If you gathered the artifacts from one day in your life — what you use, things you consume, what you value or discard — and buried them, what would some future archeologist infer about your life?
This was the question Minneapolis-based choreographer Morgan Thorson pursued for “Spaceholder Festival,” an evening-length performance piece for five dancers getting its West Coast premiere at ODC Theater this weekend.
Thorson became interested in the concept of movement artifacts as expressions of who we are by reading about archeology.
“Cultural objects have significance in tracking and identifying human behavior throughout history,” she says. To understand the process of uncovering found objects she participated in an archeological dig. “You have to be very careful about moving the dirt away so that you don’t damage the object. At first you might think it’s part of a bottle and then you realize it’s part of a pipe. So the meaning of the object changes as it is revealed, which is something that I also try to play with within my work.”
The relationship between image and movement is fundamental to Thorson’s work.
As a practitioner of the Skinner Release Technique, she uses tactile exercises and guided imagery to facilitate economic, effortless expression from her dancers. With their torsos grounded, they bring as much presence to the examination of a piece of discarded foam rubber as a watchmaker might to the intricacies of an antique clock.
One theme in “Spaceholder” involves how people attach value to things: “It’s a window into the whole idea of worth and how arbitrary it can be,” she says.
Thorson assigns different values to certain parts of the stage, giving her dancers the option of where to perform movement patterns.
For part of the score, she employs auctioneer-style dialogue.
“Auctions are designed to resolve the uncertainty of an object’s value,” says Thorson. “The auctioneer’s often unintelligible speech doesn’t establish a price so much as it ritualizes the community’s acceptance of a given value through a magical, trance-like performance.”
Circus music composer Sxip Shirey provides a soundscape of haunting melodies and sounds produced by familiar materials including marbles, a miniature hand bell choir, industrial flutes and a reconfigured music box.
How is the piece a festival? “It’s an upbeat coming together of many different artists in one place at one time, bringing their histories together,” Thorson says.
IF YOU GO
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $25 to $45
Contact: (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org