On Wednesday, April 13, in the open space of 29 Park Place’s first floor, students gathered around to watch an interdisciplinary performance featuring Honors Tutorial College students Zelda Thayer-Hansen and Ella Bathory-Peeler.
Thayer-Hansen is a freshman studio arts major and Bathory-Peeler is a freshman dance major. The two of them created their joint collaboration, Tensegrity Playground, as a way to explore the intersection between dance and movement with sculpture and 2D and 3D art.
The performance came about as their tutorial for the spring semester. A tutorial allows for personalized attention with a professor, typically done one-on-one or in a small group, that every student in the Honors Tutorial College must take once a semester. Tutorials vary depending on major, but their flexibility of it allows for students to think outside of what is usually done in a classroom.
Thayer-Hansen said the idea for working together with Bathory-Peeler came over winter break after wanting to learn one another’s medium. Both of them also wanted to see what they could do in a shared environment.
“We started brainstorming ideas of what we could do,” Thayer-Hansen said. “We were thinking about a performance idea from the start. We really wanted to focus on the process beforehand. And just learning how to create in the same space and bounce off of each other and get ideas from each other and learn different media.”
When the collaboration was coming to fruition, Bathory-Peeler said that picking a title was difficult because of the weight and importance that it holds. The idea of working with shape, structure, line and visual elements was already the main focus of the project, so Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler called Bathory-Peeler’s mother for ideas.
“She just typed the word tensegrity, and then she said ‘look it up.’ So we looked it up,” Bathory-Peeler said. “And we started learning about tensegrity, which is a scientific concept. It's all about structure and movement, and tension, and how imbalance and how all of those things interact. We started realizing that that was exactly what we had been exploring, we just didn't really know the word for it.”
Both Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler didn’t know whether or not to just leave the title as “Tensegrity” or add something else to it. They also had “Playing with Tensegrity” as an option before settling on “Tensegrity Playground” as it showcased the playful silliness of what they were going to be doing.
A large part of what Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler wanted out of Tensegrity Playground was engagement from the community and to show art in an explorative way. The event was advertised in dorm halls and public spaces with friends, students and faculty showing up to watch. People were asked to place random objects around the room and move freely throughout the performance in order to allow for community space and input.
The performance started off with a few words from Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler, the two of them explaining the background of the project and that they wanted everything to be interactive. There were three vignettes. Vignette I focused on 2D art-making and dance separately with Thayer-Hansen sketching a sculpture set up by audience members and Bathory-Peeler dancing and moving to whatever was happening at the moment.
Vignette II highlighted how one art form can interrupt another. While Thayer-Hansen tried to continue sketching up a new sculpture set up by more participants, Bathory-Peeler attempted to cause distraction by clipping carabiners attached to rope onto both of their vests. The costumes consisted of vests with fabric loops, a variety of different fabric textures and personalized details for both performers including dining hall tags, a tech deck toy and fake rubber cockroaches.
Vignette III showcased line and shape in connection to tension, movement and weight-shifting. As the most interactive vignette, Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler invited audience members to grab carabiners attached to resistance bands and clip themselves to either performer. The action would then create a web of multiple bands and people coming together as one.
Donnie Schiffbauer, a freshman studying meteorology, said that he was invited by Thayer-Hansen to the performance but wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I really had no idea what to expect, but I enjoyed it,” Schiffbauer said. “A lot more than I thought it would. Because I thought it was just gonna be some low key, just some random artsy thing that I really had no appreciation for, but it was fun to mess around with (Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler) while they were doing stuff. So I enjoyed it.”
With Tensegrity Playground, both Thayer-Hansen and Bathory-Peeler wish to continue on with it and grow in what they can achieve. They want to continue expanding on different vignettes and even work on an exhibit. However, they mainly wish to just continue making together.
“We're hoping to just continue making together and finding other ways to do that,” Thayer-Hansen said. “Just furthering the play or the connected aspect, and creating our art, and then just finding ways to mesh it even more where it's not just drawing and then dancing. Bringing that even more together for the future.”