5. We Build Excitement (2014)

Role: Choreographer. Description: 20 minute site-specific choreographic loop for 14 performers commissioned to respond to Jesse Sugarman’s video eponymous installation. SPACE Gallery. Portland, Maine. October 3, 2014. A proscenium version was performed by Bates students in the 2014 Bates Fall Dance Concert.


Project Narrative

In the spring­­ of 2014, I was invited by SPACE Gallery curator Nat May to collaborate with California-based video artist Jesse Sugarmann in the creation of a site-specific performance. Sugarmann’s three-channel installation We Build Excitement had toured nationally and was the featured work in SPACE Gallery from October 3-December 5, 2014. I created a site-specific choreography for fourteen dancers (a mix of students and professionals) for the opening of his installation. SPACE Gallery, a music, visual art, and social justice gathering venue, is at the heart of Portland’s experimental arts scene. A mobile audience of approximately 1,000 audience members viewed the 21 minute looping performance over the course of three hours on October 3, 2014.

The funny and poignant We Build Excitement  explores “our fraught, intimate relationships to cars” (Sugarmann).The three channel installation features video of laid-off auto assembly line workers re-enacting their jobs and car accident survivors reenacting their crashes.  A third video documents the creation of giant kinetic sculptures made by crashing, piling, and spatially juxtaposing cars. A powerful subtext in each of the three videos is the death of the American car industry. Most of the cars in the video were made by now-defunct automaker Pontiac, and some of the workers re-enacting their jobs stand on a wide brown field—the site of a demolished Pontiac factory. Sugarmann jokingly claims to be the “only one who noticed” when GM disbanded Pontiac in 2009, but his videos stand as a testament to the impact of the business on many aspects of American life.  Click here for a short video focusing  on Sugarmann’s project.

I was impressed by the way Sugarmann juxtaposed wide video shots to respectfully and playfully allow the video subjects’ relationships with cars to unfold in varied and non-linear ways.  Choreographically,  I sought to maintain Sugarmann’s light and respectful approach—both for the subjects of the video and for the video as artwork.  During our research process in the summer and early fall of 2014, the dancers and I explored formal, kinetic, and emotional themes suggested by the content of the video and the spatial design of the installation. We approached the three videos from multiple creative angles, creating choreographic vignettes that moved between the three video screens. The choreography also moved the audience around the space.


Spatial plan for audience (white space) and performer movement (blue space).


The structure of the choreography was determined by the relationship between the three videos looping videos, each of a different length. I used the videos like a musical score.


Video and movement score for We Build Excitement.


Some of the choreographic approaches were inspired by the content of the video, including re-enactments of the video, short partnerd duets that embodied the matter-of-fact violence of the car crashes, and duets and solos developed from worst-case-scenario prompts.  In these,  I asked dancers to act out the worst mistake that could happen at every given moment of a short set duet, thus creating a long series of slips, falls, near misses and crashes.

Another formal concern was the spatial relationship between the projections and the live dancers. I n continuously shifted the foreground/background relationship between the live dancers and the video. The cast consisted of four professional New-England-based dancers and ten Bates college students. The professional dancers combined choreographed material with improvisational scores based on shifting foreground and background.

This video juxtaposes two successive versions of the performance. Both wide and steadycam shots of two loops of the 21 minute performance are shown simultaneously in an attempt to capture the complexity of the event, which consisted of simultaneous performances  in separate corners of the space.

We Build Excitement (ONSTAGE)

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Later in the fall, the students and I translated their portion of We Build Excitement for the stage. This was a major adaptation, since the material was developed for a non-proscenium space. The students and I collaborated to find ways to use the lobby of the theater and moved onto the stage. Two mobile projectors allowed us to further explore the formal relationship between projection and the human body.


Video Installation: Jesse Sugarmann
Choreography: Rachel Boggia with the performers
Performance commissioned by SPACE Gallery, Portland ME for the opening night of WE BULD EXCITEMENT, a 3 channel video installation by Jesse Sugarmann(Oct 3-Dec. 5, 2014)
Professional performers: Shawn Hove Annie Kloppenberg Betsy Miller Meredith Lyons
Bates College Students Performers:   Mary Anne Bodnar ‘16, Keila Ching ‘18, Mallory Cohen ‘17, Tomisha Edwards ‘15, Sofia Elbadawi ‘18, Talia Mason ‘15, Claire McGlave ‘15, Hannah Otten ‘16, Laura Pietropaoli ‘17, Sarah Wainshal ‘17
Lighting and Stage Management: Guenevere Figueroa ’15 with Shawn Hove
Performance Documentation Steadycam: Robert Little
Performance Documentation Editing: Rachel Boggia
Thanks: Nat May, Justin Moriarty, Hannah Miller, Carol Dilley, Bates College Department of Theater and Dance

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