For architects, it is like a huge, automated machine. For dancers and performers, it’s where they present their works and meet the audience. And for the rest of us, it is a place to enjoy stage entertainment.
While most theatergoers focus on the performance rather than the venue itself, theaters can be seen and interpreted differently by those who work behind the scenes. Aside from the stage, the audience seats, the lobby and the ticket box, the property houses a number of closed spaces that enable the whole building to function as an entertainment venue.
Instead of taking place onstage, LG Arts Center’s special one-day dance performance, “Dance Unravels the Theater,” focused on these restricted areas, the kind of places where the audience is normally not allowed access.
|A scene from site-specific dance performance “Dance Unravels the Theater.” (LG Arts Center)|
The site-specific dance, which required the audience members to walk and move about the theater located in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul, on Feb. 25, was a collaboration between working architects and dance choreographers. The result was a fascinating space-conscious show that felt as if one were on some secret tour of hidden, intriguing places. The contemporary dance, full of wit and wonder, was inspired by the use and purpose of each featured area of the theater.
The areas are spaces the theater’s engineers, porters and lighting technicians occupy to do their “own thing.”
“You know, we are obsessed with this idea that the only things that should be open to the audience are the stage and its performances,” said engineer Lee Jong-gyu of LG Arts Center. He looked rather concerned throughout the show.
“We firmly believe that everything else should be completely covered. That is why the entire stage staff dresses in black clothes. It was certainly difficult for someone like me to digest the concept of this performance, because it lets the audience witness what’s actually meant to be hidden.”
One of the most memorable parts of the show was in fact visiting such “meant-to-be-hidden” areas. From the theater’s loading dock ― a recessed bay in the building where trucks carrying large stage props are loaded and unloaded ― and the fly loft above stage, visiting the spaces offered a rare opportunity to understand the theater building as, in the architects’ words, an “automated machine.”
The almost-mathematical movement of the stage wires, the overwhelming size of the freight elevator, and the blinking red lights of the lighting machines complemented the dancers’ body movements, creating a unique vibe that can hardly be found on a conventional stage. The fly loft, which consists of pulleys and counterweights that enable one to “fly” stage curtains, lights, scenery and stage effects, showed off its rare spatial beauty ― the kind of beauty that stems from perfect harmony and order, often found in strictly functional places that aren’t meant to be aesthetic.
The performance held at the theater’s loading dock, in particular, paid humorous homage to ancient Greek theaters, while using the real-life theater props being housed in the space for the choreography.
“The earliest theaters were outdoor auditoriums,” said architect Lee Chi-hoon, who participated in the project. “The loading dock was introduced as the indoor theaters needed a space to house their large stage props. And these props were needed in order to bring their imaginations and fantasies onstage. The theaters started to become machines as bringing such fantasies to reality required using more advanced technology and sophisticated theater devices.”
Choreographer Kwak Go-eun composed the modern dance based on historical and architectural viewpoints of the property, provided by Lee and his colleague architect Kang Ye-rin.
“For performers like us, stage is a sacred place,” said choreographer Kwak.
“And the loading dock is the place that houses the things that used to belong to the stage. Stepping into the loading dock for the first time, I felt this overwhelming energy inside the space. It felt almost as if being at a shrine. I wanted the choreography to feature the props that were once used in creating a fantasy on stage, as well as the very vibe and energy of this high-ceiling place.”
The performance ended in the actual auditorium of the LG Arts Center, where the audience finally got to sit. It certainly felt different to be looking at the stage, after witnessing the hidden but crucial spaces behind the doors. “Dance Unravels the Theater” meaningfully blurred the boundary between the functional and the aesthetic, the hidden and the revealed, the fantasy and the science, and, most importantly, the machine and the human body.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org