On Thursday, September 27, Elastic City hosted Off Center, a walk through Lincoln Center by choreographer Adam Weinert, who questioned the effects of the privatization of public space. This walk, organized by Elastic City director Todd Shalom, started at Dante Park, where Weinert gave a brief history of Lincoln Center to the nine participants. We then proceeded to the first stop: The David H. Koch Theater. At Weinert’s request, we each discussed our personal connections to Lincoln Center. He also questioned the way in which the name change of the Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater) might affect one’s relationship with the Theater. Some participants voiced a slight disconnect to the Theater as a result of the change. To be honest, I hadn’t given this much thought before the walk. But I agree with a point Weinert made: The New York State Theater has a kind of universality, an “everyone-is-invited” ring that the private name lacks. Next, we performed the first exercise: touching the fountain while closing our eyes. For me, it was an experience of public space on a personal level.
Before continuing, Weinert posed the question, “Which public does this serve?” We turned left behind the Koch Theater and onto 62nd Street, headed north on Amsterdam, and walked behind the New York Public Library, through the parking garage, subway, and eventually up through the escalator and back to the courtyard with the fountain. We made this loop twice. Weinert’s question was particularly relevant that evening, where, as walk participants noted, the courtyard teemed with theater patrons in formal wear. This made the space more private for me, as if I were encroaching on a stranger’s party. Although the courtyard seemed to belong to that evening’s audience, I knew the space to be””by definition””public.
That first turn behind the Koch Theater heightened my awareness of the spectacle that can be Lincoln Center itself. As soon as I saw crew members and a sign for Public Parking, I felt as if I were doing exactly what Weinert cited of the Center’s history: “looking up the skirts,” seeing the underside. Neither better nor worse, this latter view is just more concealed.
The final stop was the seating area outside the NYPL for the Performing Arts, where Weinert guided us in movement exercises. First, we formed a circle and performed movements meant to engage with one’s body: touching as much surface area as possible, rolling and circling the arms and shoulders.
Next came a partnered exercise. We grasped arms with a partner while keeping our eyes closed. Moving away from one’s partner and reconnecting in the original arm grasp required an intuitive awareness of the partner. As Weinert directed, each movement was meant to become bigger and increase the pathway that one took back to the partner.
While two couples practiced, I noticed a man who stopped to watch, even instructing his daughter to do the same by pointing at us. The occurrence of movement in public space lends a degree of credibility to that activity. It becomes “spectacle,” whether or not it was initially intended as such. We were simply moving through space in a guided exercise, but the very fact that it was happening in a public place changed the nature and perception of the activity. This is not a judgment. It is the inadvertent effect of public space on activity.
On an individual level, the act of keeping the eyes closed made this exercise a private and personal experience in a public setting. I’m interested in this often-missing intersection of public and private. How often do we experience an intimate moment in the open air of a city? It was cathartic. We continued the partnered activity with “interventions” by Weinert, who led each of us””eyes still closed””to new partners. He led each of us to a unifying tree, the final meeting point where the evening’s walk came to an end.
All photos courtesy of Nick Robles.