"Speaking Volumes" - ODC/Dance + Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz - Sept. 2014

As I was creating this new website, I reached out to Bay Area photographer Andrew Weeks, who regularly captures ODC/Dance performances and subsequently, my production and costume work for them. He was kind enough to provide me with his gorgeous photos of a spectacular event I worked on in 2014, and I decided to feature them, and my memories of the project, here.

Two years ago, ODC/Dance created a site-specific performance installation for the September opening of Ai Weiwei @Large on Alcatraz

I oversaw the creation of a large skirt for soloist Yayoi Kambara, who would be dancing outdoors, on top of a huge concrete plinth. The skirt needed to fall from her waist all the way to the ground. The solution was to purchase a parachute and modify it.

I translated quotes from Ai Weiwei's book Weiwei-isms into different languages and printed large scale versions of them. With a team of helpers, and many, many fabric paint markers, we copied the quotes onto the parachute skirt. This took close to 10 or 15 hours, if my memory serves, as the surface area of the skirt was so large. But the end result was phenomenal, and still one of my favorite projects. During the performance, we even drenched it in fake blood for a dramatic finale!

In addition to the skirt, a large chorus of teen and adult dancers needed individual costumes, and we had to make several visits to Alcatraz in the weeks leading up to the event. The collaborative effort between the National Park Service, the For-Site Foundation, and ODC, required careful planning and in no way could we alter or affect the historic site. We even had to take care not to disturb the sea gulls! On my end, I'll never forget organizing all the props, costumes, ladders, flashlights, first aid kits, etc. in ODC's largest studio...

...then packing it all on a ferry at 5 AM the day of the opening!

What I remember the most about the event includes losing track of how many hours I had been awake, and feeling sea sick at the top of the event! And the strange, eerie feeling of being on Alcatraz at night, and hearing the sounds of the event echo around me but seeing no one in the long prison halls.

And then at the end of the night, coming down the hill, guiding a huge birdcage on wheels to the ferry landing and seeing Yayoi, like a golden sentinel against the backdrop of the San Francisco night skyline, swaying in the billowing, blood-stained parachute skirt.

One of the quotes I painted on that skirt is now one of my favorites by Ai Weiwei, and it has stuck with me. He said, "The world is a sphere, there is no East or West." 

And somehow, that simple statement captures what I love about production work - the basic details that cannot be overlooked, and the power of the expressive human spirit that we support.

Photos by ANDREW WEEKS