Loquacious Lingo Dancers Teach Social Lessons
A crowd of people was waiting to enter Warner Main Space to see Inhabit. One by one, the members of Lingo opened the doors and escorted small groups into the performance area as if allowing us into an exclusive club. We all exchanged names; we were asked to leave our shoes and belongings off to the side and were given small slips of paper with instructions on them, designed to get us to look at the room and the piece from different “vantage points” and different “perspectives.” Those two phrases framed how I watched the piece from then on.
Last Friday, Lingo gave their final showing of a piece that they have been working on while in residence at Oberlin College for the past three weeks. KT Niehoff, artistic director for the Seattle-based dance/theater company, has been an Artist-in-Residence of the Theater and Dance department since the beginning of this semester. She teaches advanced modern dance classes and has set an original work upon a select few Oberlin dance students. They gave three showings of the piece: two afternoon shows and a final show in the evening. I made it to the last two.
Though much of the material was the same between the second and third showings, the shift in time of day changed the atmosphere dramatically. They served sodas at the last showing whereas at the previous one they asked the audience to mime holding drinks.
The audience was encouraged to socialize while the company members singled out audience members. We were asked by them to watch small segments of choreography from up close or far away, through a small paper cutout, lying upside-down on chairs arranged for that purpose — after I watched for long enough I really did begin to believe that they were dancing on the ceiling — and from standing up on a chair.
Every now and then the chatter was punctuated with “I’d like to propose a toast!” which would draw the entire audience’s attention to whichever company member had actually proposed it.
The transition was smooth between the social portion of the evening and the portion where the audience was expected to watch quietly. Movement phrases that had been previewed earlier by single members of the audience were brought back and elaborated upon.
Lingo danced in and out of the audience; it was up to the audience to decide whether or not they were going to move out of the way. Verbally, they commented upon the perspectives given to the viewers; visually, they asked us to regard the piece as only we could from our unique perspective.
Inhabit’s success depended on the willingness of the audience to participate in the experience that the group created for them. The particular atmosphere of the performance induced some of the students to dance during the social portion and after the performance.
But College students are a much different type of audience than the average dance audience. When I spoke with Assistant Artistic Director Bianca Cabrera after the performance, she told me about a significant other’s relative who once came to see her perform. She sat at a table wearing stiletto heels for the length of the performance.
“I think about her every time,” Cabrera said, referring to that most unwilling audience member.
Although Niehoff is the company’s official artistic director, the dancers work very much in collaboration with one another. In their pieces, Lingo must face the challenge of catering to audiences of all levels of dedication.