While the typical dance performance is viewed by a seated audience facing a stage, Columbus native James Graham decided to create his master’s thesis dance project in an atypical manner.
Graham’s project, “Separate Planes,” will be performed in the currently vacant Sullivant Hall Library, where he will use the space as a live museum for the audience to view the show as a self-guided tour.
Dance was not Graham’s first passion, as he was always interested in singing and acting.
“I began singing in middle school. From singing came acting, from acting came theater, and from theater came dancing,” Graham said.
As an undergrad at University of California Berkeley, Graham studied theater and earned his degree with a major in theater and a minor in dance.
Before moving back to the Buckeye state, Graham spent eight years studying dance with different artists in San Francisco and also in Tel Aviv, Israel. In San Francisco, Graham took many adult dance lessons to sharpen his skills, mostly in the modern dance form.
In Tel Aviv, Graham attended Batsheva Dance Company, which offered a two-week workshop that taught “gaga” dancing.
“Gaga allows you to internally imagine how you move. It helped yourself go deeper, even as a teacher,” Graham said.
After much training, Graham finds himself mostly enjoying modern dance. He also mentioned that, above all, he likes the way dancers travel through space. These particular movements are just what can be seen in his thesis project, which includes five dancers besides himself.
Graham is not performing in this project, but he is the choreographer, as well as the costume designer and video artist for the show.
“We are all trained in different ways,” Graham said. “Our bodies are trained in different ways, which makes any performance particularly special to see.”
Graham’s idea of performing in a library space may seem unusual to many, but he is actually very interested in site-specific shows. This means anything that is not on a stage. Originally Graham looked into doing his project in the old Pomerene Hall pool, but too many obstacles arose in planning and he was forced to look into a new space.
In terms of dancing versus choreographing, Graham enjoys both but cannot choose between the two.
“It is hard to be a dancer and also objectively see the outside eye at the same time,” Graham said. “They are just both so different. I like performing and the strength needed for it, but I also enjoy all aspects of choreographing.”
The five dancers in the show are: Erik Abbott, a master’s student in dance; Mair Culbreth, a doctorate student in dance; Katy Gilmore and Leigh Lotocki, fourth-years in dance; and Carson Moody, a fourth-year in music.
The dancers in the project will be performing simultaneously in different spaces as the show begins and will eventually find each other to perform together. Graham decided to make it so the audience has a choice of how they want to view the performance. Just like in a museum, the audience is able to move from one piece of art to another. The difference is that the art is actually in motion and constantly changing.
“If you are in your seat you only see one thing and may not be able to see something else. This way, you may not be seeing something at the time, but you can get up and move on to see the next thing. It is extremely interactive on both parts; the audience and the dancers,” Graham said.
Graham decided to choose modern dance as his medium because of his immense fascination in the art form. He has many reasons why he loves modern dance but especially enjoys it because of its beauty and the way it affects people.
“You can affect people in minds and heart in a way that you cannot do in conversation. It is also so abstract and makes you think about your lives in different ways… It gives you a view of the world and lets you see it in a different way,” Graham said.
Graham also mentions that modern dance reveals the humanity in each person. He believes he is able to see a side of a person that can only come out when dancing.
“You see humanity and it makes you watch more, want more and just be moved,” Graham said.
Graham hopes that “Separate Planes” will present this type of feeling for its audience. The show, which has original music by Anthony Vine, a music composition student, includes collaboration between those who are involved. This collaboration is one of the aspects that Graham appreciates in not only the production of this show, but within all performances.
The hall will also be adorned with decorations mimicking the old space, using lots of old library book pages in different forms of art, including paper airplanes and paper chains.
“Separate Planes” will be performed Feb. 25 through Feb. 27 at 8 p.m., as well as a matinee performance Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door for $10 for general admission and $5 for senior citizens, students and anyone with a valid BuckID.