By Sara Nye, Dancer
Looking back on our first performance of “The Third Shift” as part of the Make it. Break it. Rebuild it. Philly Fringe series this past Saturday, I can’t help but wonder in how many professions one is expected to create something and then destroy it, or forget about it, or make it different, or save it for later.
As a dance-maker, and in many other creative pursuits – theater, music, writing – that kind of thing happens all the time during the creation process. The first thing you make is not necessarily the best thing for that particular moment. Revision often makes the best work. However, much of the work we explored in “The Third Shift” was work that took place in factories. Physical tasks that people would commit to for their shift, at the end of which would be a product that would then go out into the world, a whole thing, a built object. Why then approach this kind of work during a performance series with the theme of rebuilding, of change?
When we learned that the venue was formerly Pieri Creations, a lamp designer at Front and Oxford Streets, Gina was interested in what else the factory had housed. We knew it would eventually be turned into apartments, but what did it used to be? The answer? A glue manufacturer, dye manufacturer, hosiery mill, and wool mill. And for a short time, it will be a performance venue and art gallery. We started to think about ways to represent how people had rebuilt this warehouse space over the years.
In “The Third Shift” we are always changing our definition of work. At times we are helpful to each other, fully supporting each others’ weight in order to traverse the space as a group. At other points we move together but separately, each taking responsibility for his or her own body and how it moves through space, unencumbered, unassisted. There is even a section where three dancers walk forward at an unrelenting pace, challenging a fourth dancer to keep the bodies at bay. In doing so, we imagine the lives of the people who have worked in the space, people who did some heavy lifting, got lost in repetitive specific individual tasks, were tired by goals that challenged the amount of work they could complete in one hour, in one day. We try to look like many people at once. Though we are indeed dancers, and must therefore look like people who are dancing, we want to pay homage to the history of workers who passed through these doors and be honest with what we would look like doing physical work, without too much flourish or embellishment.
In the new duet that Gina and I made we attempt to mechanize ourselves in an effort to access a memory of the pulsing, churning, machinery that used to live in this old factory. This was not often an easy task, for we didn’t want to look too hard or alien, our faces blank and cold. We merely wanted to look less like humans using machinery and more like the machines themselves, things with a clear purpose that communicate in a different way than humans do. We asked ourselves what a bottle filler looked like, a dyer, a hosiery weaver, a wool stretcher. As the duet progresses, we become more and more human as we create a machine of our own that combines all of these processes. In doing so, we ultimately make something that makes our jobs obsolete, and we bow out, leaving the building to be whatever it will be next.
My hope is that by physicalizing jobs that have disappeared from this building in particular and the Kensington neighborhood in general, we will help create a memory that will linger in the space, no matter what kind of condos fill it it in the future.
We have one more FREE performance of “The Third Shift” on Saturday 9/15 at 7:00pm. For directions and more information click here.