Movement in Response to Immovable Objects

By Tresca Weinstein, 3/2/2017

How do you choreograph a dance performance in an art gallery? Very, very carefully.

In creating site-specific work for three shows at the Opalka Gallery over the last four years, Ellen Sinopoli has learned exactly how to protect both the moving and the inanimate elements of the performance. So viewers might notice some slow-motion sections in her newpiece, “At Any Given Moment,” which her company premieres this weekend at the Opalka in conjunction with sculptor Caroline Ramersdorfer’s exhibit, “Gravity + Light.”

While caution is a necessity around delicate objects, that won’t stop Sinopoli’s dancers from stepping directly into the mysterious environment evoked by Ramersdorfer’s multidimensional sculptures, most of which are carved from white marble.

“It’s like you’re looking at the interior of a membrane,” Sinopoli said in a recent interview. “Those layers and internal workings are very intriguing.” Reflecting the ancient feel of the sculpture, the dance “has a primordial, prehistoric sense to it,” she said.

Sinopoli’s source material here could not bemore different from her last Opalka project in 2015, when she made work in response to the show “From Concept to Console: Art and Aesthetics in Video Game Design.” In 2013, she drew inspiration from video installations by Michael Oatman, which were inspired in turn by Marcel Duchamp. Her first performance at the Opalka in 2012, choreographed around slate and recycled metal sculptures by John Van Alstine, is perhaps more closely related; as it happens, Van Alstine is Ramersdorfer’s companion and collaborator, and the two have often exhibited together.

“I am very excited to experience the energy of my pieces transformed into movement, music, rhythm and harmony,” Ramersdorfer said. “Dance and sculpture complement each other through their contrast in expression”—the eternal nature of stone versus the ephemeral nature of the human body in motion, she explained. She’s particularly curious to see how the dancers interact with her work “Trilogy,” an open structure with three hanging marble slabs. “The dancers will be able to move within the composition and express their dialogue with sculpture.”

Along with the new dance, performed to music by Evelyn Glennie from the improvisational percussion album “Shadow Behind the Iron Sun,” Sinopoli has reconfigured two repertory pieces for the gallery space. “Tumble,” from 2016, features curving, organic movement that would seem to be a natural fit for Ramersdorfer’s work. “Auriga,” premiered in January at the Massry Center for the Arts at The College of Saint Rose, is a trio set to music by local composer Andrew McKenna Lee.

While some sections will be performed within the gallery, with the audience watching from the lobby, at times the dancers will travel throughout the space. Where the viewer sits determines what they will see, Sinopoli said.

“We usually create a piece for the audience to see straight on, but what if sometimes you were seeing it from the side, or the back? Your perspective keeps changing. Depending on where you’re sitting, you’ll see different dancers more clearly at different times. Sometimes they’re all out there, facing the audience, and at other times some of them are partially hidden, while others are visible.”

Sinopoli had each of the dancers (Louisa Barta, Maggie Ciambrone, Madeline Morser, AndréRobles, Sara Senecal and Laura Teeter) choose a sculpture they were particularly drawn to, and work with her to create a solo around it. When choreographing within such a short time frame—the company will have only eight rehearsals in the space before the premiere Friday—she depends on her dancers for their input and collaboration, Sinopoli said. And she depends on the artwork itself.

“It needs to speak to me as being receptive to movement surrounding it,” she said. “When I saw Caroline’s work, I immediately felt that choreography could flow from it. Just as my dancers offer me ideas, the sculpture needs to offer ideas and possibilities. That’s what forces me to grow.”