer Dance will be presenting their works, “Voyeur” and “Remembering What Never Happened,” at the Sheen Center at 18 Bleeker Street on July 13, 14, and 16. Tickets can be found here, and Bridgman | Packer Dance can be found on Facebook and the Web.

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