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

Just below the signature red stairs of TKTS, the discount-ticket booth where theater lovers congregate every day, Laurie Berg and her six dancers wove in and out of the crowd in Father Duffy Square, performing scape. Sometimes, a small circle of attention cleared around them as they danced in unison to a pulsing beat. Other times, they were among the pedestrians, nearly brushing the face of a tourist. Times Square Arts employees handed out disposable glasses, each tinted with red or blue film. Many passersby grabbed a pair with no idea of what they were taking, or why.

Full Circle Souljahs' Behind The Groove—Times Square Edition

Photo by Rachel Papo

The idea was to give the audience a glimpse into hip hop's roots, and into an underground world that isn't always given credit. They also wanted to demonstrate how dancers build their skills, and prove themselves by battling their way to the top. "When people see the essence of what this really is," says Kwikstep, "they'll remember how they felt when they saw it."

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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Friday Film Break: Far From The Norm's "Can't Kill Us All"

While its doors remain closed, New York City's The Joyce Theater is bringing dance to a digital stage via JoyceStream. The fall programming kicked off on Tuesday with works by Ate9, CONTRA-TIEMPO, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and Far From The Norm. Those videos will be available until October 19, and more will be announced shortly.

This piece, "Can't Kill Us All" from British hip-hop collective Farm From The Norm, is a collaboration between artistic director Botis Seva, filmmaker Ben Williams and composer Torben Lars Sylvest. Commissioned by The Space and BBC Arts, supported by Arts Council England and Sadler's Wells, the film follows a Black man dealing with both lockdown and the trauma of racism.