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One-off performances highlight Sullivant Hall’s reopening after $31.5 million renovation

After more than three years of renovations, Sullivant Hall officially reopened with performances that highlighted its architectural renovation, as well as life inside Ohio State’s dance culture.

“What started as a construction project to provide an appropriate new home for our neighbor, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library Museum, has resulted in a remarkable transformation of Sullivant Hall,” Mark Shanda, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, said.

Sullivant Hall — located at 1813 N. High St. — is now officially open for business, following a $31.5 million renovation that lasted more than three years, according to Richard Hall, associate executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The renovated building is now home to four different art departments: the Department of Dance, the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise, and the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy.

Likewise, Saturday’s grand opening was a collaborative operation between a number of departments.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Department of Dance had performances beginning at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., leading guests to 11 different spots around the building.

The piece — called “Sullivant’s Travels” — was a site-specific series of performances created and directed by award-winning choreographer Stephan Koplowitz to commemorate the reopening. Koplowitz collaborated with various staff members, technicians and choirs at OSU to bring the composite installment of Sullivant’s Travels and enliven the building.

Audience members had the freedom to travel through the building to experience the renovations first-hand and view the collection of performances in any order and number they wanted.

“People get to take the journey through the walls literally and experience it for what it is,” Koplowitz said before the performances. “Every piece you see somehow speaks to the architecture, or what might be happening in the building or studios, or the processes of teaching that might happen.”

The stage for the first piece, “Dance for the New (Old Building),” took place on the second-floor balcony overlooking High Street. As viewers made their way into the building, they hit the new rotunda and the stage for the second piece, “Rotunda Site and Sound.”

Koplowitz used the shape of the rotunda and its acoustics to collaborate with the University Chorale and Symphonic Choir. Ann Sofie Clemmensen, assistant director and rehearsal director of the show, said experiencing the rotunda from different vantage points showed off Sullivant Hall’s architecture and history.

“WatchingWatching,” the third episode, was choreographed by OSU distinguished professor Bebe Miller and featured an example of media strategy used in teaching and learning dance. Miller first recorded herself dancing and presented a video to her dancers, who then recreate what it is like to learn choreography.

“The dancers — a quartet of four women — spend the whole piece watching what’s happening on the video and copying it, and (the audience) gets to watch the watching,” Miller said. “What’s interesting is it then becomes a performance piece, so it’s not merely a rehearsal. You can see process and product all at once.”

One of the more notable features in the collection was “The Past is Up,” which entailed performers using ropes and aerial movements.

“It’s a very physical piece. It highlights the height of the ceiling and the space,” Clemmensen said.

The show also included two interactive pieces for the audience to participate in. “Green: Room” let the audience experience the role of the performer. The “stage manager” assigned each member a role to play and corresponding props with that role. The “assistant stage manager” then led each “performer” to a dark room with a respective cubical. After each performer was situated, they experienced what the dancers do before each performance when they sit in a green room — things like last-minute costume changes and choreography changes. During the finale of this piece, the curtains opened, the lights came on and each “performer” was greeted by the viewer who was ready to watch the show.

“Learn, Capture, Repeat” allowed the audience to experience dance with multimedia rather than stage performance. Dancers taught individual members a four-count movement which was then performed in front of a camera. Every recording was organized through an algorithm program and broadcasted in a theater room. At the theater, the audiences could view their own filmed performance coupled with stop motion and loops and even see their show layered with other performances from members of the audience.

In “Re: Phrase,” the viewer glimpsed the dance world from the studio perspective. Instead of audience interaction, this piece featured dancers in a rehearsal setting as it included a little acting on the part of the dancers. The physical movements and verbal interaction depicted how dancers help each other grow and improve daily.

The finale, “Horizon Time,” featured the dancers floor of the Barnett Theater, as well as on top of the lighting grid on the ceiling. The audience viewed the piece from the back of the theater as well as under the grid.

“I’m trying to turn things around a little bit and let the audience see things a new way,” Koplowitz said.

The audience entered the black box theater from the back and exited through the front lobby.

“At the end of this piece, (the dancers) are sort of creating a line. It comes from the past, which is like Columbus and beyond, to High Street, to the first part of the original building and into a futuristic building,” Clemmensen said.

Koplowitz said site-specific dances, such as “Sullivant’s Travels,” help people understand dance more.

“The powerful thing about (site-specific dance) is that it brings something about dance that not a lot of people can relate to but allows people to see it as something part of daily life and not something done in dance studios or black box theaters only,” he said.

Clemmensen said Sullivant’s Travels was an interesting experience for the dancers, who learned about site performance as well as their own building through someone else’s eyes.

Getting away from a traditional stage also makes people more in-tune with their environment, Koplowitz said.

“There are fantastic things about a proscenium stage,” Koplowitz said, “But being able to change people’s perspective on the setting, (the audience) may never see (Sullivant Hall) the same way again.”

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