Watching a Wrecking

Dancers: Rosemary Hannon and Arletta Anderson. Wrecker: Aura Fischbeck. Photo: Christy Funsch

To wreck: to damage something so badly that it no loner exists (Macmillan Dictionary)

New-York based choreographer Susan Rethorst found colleagues’ feedbacks about her work too “soft,” recounted Bay Area dance artist Christy Funsch in her introduction to a wrecking session at ODC Theater on October 19. So Rethorst asked friends to come into the rehearsal studio and ‘wreck’ her work. “By [wrecking] I mean that he [Tere O’Connor] entered into the rehearsal process and looked at the piece as though it was to become his, changing it to his liking, imposing his own aesthetic with complete disregard for my intentions. The experience was akin to culture shock; disorienting, the center of gravity shifted. I then took back the rehearsals, with the same attitude toward his changes. Directions were opened that otherwise would not have been… as if, in forcing a move that comes from outside oneself, the self imposes itself with more clarity.”

On October 19, the piece being wrecked was an excerpt from Deborah Karp’s This Is How We Begin, featuring performers Rosemary Hannon and Arletta Anderson. Choreographers Aura Fischbeck, Brian Thorstenson and Abby Crain, who had seen a video of the work prior to the session, each had 40 minutes with the dancers to wreck the work.

Funsch shared the rules and guidelines that wreckers have to abide by when wrecking a piece:

- They do not have to use all the existing material

- They can make change to the cast

- They cannot add new material

- They need to retain directorial agency and give clear directions to dancers

A wrecking gives audience members a unique perspective on the making of a work. Immersed in process, they observe the work being taken apart, deconstructed and recomposed. This was the third wrecking that I have attended and each time, I somehow picture the choreography as a motor being exposed under the hood - pistons, timing belt, axel rods and other parts moved around and rearranged.

You are going to start at the section where you flap your arms.

The middle becomes the beginning; the beginning now comes at the end.

Can you continue with the same material that you had but do it lying down on the floor?

What was up is now down, what was vertical becomes horizontal.

Can you repeat “this is how we begin” very fast?

Spoken text replaces silence.

Can you move through this section faster without losing the shape? How about you do what you did and you do it again? Can you find variations of tempo? Can you sing it? Can you come closer to her? Do you want to try it again or are you good?

Through this lens dance is rendered malleable. You watch wreckers play with it like clay, cutting it into pieces, moving those around and compiling them in a new order. Dancers’ bodies and minds are also asked to be flexible: in short time, they need to capture small and larger changes – fluctuations in rhythm, spatial organization, intentionality- and present the original work and its three wrecked versions at the end of the session.

Rethorst’s wrecking puts a positive spin on the dictionary’s definition cited above. It is not about destroying a piece so that it no longer exists but about exposing its inner workings and the many directions it can be stretched, reshaped and expanded.