Section: Arts

Visiting interpretive dancer lets his audience run the show

Simon Thomas-Train does not like the separation between performer and audience. His dance performance “Come/hone” was held in Gund Gallery on Thursday, April 4, and focused on both Thomas-Train as the performer and the audience as active viewers. The performer’s interactions with the spectators displayed his life experiences and worldview.

There was no clear stage where Thomas-Train danced. The audience was engaged in the interactive performance. The museum setting created a closed environment that affected what the audience was allowed to see and what remained hidden. At one point, Thomas-Train sent his spectators into a different room of the Gallery where they could not see him, saying, “I need you to leave. You’re not supposed to see the bride before the wedding.” The audience waited in the other room, quietly speaking amongst themselves until he rang a bell to summon them back. Standing in the center of the room, Thomas-Train had changed out of his white T-shirt and gray pants into a translucent pair of painting coveralls marked with the gold paint from his hands. He referred to this costume as “flimsy armor,” putting as few layers between himself and the audience as possible.

The spontaneity that guided Thomas-Train’s performance was guided by the questions he asked the audience, requesting they choose between one thing or another. For example, he held up a picture of a circle and asked “bullet hole or wedding ring?” These questions set the stage for the lack of a singular focus in his dance. His movements were governed by the idea of finding balance, shifting his weight as if there was a pull in one direction or the other, at one point stumbling forward into the arms of an audience member and holding them.

A large part of the performance experimented with relinquishing control. The audience’s response to Thomas-Train’s actions dictated the direction of the performance. For example, first he pulled an audience member into the dance and then asked her his questions, but he gave her some control over the flow of the movement. He then approached members of the audience, allowing them to dictate parts of the performance.

The flowery description he used for his home and the people that used to be in his life paired well with the fluidity of his movements. The choice to use speech in the performance was unexpected because it tested the boundaries of what could be considered dance. At one point, when Thomas-Train questioned an audience member, they asked him questions in return, changing the course of the dance. Thomas-Train’s presence, however, was almost overbearing. As he asked his questions, he stood uncomfortably close to people, his body language indicating that he expected them to answer.

The performance ended with the ringing of a bell that Thomas-Train’s mother used to call him “in from the woods” when he was a child. It was an ending which fit with the disconnected nature of the dance and closed it with a sense of finality.

Thomas-Train’s fragmented ideas challenging the duality between the performer and the audience made his act uniquely eccentric. The performance was planned to a certain extent, but included improvisation based on the audience’s reaction. His sporadic movements gave the performance an abrupt tone.

Abstract and unfamiliar, Thomas-Train’s movement revealed the absurd in the so-called ordinary, using the space and the audience to build a narrative.

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