Souvenir is a mobile choreographic architecture used as a container for artistic research and dance performances of various formats (15 minutes-6 hours, duet/solo/group) in museums, galleries, and public spaces. The work was created during a Works in Progress Residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC, NYC) and the Princess Grace Foundation (PGF, USA). It has been presented at BAC (2013), Wanås Konst (SE) (Dance Me exhibition 2014 with a total of 167 public showings and performances), and adaptations of the work (Souvenir Undone) were created on Governor’s Island through a residency with Lower Manhattan Culture Council in St. Cornelius Chapel (2014), and in Fort Jay for the River to River Festival (2015).
Souvenir is a 5 by 8 meter mobile choreographic architecture designed and built in 2013 in collaboration with carpenter Gian Monti, and dancers Kenneth Bruun Carlson, Anna Pehrsson, and Luis Rodroguez. The concept stems from research into the effects of kinesthetic empathy in confined spaces and an interest in territoriality through the questioning of boundaries as defined by specific contexts. The initial design was based on the simple assumption that if you get closer to the dancing bodies you can sense the dance more readily. The audience experience will be, for lack of a better word, more real, amplified, catapulted into the empathic response to the vibration of the bodies moving in a confined space. Micro movements will read as voluminous. Subtle nuances will be easily accessed. The question “what did that mean?” will be subverted by vibration.
By focusing first on the effects of kinesthetic empathy through choreographic practice we aim to redirect the audience’s experience from the formal to the cellular. How does the audience perceive the texture of the space between their body and the dancing bodies? How can this experience apply to their experience of architecture and how does it change the way they perceive their surroundings after leaving Souvenir? Can wood become rubber? Can up become down?
The dancers ride a range of fluctuating qualities produced through a reciprocal transmission of the sensual between bodies and building materials, bodies and bodies, and bodies and light. They become the texture of the wood only to transform into liquid and back again in a split second. Fiction is suspended and their exploration is anatomical. Muscle memory lends itself to dreaming. Through the cracks in complex movement strategies the recognizable becomes evident only to be washed away again. The audience and performers acclimate to the space and each other. Inside of Souvenir we have our own sense of time, our own songs, and our own rhythm that cannot be unhinged from the audience’s presence. We focus on the dancers, we focus on each other - we understand the structure as a living, breathing organism through the pores in our skin.
Souvenir is used as both a frame and a boundary device in artistic research investigating the interplay of territory making and destroying across different levels of scale, from the individual (choreographer, dancer, and artisans) to the interpersonal (dancer to dancer) to the social (audience) and ecological (locale). We explore the possibilities of the structure as  an art object generated from a choreographic process,  a platform for continued investigation of choreography through dialogue and practice, and  the setting for performances of various lengths and formats. The project could be conceptualized as a sculptural intervention in which the audience is invited to experience the artwork behaviorally from the moment they choose to walk through the door, to the moment when they encounter the dancers in the confined space.
Concept/Choreography: Rachel Tess
Written and performed by: Anna Pehrsson, Kenneth Bruun Carlson, Luis Rodriguez, and Rachel Tess
Light: Michael Mazzola
Producer (North America): Ian Arnold Catalyst TCM
Producer (Sweden): Albin Hillervik
The work has been supported by Kulturrådet, Konstnärsnamden, Rumpus Room Dance (501c3 non-profit Portland, Oregon), Opsis Architecture, BAC, LMCC, and PGF/USA. It was developed during Tess’ research in the New Performative Practices MA at DOCH in Stockholm from 2011-2013.