Imagine hiking through Hoyt Arboretum, the 189-acre wilderness park located inside the city of Portland, and stumbling upon a contemporary dance performance. That could happen this August when dancers from the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest undertake one of Carla Mann’s latest creations. Mann is a choreographer who knows how to invent a dance oriented to a specific site, and she is ready to explore the grounds of the Arboretum to get a little inspiration.
“I might roll around on the grass and lean against the trees,” speculates Mann. “That is really important in site work. You want to know what the site is about and how you feel in that space.”
The Hoyt Arboretum is just one of several spaces where Mann’s work will take place. As the associate artistic director of the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre/Northwest, both she and Duckler are planning a number of site-specific dances. They will be informed by the concepts, history, geography, topology and cultural associations of each selected site.
Mann is also creating choreography for an installation that features the sculpture of Dana Lynn Louis. Mann and Louis are working with the idea of an ongoing performance within the installation space that engages community members in the creative process.
“We are thinking of it as a three-dimensional diary,” explains Mann, “a safe space to disclose how one views oneself in the world. The performers and the viewers are invited to consider aspects of experience that might not typically be part of public conversations. We’ll also work with text and video as a kind of notation, an evocative record of what one experienced inside the installation.”
Mann took her first dance class when she was a student at Reed College where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music. She earned her master’s degree in dance and movement from Wesleyan University and returned to Reed where she teaches on the faculty.
This fall, Mann will start a year-long sabbatical, and she plans to study the work of the Offsite Dance Project, a choreographers’ collective in Tokyo. She also will look at the work of Anouk van Dijk, who is the artistic director of Chunky Move, an Australian dance company that does a lot of site-specific work.
“In site work, the connection between the performers and the viewers is wonderful,” says Mann. “When people are watching dancers, there’s a kind of kinesthetic empathy that takes place. Even though I’m watching instead of doing, I have a sense for how the movement feels in my own body, and particular sites can heighten that empathy between viewers and performers.”