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Steve Paxton

Physical Things (performance)

Steve Paxton, Physical Things (video)
Steve Paxton, Physical Things (video)
Steve Paxton, Physical Things Steve Paxton, Physical Things Steve Paxton, Physical Things
Performance (a) presented as part of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, The 69th Regiment Armory, New York, N.Y., United States, October 13-19, 1966.

Technological design: Dick Wolff

Technical assistance:
Karen Bacon; Walter Gebb; John Giorno; Margaret Hecht; Tony Holder; Larry Leitc

Performers:
Karen Bacon; Bill Finley; Sue Harnett; Margaret Hecht; Michael Kirby; Clark Poling; Phyllis Santis; Elaine Sturtevant; David White; David Whitney and several other anonymous participants

Lighting design: Jennifer Tipton, Beverly Emmons (assistant)

With Physical Things, Steve Paxton created an environment in which the participants could move around freely, in the process blurring the sharp boundary that normally separates dancers and non-dancers. Each participant was outfitted with a small radio receiver for picking up radio broadcasts. Even though the transparent structure that Paxton built directly on the stage dictated a specific path through the piece, he actually left it up to the participants to determine how the performance would unfold. On the other hand, dancers in designated areas along the full length of the path performed certain sequences of movements designed by the choreographer as a series of incongruous events (1).

The performance environment was made up of a network of polyethylene tubes assembled with adhesive tape. The structure, which took up some 20 000 square feet of the Armory stage, was inflated with an impressive quantity of air generated by 10 fans. Participants entered a first tunnel extending for 150 feet, then crossed through four performance areas (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i). The ground in the area that Paxton dubbed Forrest Room (20 X 20 X 20 feet) was covered with artificial grass. Slide images of trees and other vegetation motifs were projected on screens held up by pedestals shaped like tree trunks (j), (k). Participants then made their way through a second tunnel (50 feet in length) that opened onto a much larger area called the Big Room (50 X 50 X 40 feet) (l), (m), (n). In the third area, known as the Performance Tube, participants were stopped by performers using theatrical gestures. Lit from inside, this tunnel had opaque and translucent sides that gave greater prominence to the bodies (o), (p). Concealed behind a piece of fabric, a number of performers exposed parts of their bodies that were not easily identifiable (the part of the back where the shoulder blades are located, the joint between the forearm and bicep, etc.) (not shown in factual footage). Elsewhere, Sue Harnett and Elaine Sturtevant coated their faces and arms with Spectratherm, a Westinghouse product that showed the differences in temperature of the blood vessels and skin (q), (r). At the end of the tube, a pair of twins (the Kirbys) kept still as they watched people pass by (s). Before emerging from the structure, the participants had to climb the Tower, a 100-feet vertical tunnel that reached all the way up to the Armory ceiling. Lit from inside by two powerful floodlights, it was filled with a constant buzzing sound (t), (u), (v), (w). The participants picked up the waves broadcasted from wire loops suspended in a net (located above certain tunnels and outside the structure) with small radio receivers, which they had been wearing from the beginning of their path (x), (y), (z). These pre-recorded loops comprised a homogeneous weave of sound made up of animal noises, conversations, the countdown for a space shuttle launch, instructions on how to quit smoking, gymnastic lessons, remarks made by American sports commentators on the exceptional performances of Indian hockey players, etc. The lengths of these performances are not mentioned in the documents that were consulted when writing this description.

[Documentary sources...]

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Vincent Bonin © 2006 FDL

(1) Paragraph based on Steve Paxton’s statement of purpose in the program. See: 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, Pontus Hultén and Frank Königsberg eds. ([New York]: Experiments in Art and Technology: The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, [1966]). p.[8].