Beach Sessions x AUNTS = Participatory Performance Art Out in Rockaway

 In 2018, Archives, Best Of, Critical Drafts

As a Rockaway resident for the past 3 years, I have avidly followed the Beach Session: Dance Series each summer.  Every year the setup is a bit different, and this one — featuring an incredibly varied group of artists performing a program in one order on Saturday evening, and in the reverse order the following afternoon — has been my favorite.  

The past Saturday, I sat on the beach with friends to watch Bell Biba do the hustle and the fun was so contagious that a group of women from the audience hopped up almost immediately to join in.  While they may or may not have been drinking in the sun all day, it was both a testament to the fun the performers were having and a questioning of the boundaries, or even existence, of the fourth wall. The joiners left and the dancers continued through quite an aerobic dance (in the sand no less!) as electronic music played and the dancers called out different phrases.  The yells and various sound effects kept them in unison and seemed to cheer each other on. By the third and final section, they were running around, calling the audience up to join them for the electric slide. The electric slide has never looked so cool! Bell’s Hustle on the Sand was such a joyous piece and so perfect to see on the beach. After the show, everyone milled about laughing and talking and a couple of the performers ran straight into the ocean to rinse off and cool down — a nice perk to performing beachside.

Next we all walked over to The Castle: a beautiful, all-white, Tuscan villa on the bayside. As I approached the building, I saw two performers with long white robes flowing over the edge of the terrace into the entryway. These two performed outside for the next two hours and while I didn’t spend a lot of time with them, they reminded me of a pair of mermaids sunning themselves about the terrace. The duet consisted of slow movements along the edge of the terrace often looking far into the distance and rarely at each other. One had a hand-held speaker playing barely audible nature sounds, perhaps the ocean or the wind. Once you entered the house, there was a map on the wall with the times and locations of the different performances as well as a note: “We acknowledge the the land on which we gather was originally inhabited and used by the Lenape people. We pay respect to all the indigenous people, elders, and ancestors past, present, and future.”

The environment, created by AUNTS (an underground platform for dance), felt like a cross between a gallery opening and an immersive theater event. The house had been cleared of its contents and the performers were staggered throughout the various rooms. Some, like the duet on the terrace, performed the entire evening, while others ranged between 15-45 minutes in various rooms. The audience was encouraged to wander about and explore the space. Even though I went to both shows, I didn’t feel like I was really able to see everything, but that didn’t seem to be the point. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to just wander and watch two hours of so much different contemporary dance and performance art. I am truly excited to seek out and get a more in-depth look at the artists that I discovered and most enjoyed throughout the weekend.


Going back to the question of the fourth wall, some dancers talked to the audience casually.  Katrina Reid opened both programs in the front room and doubled as a greeter, giving people permission to enter the space and have a seat. Later, Lisa Fagan had a lot of questions for the audience as part of the piece — including asking, “Do I look like a turkey?” and “What do turkeys make you think of?” and “Where do you shop? Forever 21?” — as she explained that she knew nothing of our culture. Tess Dworman gave a sort of monologue explaining certain aspects of her solo before dancing it. Tatyana Tenenbaum and Jasmine Hearn stared into the eyes of audience members and even, at times, laid down next to them and reached out to touch them.  Hilary Brown danced a duet that became a trio when she invited someone to join from the audience. I’m not entirely sure if the person was in on it or not, which leads to my only complaint about the evening: there was no program, so there were no notes, titles of works, names of choreographers or dancers, or music cited. As I wandered through the house, there was not enough context at times and many pieces felt unfinished because of that. However, the caliber of work presented was impressive, and made even more special for me, because I was able to see it out in the boonies of Rockaway, my home.

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