Exclusive: Undercurrents & Exchange Brings Free Dance to Downtown NYC


Pictured: Zach Morris and Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, photo by Tom Pearson

Given the current economy, we imagine that lunchtime down on Wall Street isn’t the entertaining, three martini affair it once was. Enter Zach Morris and Tom Pearson of Third Rail Projects, who’ll present Undercurrents & Exchange all month at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden; each 10-minute performance reveals a new piece of the dance and hints at the overall meaning of the work. Even if you’re not in New York, you can follow their daily progress through video clips and random musings on their daily blog here; after the jump, find our exclusive interview with Morris and Pearson.

FW: Why did you guys pick this venue? Any preconceived notions about how your audience is going to receive the work?

Tom Pearson: The work is really for the public of the Winter Garden and designed with them in mind. We love the diversity of the demographics: the corporate employees, the daily mothers, caretakers and children, visitors/tourist, and shopkeepers, plus the potential for a dedicated lunch-time crowd. Part of the idea of the project is to see if and how we can prompt more public engagement with art, either by simply being there, interjecting ourselves into people’s routines for a month, or by responding in certain ways over the course of the month to the information we receive from our audiences.

FW: What’s the biggest challenge (creative and/or logistical) in choreographing site-specific pieces?

TP: To a certain degree, one of the biggest challenges is with the public who inhabit the space on a daily basis. How do we create a work that is engaging, accessible, and user-friendly enough to prompt people to stop? And, prompt people to return for successive performances? This has a lot of different aspects to it. In this case, it’s about creating dances highlighting the quirky collisions and encounters that can happen between individuals. And, then, how do you build in subtle clues that not only invites the public to watch, but also cues them how to respond to the dance (ie, if the dance moves through the space how do they know where to stand, or whether or not to follow)? That was one of the primary challenges with our last piece in Hong Kong — creating intuitive audience flow — because the cultural ideas about that are very different that what applies here.

FW: What are you saying in these upcoming day-to-day performances?

TP: Well, it’s easy to have your first thought about the WFC be of money or ideas about corporate America. But, what if you actually work in the WFC and this is your lunch break? We wanted to consider what we could offer, and we tried to determine what OUR relationship to the space is all about. Where do we, as artists, factor into this landscape? We are interested in addressing what it means to be human in this space. This space, like much of New York, is transitional space, but unlike a lot of New York, it is simultaneously a destination for certain people, especially in winter. We also are responding as New Yorkers, prompted by a desire to connect on a personal level, break routine… to stop walking so fast.

FW: We love how accessible Vanishing Point made dance for the audience. How do you ensure that pieces are friendly for a mainstream crowd?

TP: Our pieces always stem from interpersonal interactions. While we sometimes deal with abstract or heady concepts, we never move away from the fact that, we are still people, who just happen to be moving around in a non-ordinary way. This humanity helps, I think, not only in Vanishing Point but in all the work we do. It’s easier for people to relate to dance if they see something of themselves in it. If they see, perhaps, an awkward flirtation, they recognize that behavior. But through movement, these ideas have enough space to be interpreted on many levels. We also try to build inherent dramatic tension into all of our works. That engages people.

FW: Balanchine has a famous quote, “You must go through tradition, absorb it, and become in a way a reincarnation of all the artistic periods that have come before you.” Agree or disagree?

TP: I think sometimes it’s valid to take into account all that’s come before and look at where the work we do situates itself amongst the rest, but other times it’s just important to us to invest in where we are, what we care about, and not to worry. Whether that reincarnation occurs or not is not a conscious choice but a result of whatever it is that we inherently embody through our study, our concerns, and our present state of being.

FW: Where does Third Rail Projects fall into the current dance scene in New York? Who are the other companies doing work that inspires you?

TP: I don’t know where we fall exactly. We work in site-specific dance, dance theater, with frequent forays into visual art and dance film. Our movement vocabularies are determined by the parameters of the space, subject, etc., whatever project we are doing. It shifts. We are inspired by other companies who work with robust visual, theatrical, and structural elements: Pig Iron Theater, Théâtre de Complicité, Need Comany, Spiderwoman Theater, Big Dance Theater, Pina Bausch, Keely Garfield, Susan Marshall, David Neumann and DV8.

Pictured: Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, photo courtesy of Third Rail Projects