February 16, 2012

Do you like this?

Performing artists often tell those thinking of pursuing music, dance or theatre: “You’d better enjoy the process, because process is 90 percent of what we do. Performance is 10 percent at most.”

Long hours in rehearsal studios, drafty schoolrooms, someone’s living room (or garage)—this is the unglamorous but real life of those serious about their art. But Ann Law, dancer/choreographer and co-founder of Barking Legs Theater, wanted to create a sort of in-between experience for both artists and audience. The idea was to take dances that were still in the process of being created, and “workshop” them in front of a live audience, who would then be invited to give their feedback.

The choreographers would benefit from honest comments that could then be used to continue to shape their pieces, and audience members would get a unique peek into the sometimes-mysterious process of making art.

The result of this brainstorm was “Dances in Raw States,” which Law launched last year at Barking Legs along with a number of dancers she had been working with for some time as part of the Chattanooga Dance Project.

The series returns Thursday and Friday, Feb. 16-17, and Law has put quite a lot of thinking into how to improve the communication between the two entities, artist and audience.

From the beginning, she says, she was interested in “What makes good work? What makes good art? To help understand that, we came up with an evening that is a step between the studio and the performance space.”

But last year’s “Raw States,” she notes, while fulfilling its goal of giving dances that are not quite ready for full-fledged performance a chance to work out, did not end up giving choreographers enough useful information from the audience.

“I had wanted to keep it very open,” she says of the feedback process. “But the comments ended up being too vague. The audience was just sharing what they already felt. They weren’t stretching.”

To be helpful, the comments needed to go far beyond “I liked it,” she points out.

So this time around, she and the choreographers will begin asking more specific questions about the work.

The ideal result, she explains, would be twofold: Concrete help in identifying places in the dances that for whatever reason are not working, and, on the other side, helping to create an “articulate and sophisticated audience for new work.”

That audience still needs development in Chattanooga, Law says. Another program at Barking Legs, “Wide Open Floor,” is also designed to widen the range of performance in the city, and “allow performers who are not that visible to become more visible,” she says.

Without this audience sophistication, she agrees, the arts cannot grow to the next level, because audiences aren’t familiar enough with the “languages” of the arts they’re viewing.

Law has said repeatedly that dance in the 21st century needs to stop relying on the techniques and visions of the past, and evolve into something that reaches audiences with immediate messages about now.

Those who’d like to be a part of that evolution can get on board at Barking Legs this Thursday and Friday.

Dances in Raw States


7 p.m. Thursday & Friday, Feb. 16-17

Barking Legs Theater 1307 Dodds Ave.

(423) 624-5847


February 16, 2012

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