Dancing with Themselves: Bridgman|Packer Dance Uses Technology to Bridge Real and Virtual Performance at Scripps 

Dance company Bridgman|Packer.

“I’m trying to think of the word,” says choreographer and longtime Scripps Lecturer in Dance Suchi Branfman. “I want to say ‘awe-inspiring,’ but even that doesn’t cut it, doesn’t get at the heart of it.” She ruminates for a few more moments, and then it strikes her: “Mind bending! The possibilities they present, the provocative direction they’re taking, it really is mind bending.”

Branfman is describing the dance productions of New York­­â€“based dance company Bridgman|Packer, led by artistic directors and married couple Art Bridgman and Myra Packer, who have visited Scripps on two occasions to hold workshops for Scripps dance majors and minors. Now, the company will return to Scripps for their Claremont premier of Truck, the critically celebrated multimedia work designed to be performed inside of a 17-foot truck. The integration of live performance and video technology, which The New Yorker has called “witty, sexy, and surreal,” will be on view at three show times on Thursday, October 4, outside of Garrison Theater on the Scripps College campus through the College’s signature event series, Scripps Presents.

The 2015 and 2018 student workshops with Bridgman|Packer focused on how to operate the video technology that makes their performances veer between “freaky and…beautiful,” according to The Boston Globe, and how to dance with videos—some previously recorded and others projected in real time.

Dance major Rachel Nayer ’18 attended both workshops. “We got to dance a duet with ourselves, or rather, a video projection of ourselves dancing,” she says. “But it was more than just dancing with a static image: there was an added dimension of how you spatially relate to your two-dimensional image and how that scale changes as you approach and distance from the projector.”

The Department of Dance regularly hosts guest artists and choreographers from around the world, ranging in clinics from avant-garde movement to Lindy hop to global folk dance. Branfman, who organized the workshops, saw many benefits to having Scripps students learn from Bridgman|Packer, most specifically in terms of the duo’s artistry and their niche within the dance world. “They are a duet company that’s been working for a long time, so the idea that they could model the idea of a deep collaboration is astonishing in and of itself,” explains Branfman. “They show what it means to move together and to partner—on every level—not to mention the work that they’re doing, which is very unusual and intriguing and engaging for students. It really expands the ways they can understand dance and technology.”

Now, having the chance to dance within virtual dreamscapes isn’t just for Scripps students. The Truck event will also feature a “video playground”: an interactive installation that allows participants to play with scale, the juxtaposition of shadow, and video imagery as live video cameras capture the movements of the participants and transform their images into designs that are projected onto nearby walls. The sense within the installation is of looking into a virtual mirror that blurs the bifurcation of the real and the imaginary.

In addition to the video playground, visitors will be able to further engage with art at the Pomona College Museum of Art, thanks to a partnership between Scripps Presents and the museum’s “Art After Hours” program, which allows visitors to visit the museum in the evening and enjoy a live DJ set by KSPC.

“Hosting artists like Art and Myrna who are innovating in the field of dance is exactly the kind of cutting-edge work we want to be able to offer both the Claremont Colleges and greater Inland Empire communities,” says Corrina Lesser, artistic director of Scripps Presents. “TRUCK offers the kind of contemporary choreography that inspires people to think about dance and technology in new ways. That our audience will also get a chance to experiment with this magic themselves in the ‘video playground’ is the kind of engagement that I hope we’ll be able to offer more as our series continues.”

As for Nayer, who studied dance in Israel for a year through opportunities presented by the Department of Dance and Scripps’ Study Abroad and Global Education (SAGE) program, she and other advanced modern dance students will be studying dance partnering in a third workshop with Bridgman and Packer in the week leading up to the Truck performance.

“The Department of Dance has been really good about bringing in people from different styles of dance to Scripps,” Nayer says. “Over my four years it has increased, and we are getting more and more people and styles represented.”