By Emmaly Wiederholt

A couple of weeks ago my friend Julia Cost sent me a number of photos of the same painting of hers. The last two specifically intrigued me, as the painting was placed in her bathroom sink. She was playing with strange and artificial places to display her artwork. This got me thinking about the concept of framing, particularly how dances are framed.

The concept of framing goes well beyond where a dance happens to takes place: what are the experiences surrounding a dance event and how do they impact the way a dance is received? In my recent ramblings around the Bay Area dance scene, I’ve happened upon a few instances that shed light on the power a frame has on a dance.

Jo Kreiter’s “Niagara Falling” recently debuted on the side of the Renoir Hotel on 7th and Market Street. What I particularly enjoyed about the framing of this piece was that civic decay, the topic of the piece, framed it. Homeless people literally streamed through the audience of onlookers asking for money. And anyone who has happened to pass through the Market and 7th Street intersection can attest to its derelict nature.

On September 21st I attended Parking Day, an annual international event where designers, artists, and citizens take over parking spots to transform them into public space. Local choreographer Nina Haft overtook a parking spot in Berkeley and invited students and local professionals to perform alongside her own company. Watching the expressions of the passengers in the cars passing by, I suspected that their frame of the event was more powerful than my own, because while I was readily expecting a performance, they were visually accosted by it; they were most likely not expecting to drive by a dance performance in a parking space.

Another interesting example of framing happened that afternoon. Dandelion Dancetheater’s Mantra Plonsey and Chris Gallegos performed a duet that featured Chris blindfolded and Mantra pummeling herself onto him, creating an escalated tension both within the dance and for those watching it as well. The piece was preceded by a series of hip-hop solos performed by high-school dance students. The solos were fun, musical, and clean, creating a light-hearted lax atmosphere. The hip-hopping high-schoolers and Dandelion’s psychotic duet set next to one another heightened their stark differences in tone, physicality and intention.

My last musings on the subject of framing are thanks to Margaret Jenkins. Her company’s upcoming work “Times Bones” looks at the bones of her forty years of dance-making. While at a viewing in her studio, Jenkins described to the audience how her piece will eventually be lit, what the set will look like, and where the props will be. In essence, she attempted to verbally frame her piece for us. I found myself wondering how differently I would have perceived the piece had she not framed it first. There is a crucial difference between how something happens to be and how something is intended to be, and it would have been interesting to have viewed her work without the verbal frame to better understand how sets and lights influence the piece in performance.

Artists have very little control over viewership; they have no control over a viewer’s mood, tiredness, level of distraction (i.e. having to pee), etc. and so the frame is perhaps one of the few tools at the disposal of an artist in affecting how their work will be viewed. While it can seem a fairly negligible tool (how many people have claimed to hate a painting because of its frame?), frames are of extreme importance, as surrounding events greatly affect the reception of a piece. Whether intentional or not, context is very powerful. How we frame our work is as crucial as the work itself.

Paintings courtesy Julia Cost

Note: After I had originally posted this essay, Jo Kreiter sent me this photo, taken by Jay Gould (one of the riggers of “Niagara Falling”) from the roof of the Renoir while critical mass biked by during the show.

One Response to “Framing”

  1. cathy intemann

    I like this idea very much. Everything is framed in our lives in some way. A great idea to explore and talk about further. Madre


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