Among the things we gained during the pandemic was an introduction to the term “site-specific”: a type of dance that is defined by the space it is performed in and truly can only be performed in that specific space. 

For dancers, this mode of dance came out of the necessity to turn their bedroom or kitchen into a performance space from which they could safely Zoom. Others turned to parks, beaches and similar well-ventilated outdoor spaces that allowed for social distancing. 

The Wooden Floor is following suit with a presentation of a large-scale, site-specific project premiering July 15 at its main campus in Santa Ana. “Passage/Home: a site-specific exploration of place” involves 80 students ages 11-18 in their first, in-person, live performance in over a year. 

Acclaimed site-specific choreographer Stephan Koplowitz began working on the piece two years ago, pre-pandemic.

“The Wooden Floor works very much in the future,” joked Koplowitz in regards to the site-specific commission before the COVID-trend of site-specific works. “Luckily, site-specific work has the power of flexibility and we are used to solving problems.”

Choreographer and artist-in-residence at The Wooden Floor, Stephan Koplowitz, right, gives students feedback during rehearsals for their upcoming concert, “Passage/Home.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Parts of Koplowitz’s original concept had to be reworked in order to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Logistics involved planning rehearsals for 80 students in small groups and also thinking about how to maneuver an audience through the space in timed intervals. 

“The hardest part was everything leading up until actually making the work,” Koplowitz said. “Once we started the creative process it was easy. I likened (The Wooden Floor) to an art factory where everywhere you looked there was art-making.”

Koplowitz has been making site-specific works for over 30 years in places such as natural history museums, piers, fountains, metro stations and once an entire town in Minnesota.

“What I like about site work is that you never come back and not feel like a part-owner of the space,” he said. “I hope through the students’ performances, the community sees that you can make art out of anything. You can bring art to life and make life out of art.”

“Passage/Home” provided a unique opportunity for the dancers to see the building they visit every day for up to 10 years of their life in a new way. 

“When I first heard about this I had no idea what to expect. I was curious and confused, but mostly just glad ‘cause we get to dance,” 15-year-old Alexander Vargas said. 

Vargas is in a portion of the dance that involves dancing on and around bollards at the front of the building. After learning more about the process and presentation of site-specific work, he has a whole new appreciation for the craft.

“It’s interesting because a theater is designed for dance,” Vargas said. “You don’t expect to adapt dance to a place. And that is a challenge, but a good skill you can use for life.” 

In “Passage/Home,” architectural elements, furniture, floor textures, bushes and stairs provide physical boundaries that dancers can engage with in a variety of ways — whether that is hanging off, jumping over, ducking under, or rolling down any given structure.

‘Passage/Home: A Site-Specific Exploration of Place’

Where: The Wooden Floor, 1810 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706

When: 7 p.m. July 15; 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. July 16-17 and July 23-24.

Tickets: $20 adults; $10 students and children under 13. Reservations recommended. Tickets are extremely limited.

thewoodenfloor.org/annualconcert

In one section of the piece, seventh grader Karen Carrasco describes a moment where she leans over the banister on a set of stairs and gets this feeling of dancing in the clouds — a feeling that she can’t get enough of.

“It is good to be back. I felt locked in my room with technology all day, so when I come back here, I just wish I could stay all day,” Carrasco said.

Through “Passage/Home,” The Wooden Floor’s campus becomes more than an interesting backdrop for pop-up moments of movement and original classical music by Los Angeles-based composer Robert Allaire. Instead, it serves as a venue that is part of an ongoing creative process influenced by cultural, social and educational endeavors. 

“Our organization encourages students to think differently about themselves and inspires our community to consider contemporary dance as a catalyst for change,” said Dawn S. Reese, chief executive officer of The Wooden Floor. “The pandemic has precipitated our entire organization to use our strengths to think differently and creatively, resulting in another milestone of artistic excellence.”

The site-specific, theater-dance work can be seen at various times on five separate days. Patrons will be guided in and around both outdoor and indoor spaces of The Wooden Floor campus. Koplowitz said students and audiences alike can expect to expand their palette of what contemporary dance can be.

Said Reese: “We always say we bring the best to the children so they rise to be the best. To see the students’ smiling faces and knowing they’ve overcome so many obstacles, I am so proud of their complete resilience, or rather, triumph!” 

Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at kaitline13@gmail.com.

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