The way our bodies move through space is based on our will and genetic make-up, but our movements are also largely defined by the interactions we have with the physical shapes of the external world. Our daily interactions and movements influence our emotional and spiritual journeys, and our movements change as we age.
ONA is a meditation on the meaning of form, architecture, and the feminine – with the body as a focal point of cosmic awareness. There’s infinite correlation as we examine architecture from the micro to the macro and back.
Our bodies speak our interior architecture to the outside world. Our voice is shaped by our architecture and carries our tune. There’s an architecture to the female lifetime/timeline as our biology shapes the phases of our lives. Can bringing awareness to the feminine experience become a tool for reimagining and reshaping our world? What would our cities look, sound and feel like with women influencing the nature and structure of at least half of our external environments? How would we move through these spaces?
STRUCTURE: architecture of a woman’s life in five movements
INSPIRATION: architecture and fragments of the female form in life’s various phases, the way we move through life, the relationship between the biological body, the external environment, and our emotions and spirit
DELIVERY: female body and voice, sinewaves, LED light
PERFORMERS: Agnes Szelag and Amy Lewis
SITE: Grace Cathedral, SF
ONA at Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral presented a huge challenge, but also a unique opportunity. How do we perform a one dancer piece in that vast huge space without it getting lost? After scouting the location several times, we decided the labyrinth was perfect, adding several layers of meaning and spirituality to the piece. Labyrinths have played a big part in my adult spiritual life. It also helped that the person that got that particular labyrinth installed in Grace Cathedral was a woman and wrote Walking a Sacred Path – Lauren Artress. This book deeply inspired some of the feeling of the piece. The lights were designed and set up according to the Labyrinth, the audience would sit around the Labyrinth and the sound system would send the vibrations through the vastness of the space.
Working on light design with The Norman Conquest
Norman and I discussed how the lights could work and we brainstormed fabrication of the casings. He worked on the electronic components, building the LED lights themselves, and making them triggerable by DC. There were many phases, as we tried different kinds of white and bioluminescent LEDs.
I worked on finding the appropriate materials to house the LED lights but also keep them in the right place and right angle on the floor. I knew I wanted the lights to only light a portion of the dancer’s body and from below. The Cathedral is 174 feet (53 m), so there was absolutely no way to create the look I wanted to from above, but additionally it presented an incredible opportunity for some insanely huge shadows on the ceiling. The lights also needed to be installed over a very large space, with much consideration for how to run the wires since the dancer would be mostly in the dark.
Working with Amy on visual presentation
The piece is presented in 5 movements and the initial “score” I came up with for the piece is below, and we worked from there. It’s pretty amazing how close to the original vision the piece was. Of course as you’re working with someone and your own music, things start to shift and settle organically. Inevitably the piece started to shift away from being about the phases of a woman’s life, and drifted towards themes of spirituality. The main places for intense choreography were movement 2 and 4 so we worked on those first. We discussed what we wanted and then Amy would go work herself on coming up with some seed movements, and then she would show me, and I would edit them. For movement 4, she had to tie it all together and move around the space quite a bit so we did lots of measuring and working towards and around where the lights would be. When we rehearsed we had to map out the space we were rehearsing in to represent what we would encounter at Grace. Grace was bigger than our rehearsal space.
I wanted as much emphasis on the female form with as little distractions as possible. I decided on a nude body suit so that it wouldn’t reflect the purple light and would connect with amy’s form as much as possible. Eventually I had find some bioluminescent powders to that we could activate the purple side lights.
We worked on this piece rehearsing for months and months, while I worked on the bed of music at home, Amy would practice the movements and add new choreography by herself and Norman created the lights, trigger hubs,, and jacks to connect to XLR cables. Occasionally we would rehearse at the labyrinth outside of Grace, not knowing it was a mirror image instead of the same thing!
WORDS: Rising, burbling, cells splitting and multiplying, beginnings, infancy, purity, focus
MUSIC: Sine arpeggios with lots of texture falling and rising with with sparing high vocal harmonies.
BODY: hints of form and light, close the ground, center, slow to medium pace, laying on the ground, focus on hands
LIGHTS: attached to hands white
TIME: 2-3 min
TRANSITION: Arpeggios break down, vocals exposed, then Mvmnt 2 chords start
WORDS: searching, discovering, trying, masks, identity, finding your voice, transition, change
MUSIC: stabby, interspersed chords, vocal syncopation leading to layers of layered vocal texture created by rhythm
BODY: land in positions representing teenage or prepubescent female form, not sure what is in between, a pattern appears as positions and movement evolve
LIGHTS: 5-9 positioned upwards, the dancer appears in the light in a pose. White or red? come on and off?
TIME: 6-8 min
TRANSITION: rhythm textures and vocal long tones appear, then pause, silence
WORDS: darkness, disappointment, surrealism, nihilism, over-intellectualizing, heartbreak, manic depressive, being high, inner exploration
MUSIC: a harmonic cycle with heavy bassline and the voice creating beating with the sine waves, constant presence
BODY: The mind, opt.2 same positions as mvmnt 2 but with focus on the in between with glow in the dark strips
LIGHTS: darkness? or blacklight/ultraviolet LEDs
TRANSITION: one of the sine notes holds over
TIME: 4 min
WORDS: animal, sex, birth, fullness, connected, channel, cosmic, life in it’s fullest
MUSIC: Layers of sine waves, shruti, vocals sustained, hints of melodies appear, full spectrum
BODY: swirling, opening, turning, moving towards zenith, freedom, flying
LIGHTS: same position from movement 2 and that’s where we do the reach for the sky, the lights need to tilt down to be diagonal and face inwards. possibly now we have colors or it changes to red or white
TIME: 6-8 min
TRANSITION: layers go away to expose bassline, then bassline becomes sporadic
WORDS: content, complete, wise, rediscovering purity and playfullness, giving, aware, still
MUSIC: sine bassline that sustains but goes away to create low tail, singular vocal melody that travels, words
BODY: walk out of labyrinth into grace and pews, explore
LIGHTS: carry a single candle.
TIME: 3-5 min
Ends with voice traveling through the space and dancer disappearing