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Peep Show Meets Escape Room In SPLIT From SF Dance Company FACT/SF

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Charles Slender-White recalibrates the standard operating procedures of the performer/audience relationship in a series of 300 one-on-one performances.

Peep Show Meets Escape Room In SPLIT From SF Dance Company FACT/SF

Charles Slender-White and his dance company, FACT/SF will present Split, a series of 300 one-on-one performances this autumn in San Francisco. Each show will be 15 minutes and will be performed by a single dancer for an audience of 1.

Split leverages the privacy of a peep show conceit while looking beyond the erotic nature of the form in order to deliver a performance that is intimate, thoughtful, and provocative. As a timed experience within a meticulously crafted and enclosed space, the Split environment is not unlike that of an escape room.

In thinking about Split and how it would be presented, Slender-White knew early on that he wanted it to be along the lines of an interpersonal situation: one performer and one audience member at a time. "In talking about the structure, a colleague commented that it sounded like a variation on a peep show, which I thought was apt. But as I thought about that, I also realized that audiences would likely also experience an elevated sense of awareness in our closed and contained performance space - something more alert and active than a traditional show, something engaging on multiple levels.

Aesthetically and experientially, Slender-White wants the audience members to feel wrapped in the performance and its sounds, textures, smells, and visuals, as something 3D and with its own volume and weight.

"I'm imagining that the audience member will be in a framed/boxed space that effectively provides a window into the performance space. There might even be a plexiglass barrier between them. Meaning, though the audience member and the performer might still at times be close, the arrangement will lend itself to the feeling of being in two separate spaces; the audience will not enter into the performer space and the performer will not enter into the audience space. This feels energetically really different than, say, the audience member being seated on a couch in the middle of the room while the dancer approaches from behind or whatever - in other words, there will be a definite formality to the roles and the arrangment."

"We're working with Emmy Award-winning composer Dan Cantrell on the score, architect Maryam Rostami on the set, and fauxqueen Monique Jenkinson on the styling. Together, we're creating a multisensory environment to envelop the audience - something they can settle into and be surrounded by. We want the audience to feel that they are an engaged part of the experience itself, but not in a way that's actively participatory. They're not being asked to 'perform'. Rather, we'd like them to enjoy the show as one might enjoy an excellent, chilled martini. Fully experiencing that full rush of ice cold gin and its gentle aromatic punch."

Split takes inspiration from a number of sources including, Angels in America by Tony Kushner and To The Moon, by Laurie Anderson, and the question it wrestles with is how identity is formed-how do we become who we are and how does that deviate from who we were?

"In Angels in America, Kushner is so deft at blending the liminal space between reality and fantasy," says Slender-White. "Which allows for the play's characters to slip in and out of identities as they approach their new, radical, and fully realized selves; the fantasies in the play are real to the characters in the same way dissociative episodes are real when one experiences them. I'm really interested in this idea of disassociation being something productive and positive that leads to an enlightenment of self. This is at the crux of Split."

Slender-White is of the mind that artists owe their audiences quite a lot, and that they should want to give them a lot.

In January of 2020 Slender-White was in New York for the Laurie Anderson collaboration To the Moon, her third piece in a virtual reality trilogy at the Public Theater. "While the piece itself was interesting, what really fascinated me was the way they had organized the "front of the house choreography," in that as soon as one arrived at the theater, your coats were taken, you were beckoned into an elevator and whisked to the correct floor and then accompanied to your seat. You were being cued to surrender to it in the same way you might experience at a high-end restaurant or spa. In a very real way even your arrival was part of the overall experience. It was fascinating and set the tone for the evening."

Audiences for Split can expect to experience something along those lines as part of their private 15 minutes. This will include the option of enjoying a cocktail or cup of tea as a prelude to being guided into the performance.

Split is built around the notion of disassociation and the role it plays in identity formation. Slender-White's special and personal interest in the matter is about the important and productive role it plays in queer identity formation, but as a new gay dad, also of identity formation as a whole.

"I've been struck by all the performance expectations for parenting. The purchasing of a ton of clothes and toys, the showing/sharing/performing for peers and family an excessive and hyperbolic love and affection alongside existential angst and exhaustion while also showing grit or toughness. 'It's the hardest thing I've ever done, but so worth it!" is something I've heard on repeat for the last year. So then, when that's not your experience (raising my infant has been hard work but not at all complicated or complex), one pauses and wonders why?

In other words, I think that being queer has helped make being a dad a whole lot easier. Perhaps because I grew up in an aggressively straight context and had to figure out how to create/maintain a complex identity that incorporated lots of different components, it trained me to be a parent, an artist, a gardener, a husband, a dog owner, a friend, a son, etc., etc., without feeling like those things are in conflict or competition with each other.

Making Split perhaps even more timely is all the shape shifting being done these days across different social media platforms and between virtual and physical spaces as society reopens. The moments when one identifies with themselves, and then morphs into a different (but similar) self, can be powerful and productive moments of catharsis that ultimately birth and synthesize a new identity altogether."

Split follows closely on the heels of Slender-White's commission with the American Dance Festival with Tatiana Baganova, the artistic director of Yekaterinburg's Provincial Dances Theatre in Russia in June of 2021. Summer of 2021 also sees Slender-White showing work at ChoreoFest (a commission by the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival) on a shared afternoon with Margaret Jenkins and Shinichi Iova-Koga. In August FACT/SF produces its annual summer dance festival with local choreographers Nicole Peisl, former dancer for William Forsythe and jose e abad, and visiting choreographer Zaquia Salinas.

Tickets can be reserved/purchased at FactSF.org starting in mid-August.


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