When you're working on the edge of an art form, it's sometimes necessary to coin new phrases to describe what the hell it is you do. Hence the term “improvography,” a fusion of improvisation and choreography. It's this new art snigglet that's at the heart of the collaborative effort between Sledgehammer Theatre and the Lower Left performance collective.
Filling in Sledgehammer's “Alternative Guest” spot-for which a visiting artist or company takes over St. Cecilia's Playhouse-Lower Left will present “ATTENDANCE,” Sept. 9 through 19. The title is a multi-layered play on words, part of which announces the 10-year anniversary of the award-winning dance company.
The show's improvography will include Lower Left dancers with percussionist Steven Schick of Red Fish/Blue Fish, poet and activist Bennie Herron of the Taco Shop Poets, vocalist Molly Wilmot of San Diego Opera and several Sledgehammer actors.
“We'll be working with people outside of dance, so it won't be strictly movement improvisation, but also incorporating voice, language and music,” says Lower Left artist Rebecca Bryant.
“It's kind of a risky thing,” she adds. “Here we are with these two different kinds of mediums and we don't really know exactly what's going to happen. So we invite people who are absolutely fantastic at what they do, and the spontaneous combustion in these things combined-we're fairly confident that that will be interesting.”
“ATTENDANCE” isn't completely extemporaneous; a few rehearsals are required “so that everybody knows what's happening next. It's sort of like you plot the dots and then the route that you take to get to the next dot can take any form,” explains Sledgehammer artistic director Kristen Brandt.
Sledgehammer artists Laura Lee Juliano, Jessa Watson and Ruff Yeager will bring both improvised and prepared monologues to the performance.
Lower Left is collective-in-residence at Sushi Performance & Visual Art-one of the premiere cutting-edge art centers in San Diego. Recently, however, Sushi was forced to vacate its space in downtown's ReinCarnation Building while the structure is reincarnated into Icon, a residential and retail high-rise. The new building is set to open in 2005. In the interim, Sushi will perform in various locations throughout the county as Sushi Take-Out, and the similarly avant-minded Sledgehammer has provided Sushi a home away from home.
A decidedly different space from the white walls and expansive hardwood floors of the ReinCarnation Building, St. Cecilia's is a converted funeral chapel with all-black interior, high arches and a stage that is deep but not very wide. Bryant views the space as an enticing challenge in terms of lighting and movement, and an opportunity to do site-specific performance.
“It just has such a different feel when you walk in there,” she says of the theater, “and to play with that is exciting.”
“It should be a really exciting merge of the two institutions,” says Brandt, “because we have such a similar aesthetic with just a different way of presenting it.”
The feeling, apparently, is mutual.
“We are really honored, excited and thrilled to be presented and supported by Sledgehammer and Sushi,” says Bryant. “It's easy for things to get homogenized, and those two groups have really been working hard for that not to happen.” B
“ATTENDANCE” runs Sept. 9-19 at St. Cecilia's Playhouse, Downtown. $10-$20. 619-544-1484.