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Erica Buechner’s dancers and non-dancers tell truths and lies together at Art Produce.
This post has been updated.
Erica Buechner has been playing with the intersection of stories and dance for a long time. She’s been trying to get a Creative Catalyst grant for a while, too. Her successful 2018 application — her second attempt — partners with Art Produce, a nonprofit art and community center in North Park to produce “underlie.”
Creative Catalyst grants are provided by the San Diego Foundation to a small group of artists to foster collaboration and community engagement. Each artist applicant must partner with a local nonprofit that will either act as a fiscal sponsor or full collaborator. And the latter is what Buechner sought with her partnership with Art Produce’s Lynn Susholtz and Nikki Dunnan, both of whom Buechner has collaborated with in the past.
“Whether we got [the grant] or not, we were going to uncover something. Something was going to come to fruition,” Buechner said of the beginning stages of her partnership with Art Produce.
Buechner pulled two chairs into the middle of one of the performance spaces in Art Produce, starkly empty at the moment, awaiting installation for this weekend’s shows. This will be the room where participants in Buechner’s workshops — specifically intended for non-dancers — will perform dances crafted around recorded messages of a truth or a lie.
“If we share stories, that’s how we build relationships that are more meaningful,” Buechner said. “The stories that are underneath the surface really make us who we are, but we don’t share them.”
Buechner isn’t new to crafting dance from written stories or texts.
“I’ve always loved working with words,” she said. In fact, it’s become a staple in her work. Examples include her “The Dying Swan: Revisited/Re-envisioned,” and several years ago, Buechner was part of a summer-long intensive education program with TranscenDANCE in National City, which used creative writing instruction and resilience training to empower youth dancers how to tell their stories and choreograph them into expressive movements.
In that instance, the choreography Buechner taught ranged from sweeping narrative concepts and emotions to specific meditations on single words.
With her Creative Catalyst project, “underlie,” Buechner focused on a method more in line with that specific model, which she taught in a series of workshops at Art Produce since landing the grant last spring. She encouraged her workshop participants — ranging from seniors to refugees — to break down and choreograph every single word, somewhere between semiotic critical theory and … charades.
“The goal is really to keep each word as a new idea,” Buechner said, moving her arms while seated to demonstrate an example sentence (“they said it was just a phase”) before ultimately standing up to dance.
“I love the slightly disjointed feeling that it creates. There’s a tension in it that isn’t related to emotion,” she said. “It’s just there. It doesn’t lull you. I love that.”
In this gallery room, throughout the weekend, the dancers will express several truth or lie sentences in this manner, including potentially doing some “on the spot” choreography for audience participation.
In addition to a fully produced performance by professional dancers outside, attendees will also be greeted by an aerial performer suspended from the front gallery’s ceiling, with words written directly on a cloth to be unraveled by the aerial artist. Videos, visual art and participatory projects will fill the entirety of Art Produce’s space.
For Buechner, her biggest hope for the project is to trigger conversations in the community that has raised her as a dancer. As a child, she studied in a summer workshop Jean Isaacs held in her hometown of Ramona, and moved on to dance classes at Palomar College and SDSU. On being rooted in San Diego, ultimately, she asked herself, “Is this OK, just to be here?” Her answer was yes.
“Underlie” takes place Thursday and Friday at Art Produce with performances and self-guided tours beginning promptly at 7 p.m., with an additional performance at 9 p.m. on Friday. Saturday’s show has been canceled due to forecast rain.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect changes to the “underlie” performance schedule made after this post originally published.