Presenting visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces.

AiOP 2013: NUMBER lookback: Paula Hunter and the young dancers of JUMP! (the youngest being 8 years old), who came down from Rhode Island to perform 0 (Women), talk to curator Radhika Subramaniam about their time in NYC as part of AiOP 2013: NUMBER.

By Radhika Subramaniam

As artists are gearing up for the AiOP 2014: FREE festival, here are a few insights from last year’s festival…

 

Have you worked in a public space before? How was this experience similar or different?

Paula: I’ve worked as a soloist and as a member of a group many, many times in a public space.  It makes so much sense to me — get out and be in the world!  The context changes your perspective on how to relate to people/audiences.  This experience—AiOP—was different for me because I had never had such broad outlines—14th street is big, even when cut down—and the buildings are big, and the people a steady stream.  Everything spoke of infinity to me, which was cool since the theme was numbers.  It all went on and on—space, chatter, traffic.  A relentless place to be and I slowly adapted to this.

Dancers:

—Yes, we danced on Blackstone Boulevard in Providence. There was a park there, and in New York, we were just on the street.  On 14th street, there were lots of people where we were supposed to dance, so we had to move around them.

—Yes, but here, we were so close to the pedestrians.

— Yes, I was used to people watching from all angles but they were usually sitting down. In NYC, they were walking around.

 

Paula Hunter 2 photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

How did you adapt your work to the location?  

Paula: I think I adapted by focusing on the band of dancers.  Where was each one?  How will we get across this avenue? Who will go first and who last? If so and so is there, perhaps I can be here.  I talked to myself the whole time, like a mother hen but also as someone who wanted to work with the dancers in both observant and participatory ways.

Dancer:

—While practicing in the studio, we obviously could not replicate when it would be like on 14th street, but we choreographed the basic concept of what we would do. When we got there, we probably did 60% choreographed stuff, and 40% improv.

—It was not much different to the dance studio floor except that it was more rough and my foot might have caught on the ground but that might have been because of my sneakers.


Was there one memorable moment?

Paula: I honestly can’t say.  The whole thing had a dream-like quality.  I was in the midst of something.  Of course I can’t forget the person who stopped me because he wanted to put us in his music video.  He taped us after i said that it was ok to do this.  I still wonder where we ended up.

Dancers:

—Not really, I liked the whole thing. I was dancing down the street, which I don’t really ever do. We had to try not to look around and bump into everyone, so we had to work hard and really, really concentrate on how we did it. We could be close to everyone—we weren’t really far away like on a big stage. We just looked at everyone out of the corner of our eye. I saw a couple of dogs that were dressed up in dresses and tutus … that was funny!!!

— I loved when people would bump into you flustered, and mutter under their breath about ‘these stupid dancer taking a ballet class, we here people are trying to walk.’ I also loved to dance facing the street and watch people in buses and cars stare out their windows.

—Yes there was a memorable moment. When we started I got so nervous that I thought I could faint, but I knew that if I kept on going, even if I messed up, that no one would know because I had practiced this choreography. One woman in the audience started to talk us younger Jump!, but we ignored her just like we were taught, and then she joined in. It was hard to dance when someone is right behind you stepping on your shoes—but we managed.

Paula Hunter 3 courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist.

What was the oddest experience or the greatest surprise?

Paula:

The oddest was having two or three people ask me where they could find us.  How could I get this kind of work out of young people, and how amazed they were by the focus of the dancers.  I wanted to say, “But this is NY—you’ve seen everything!

Dancers:
—When I got there, I thought it was just going to be a little alley, but it was a big street. People never really dance down a street.

—Somebody was doing the bunny hop right behind me; that surprised me!

— I would have to say the oddest experience was the woman I mentioned who joined part of the dance, saying that Mary Paula was her friend’s bride because Mary Paula had a wedding dress on.

Do you have an association between number and place to add to our numerologies? 

Sure, I think that 0 is perfect for 14th street.  Prior to this experience, 14th street felt like nothing to me—just a stream of people shopping, finding a subway, perhaps lingering in union square park but nothing really stood out.  And yet so many people stood out on that day.  People stopping me to ask who we are, people yelling at me out of a car, people telling me about other jobs women have never held. All of a sudden, 14th street was a street of individuals.  Perhaps 14th street is “1” now.

6. I had a lot of fun performing in NYC!

Paula Hunter1 courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Anything else you’d like to add?  

Paula:

I appreciated the structure you applied to the event.  You encouraged us to stay on one side of the street, you gave us this focus—numerology—and you placed us in a unique environment, which we had to conquer. You also gave us a time frame.  It was public art at its most exciting, I thought because anything could happen but we at least knew where we should be and when.  There was an air of excitement.

Dancer:

I would like to add the experience was both wonderful and interesting but there was more wonderful than interesting. Overall it was an experience I will never forget.

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