Crowds gathered, even when they didn't know exactly what they were watching. Photo by Rachel Papo

What Happens When Site-Specific Dance Takes Over Times Square

At first glance, Times Square might seem like a near-impossible location for a site-specific dance performance. Between tourists posing for selfies, flashing billboards, New Yorkers rushing to work and people in Batman costumes trying to make a buck, it can be completely overwhelming and overstimulating. But that also makes it interesting.

"At its essence, Times Square is bodies moving through time and space," says Andrew Dinwiddie, acting director of public art at the Times Square Alliance. It's also a place with a rich dance history, from vaudeville to Broadway musicals to dance halls and studios.

Dinwiddie worked with Judy Hussie-Taylor, the executive director and chief curator of Danspace Project, to create a program of original works in Times Square this fall that reference the history and experience of the place. An estimated 33,000 people passed through the area each day during the four-hour program—most just happening upon it. What they saw was unique even for Times Square.


Laurie Berg's scape

Photo by Rachel Papo

Initially daunted by how chaotic the space can be, Berg found herself thinking about the "brandscape" of Times Square. She was inspired by the 1988 John Carpenter film They Live, in which a man puts on a pair of sunglasses that reveals a hidden reality, where aliens control the human race through subliminal messaging on advertisements and media. "He realizes that he needs to wake up and see beyond what is in front of him," she says. "I wanted to do a play on that and instead of it being negative messaging, I wanted to insert positive messaging." The goal was to get people to question what they were seeing, to give them "a heightened sense of their surroundings."

Before rehearsing on the site, Berg says, it often took a few minutes to get used to the space. "We'd be jumping up and down or curling on the ground and no one notices," she says, "or the next thing you know, someone has come behind you and their friend's taking a picture. They don't even know what you're doing, but they sense that you're doing something and they just want a picture of it."

Much of the piece was structured improvisation, until the dancers made their way onto the TKTS steps, where they performed a sequence inspired by Tommy Tune's choreography for The Will Rogers Follies. It was a nod to the neighborhood's Broadway history, plus, "the red TKTS stairs are almost identical to the stage set of the musical," Berg says, "so it felt like it was this other way to superimpose an image on top of something that was already there."

Full Circle Souljahs' Behind The Groove—Times Square Edition

Photo by Rachel Papo

For Rokafella and Kwikstep, the married duo behind Full Circle Souljahs, dancing in Times Square has special significance. "Kwikstep and I met dancing on the street," says Rokafella. "We were part of different crews in the early '90s, putting our talents out there for the tourists, with this classic style of dance that was not being highlighted in the mainstream." They used to set up right in Duffy Square. The police would often interrupt their shows, sometimes arresting the dancers.

luciana achugar's New Mass Dance

Photo by Rachel Papo

Luciana achugar likens Times Square to being on the bottom of the ocean. "There are all these currents of people," she says. "It's constantly, fluidly changing." Her New Mass Dance began largely with a stillness in the crowd. Gradually, several figures in denim became apparent, standing statuelike at various points in the plaza. Just as you started to notice them, they came together in a huddle, each holding an arm in the center like a sports team. Later, they lay on the ground like a human starfish, connecting at their feet.

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The Dance Community Wants You to Get Out the Vote

Without the regular bustle of the fall performance season, much of the dance community has a rare amount of free time on its hands—and it's being put to good use. Many artists and organizations are redirecting their energy from the rehearsal studio to an extremely important cause: urging the community to vote. And, of course, they're doing it with a signature dance flair.

Here are just a few of the get-out-the-vote efforts and events happening online and across the country. For more arts-related resources about voting, including the deadline to register in your state, check out Dance/USA's November 2020 Election Toolkit.

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