Nichole Canuso was well ahead of the curve before the Zoom Boom occurred.
As founder of the Nichole Canuso Dance Company on Moore Street in South Philly, Canuso already had a project involving dance through virtual communication in the works before the pandemic hit.
The work she calls “Being/With:Home” strikes an even bigger chord now in the age of video conferencing and online performances. A guided interaction with a stranger, Being/With:Home is experienced from the participant’s own home via Zoom and addresses solitude, intimacy and adaptive forms of communication through dance and conversation. She calls it a duet with someone unexpected where the audience members are the participants.
“The idea is that people come to this video installation by themselves in this designed room and they’ll see themselves life-sized on the screen,” Canuso explained. “The other chair will be filled with the other audience member. You’re actually overlaid and put together through the video. So you end up dancing with a stranger. You can hear them. And you’ll be led with prompts of some activities you can do. You can place your hands on the table and they can place their hands on the table and on the video screen, you’ll be touching, but you’re actually alone. You meet this person through both movement and conversation.”
Plans for Being/With:Home began about four years ago, according to Canuso, and she had planned to unveil a similar version of her work as a live show during the Fringe Festival last fall, but modified it because of the pandemic.
“This particular project is a detour or an online version of that live show,” Canuso said. “The live show was about to open up in two neighborhoods simultaneously. The concept of the show is that it brings together two audience members at the same time who are separated in physical space.”
Originally she had planned to use Trinity Church in South Philadelphia and the Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University but the sets became unavailable during the shutdown.
“All these themes of absence and presence and communication over distance were already embedded in this project,” Canuso said. “Even though it was put on hold, we felt these themes are really potent, so we translated the script to Zoom and started inviting audience members two at a time, each in their own home instead of a designed set. We started adjusting to a home version.”
The home version was a big hit at the Fringe Festival. American Theatre Magazine’s Alix Rosenfeld raved that piece was “Complex and rich…With every direction from the audio guide, I felt layers of myself peel back to be shared … and the connection I felt was as potent as it would be had we been in my kitchen dancing together.”
Canuso’s idea has started making its way across the country via digital tour.
The intimate participatory performance is playing the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin through Feb. 24 and will move on to an engagement at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine from Feb. 25 through March 14. Some funding was provided through a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts National Dance Project, which supports touring.
“These were two places I had been in contact with about the installation coming to their city,” Canuso said. “In Sheboygan, they are still planning to bring the live installation so this online version was a good way of introducing the idea to the audience so they get to know us a little bit and know the concepts and have some familiarity with the project.”
Canuso plans to bring the project back to Philadelphia in September, and interested participants can learn more about the show and ticket information on Canuso’s website at nicholecanusodance.org.