New Mass Dance
Begins Broadway Plaza at 44th Street, concludes on Duffy Square
“I am interested in the extreme polarity between the soft, live, fragile flesh of bodies and the great spectacle of economic power and wealth that Times Square seems to represent.”
- luciana achugar
luciana achugar works to empower and give a voice to the body, the instinctual, the feminine, the animal, and the uncivilized within each of us, subverting the deeply socially ingrained notion that these are of lesser value. Within her work lies the fantasy of erasing hierarchical power structures, making room for a more empathetic, compassionate, and loving way of being in the world — a “post-civilized-decolonized” self. Her pieces go from subtle indulgence to exuberance and ecstasy as the performers begin to interact, come together, and eventually merge in cathartic moments as the whole “stage” becomes a safe and liberated space with the potential for audience participation.
New Mass Dance is a performance for 6 dancers that takes both inspiration and its name from Mass Dance, a choreographic and pedagogical form taught at the New Dance Group, a pioneering agitprop dance school and presenting organization founded in the 1930s and based for almost forty years on West 47th Street in Times Square. New Dance Group sought to combine radical left-wing politics with modern dance by creating work about and in response to sociopolitical issues of the time.
Inspired by these Mass Dance improvisations, some of which satirized the unsafe working conditions of the early 20th century by showing how assembly-line work could easily become an insurrection, achugar proposes a new way forward in New Mass Dance. Using the untapped potential of bodies moving in public space as her guiding principle, she extends a communal invitation to transform the resistance movement from riotous demonstration to a procession of ritual healing and celebration through dance.
“I want to draw a parallel between the 1930s and the present day. Both are times of economic and social hardship — of strikes, racial prejudice, and the rise of fascism — that have produced a newfound understanding of the body as a crucible of experience and as an expressive instrument. Resistance to the choreography of the Fordist assembly lines, in which workers’ movements were ‘choreographed’ in precise time measurements to maintain rigorous levels of productivity, gave rise to the ‘choreography’ of workers uniting in labor movements — an emotionally charged proletarian body in motion.”
- luciana achugar
New Mass Dance transforms the labor of the dancer from spectacle into ritual, resisting western assumptions of beauty and hierarchical order and freeing the dancers to unearth their powerful, magical and primal selves within. The performers begin their transformation from regular bodies into post-civilized, decolonized, utopian bodies by mingling with pedestrians in the street, before the performance begins. By the time the audience arrives, the performers will have created a subtle shift in the public space. The charge in the atmosphere continues to build until the dancers lead the audience in a sidewalk procession towards 46th Street, evoking political demonstrations as well as natural forms of group travel, like schooling fish or flocking birds. As the procession reaches Duffy Square, the performance escalates to a celebratory, liberated state that invites the audience to share in a moment of communal dance.
New Mass Dance is presented as part of Danspace Project at Times Square, which will also include performances by Laurie Berg and Full Circle Souljahs (Kwikstep and Rokafella). Inspired by Times Square’s history as the home of Broadway musicals, vaudeville, dance halls, and vernacular dance forms that emerged throughout the 20th century, Times Square Arts and Danspace Project have commissioned these three new dance works that explore strategies for perception, amplification, and activism within the cacophonous landscape of Times Square.
Performers: luciana achugar, Oren Barnoy, Rachel Berman, Malcolm-x Betts, Michael Mahalchick, Rebecca Wender, Sarah White
luciana achugar (b. 1970, lives and works in New York City) is a two-time Bessie Award recipient and was additionally nominated for a 2016 Outstanding Production Bessie for her work An Epilogue for OTRO TEATRO: True Love. Other accolades include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Creative Capital Grant, Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council President’s Award, and the 2017 Alpert Award. In 2015, OTRO TEATRO was named “Best Touring Work” by Austin’s Critics Circle. She is currently a 2018–19 Brooklyn Arts Exchange Artist in Residency where she is developing her next work, Brujx, to be premiered in October 2018 at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
Photographs courtesy of Ian Douglas for Times Square Arts.