BodyCartography felt room at the Weisman: terrifying, fascinating, philosophical

Sometimes art is a lot of what you bring to it. If your head is in a dark place, you see things differently. But I don’t think it makes it any less legitimate – just more cathartic than you might otherwise find.

Felt room is an immersive performance piece by BodyCartography at the Weisman. (I wrote about the artists’ talk earlier.) It is performed in a sealed room. You sit, stand, lounge where you want; the dancers work around and with you. The performance is three hours long but there’s an open door policy.

I was a little late so I set off alone, down a hall, then choose a door (the other might be locked or go to a closet, I don’t know) that opened into a mini, light-blocking antechamber and pulled back the weighted curtain. Into the darkness.

I could see another patron inches from me. I felt others were around. You could hear shuffling and movement. There was white noise – but the space was pitch black. My eyes never acclimated to it.  It was dark for about 20 minutes. I found it terrifying; so much so I thought about leaving. I stood frozen, afraid to bump into another patron. I wished my eyes to see because I was afraid of dancers milling about. I thought I saw them and I thought there were all much bigger than me. Mostly men. (In truth – five apparent dancers, none much larger than me and seemingly women.)

I felt like people were walking by and nearly touching me (and everyone) but not quite – like nearly poking at your nose or bristling your arm. It occurred to me that it was entirely my imagination but it is what my senses told me. Again terrifying.

Then there were glimmers of light and then a soft red light – bright enough to see but shadowy. I realized we were in a big room. Lots of performers sitting throughout the room. (Although truthfully I spent the whole performance wondering if the only performers were the apparent dancers – or if in moments of darkness some of the patrons were in on the act.)  Back in the red light, a mob of rags and sheaths of cloth start moving in the corner. Dancers under the heap move like one, giant organism. Sometimes the movement was angry and menacing. At other times it moved with less emotion. Eventually the organism oozed into the patrons’ space – at least a few and it was interesting to watch that interaction.

Mostly I was thankful that I could see. Thankful that I wasn’t scared.

The performance had segments based on action of the dancers. Stage of darkness. Stage of organism. Stage of whirling dervishes. Stage of mime. Stage of reunification but not as the same organism of something higher order but still of one free will. (I’m carefully not saying one mind.)  Between the segments often the darkness fell again. I never got to like the pitch black but I did become more comfortable with it.

If I had been 20 minutes later I would have missed the darkness. My feeling for the show would be entirely different. Less intense, easier but less meaningful.

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