Body as Canvas
by Madeline Maxine Gorman
The mood and environment of a dance performance is often its most essential aspect. Numerous elements must combine to create a mood that audiences can experience on an emotional level. One of the most captivating parts of Sidney Pink’s Flatlands was the gritty yet distinctly otherworldly atmosphere. The show took place in Baltimore’s EMP Collective, a quintessential “hole in the wall” art venue. The building was chilly, the paint on the walls chipping, the wooden floors rough with protruding nails, and the structure of the ceiling exposed. In juxtaposition to this coarse space, the dancers were clothed entirely in pure white. Though minimal, lights from above and on the floor were used to spotlight, illuminate, and shadow the performers. Throughout the piece, the performers drew on canvases, themselves, and the very walls surrounding them.
Conceptually, it was engaging to move from room to room with the performers and to have the freedom to watch them from any angle. It is impossible to say whether or not it was performed this way each night because of its improvisational nature, but the dancers moved with abandon and ferocity. They would roll on each other, run to the edges of the room, smear lead from their canvases on their faces, and switch from emotionless to vivid expressions. One moment that stood out was in fact the very first image of the evening, when Pink, crouched on the floor alone, was lit by a pentagon-shaped spotlight. A pencil was lowered from the ceiling attached to a ribbon. Pink used it to draw on a small square of paper, and afterward the performers tangled themselves in and out of the ribbon—the black ribbon mirroring the black lines Sydney drew over and over. Another memorable portion of the work was when Pink drew on a canvas with the strokes of his pencil amplified by contact mics hidden under the stack of paper. Being able to actually hear each line being drawn was surprising and beautiful. At times, it was impossible to tell whether or not he was drawing the dancers or if they were embodying the sounds of his drawing.
One aspect of the work that could have been further explored were the tools used for drawing. These unique props were used briefly throughout the work, and I wish we could have seen more of them. There were long, almost hockey-stick shaped contraptions with pencils on the end of them that Pink and the dancers used to draw on the walls. There was also a curious wooden frame with a long paintbrush hanging in the middle. At the end of the performance, a long canvas was laid out. The performers held the wooden frame aloft and dipped the brush in black paint. They proceeded to walk along the canvas, dragging the brush against the surface and leaving a roughly straight line down the canvas as the performers walked slowly to the end. I was left wondering how else these devices could have been used.
Overall, Sidney Pink’s Flatlands was engaging and original. The meaning of the piece seemed to be about the blurred distinction between art and artist. Even if you, like me, had never seen an art-installation performance piece before, the piece was accessible and engaging. Furthermore, because it was improvisational, each audience member left knowing that they had seen an unrepeatable work of art. Flatlands was definitely an artistic success for Pink and a powerful performance by all involved.