Site specific dance works inevitably imply a certain amount of risk and require improvisation. The combination of the two can threaten to undermine a choreographic work. Ambra Senatore’s Promenade À Sully manages to navigate the chance of site specific work with quirky and refreshing ease. 

© Andrea Fernandez
© Andrea Fernandez

When the audience enters the courtyard, a black felt mat offers a seating area in the middle of the dusty paths, while other onlookers make a semi-circle row behind. Foot-high hedges arranged in squares complement the stone buildings covered in green ivy. Suddenly, heads, feet, and hands pop up from behind the bushes.

Eventually, five dancers emerge, clothed in shades of red and pink, with a combination of grey and blue jeans and black sneakers. They oscillate between decidedly pedestrian gestures and theatrical expression, throwing in a few balletic jumps and turns as they weave in and out of the hedges. Some of their movement traces the shapes of the garden, while other steps purposely interrupt the space.

The dance moves into the building facing the audience, and the dancers pass movements between the windows, picking up where the other left off. One holds a water bottle and talks to it as if it were a cell-phone, while another appears to be blown away by the wind. Their timing is perfectly engineered and effortlessly performed, leaving the audience breathless with magic-trick-like transformations behind the windows. Soft piano music accompanies sections of the movement, gliding underneath the dancers’ self-initiated rhythms and dynamics.

Behind the audience, another large stone building looms over the garden. A French voiceover begins to describe the architecture of Hotel de Sully, and the dancers push through the audience sitting on the black felt to turn the show around. From there, the audience follows the dancers through a comedic tour of the surroundings, which rests in part on audience participation. This shift propels the rest of the piece, which builds movement motifs out of the sights of Paris.

Blending leapfrog with technical jumps, the dancers bound over the cobblestone terrace and dusty gravel pathways of the garden with lightness and ease. They inject humor into their eyebrow lifts and drama into their exasperated head-shaking. While they dance, two birds fight in one of the trees, and one dancer gives the ruckus a distinct glare, evoking a few chuckles from the audience. This attention to spontaneity gives the show humor, while the well-rehearsed choreography grounds the piece in technical ability.

The architecturally based choreography resides mostly in the first half of the show, and this keeps every audience member fully engaged. As the choreography moves to direct audience interaction, onlookers begin to sit on the side benches and move away from the dancers. 

Promenade À Sully takes risks with site-specific work and audience interaction. The company's efforts pay off; the 45-minute piece feels far too short. But the French dialogue and parading around the gardens leave people in the dust, losing the opening playfulness in an attempt to further the comedic impact. Still, Promenade À Sully balances risk and improvisation with ease of movement, engaging audience members in an inventive site specific dance work.

***11