Durational Dances Turn Heads on SDSU Campus
By Teresa Monaco
Durational Dance students have been popping up on the SDSU campus in their red jumpsuits every semester for the past few years. You may have seen them on the bridge across College Ave., Performing Arts Plaza, or in the Student Union. Whether passersby stop because they are confused, intrigued, or their pathway is narrowed, these dances provide a unique experience for performers and audience members alike.
According to SDSU Dance Professor Leslie Seiters, the Durational Dances originally started with an extended technique class she was teaching six years ago. Although the concept has evolved over time, Seiters cited a piece choreographed by Ralph Lemon entitled How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere? as a primary source of inspiration.
“Dancers in Lemon’s piece sustain a kind of pushed falling into and beyond a state of exhaustion. In the technique class, we attempt to sustain a single activity over time as a way to use dance to get beyond what we know about dancing,” Seiters explains. “We did things like having our eyes closed, looping, and shaking.” The first public version of the Durational Dances was led by SDSU Dance Professor Jess Humphrey, and featured students ascending and descending a flight of stairs over a period of time.
The Durational Dances have multiple layers of value for the students who participate. “In the studio, durational practice comes from a place of extended technique but also asks the students to asks the students to reinvest, attempt to hold multiple tracks of attention at once, continue when tired or bored, commit to one thing over time, and to amplify an important aspect of dance education-learning in the doing. This is research.” Seiters goes on to discuss how student’s attention spans are not acclimated towards duration. In today’s over-saturated digital world, it can be a challenge for most people to remain ensconced in one activity without becoming distracted. According to Seiters, this semester’s durational practice is called Transformation. “Transformation is a score based on repeating a movement with gradual change over time. How do you do something that’s absolutely based on repetition, but never truly repeats?”
The Durational Dances are both experimental and experiential for the dancers, and they also have a similar effect on audience members. Jess Humphrey, Professor of Dance at SDSU, explains “If someone is willing to stay and watch long enough, it can elicit an empathic response from the viewer. They are giving someone permission to let their state be influenced. As you observe over time, does it become more or less strange?” Humphrey and Seiters both reference Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noe when discussing the impact of durational dance on performers and audience members.
“In a way, art is one of the few places to be in an experience of getting lost. I deeply value art’s ability to disorient, and in durational practice the sense of time (for performers and audience members) is akin to being in nature and could even make room for something like the discomfort of boredom.” Seiters explains. I love the quote from Alva Noe, “Just as there is no encounter with love without the live risk of heartbreak, so there can be no confrontation with art that does not open the possibility of getting lulled… Art is valuable only in direct proportion to the degree to which it can, or might, bore us.”
See below for some of the questions and quotes the students work with in durational practice.