Cooped-Up is a dance created and performed under the rare and specific circumstances of the shelter in place order declared during the COVID-19 pandemic. The brainchild of LanDforms Dance directors Leah Crosby and Danielle Doell, Cooped-Up brings audience members out of their homes and into their cars to experience a handful of short performance pieces staged at performers’ homes all over the city. Each work is experienced from inside your vehicle and lasts between 5-7 minutes. A soundtrack made up of both original and popular music, ambient noise and narration accompanies the entire 90 minute journey, which takes viewers from Seattle’s North end to Beacon Hill.
It’s a highly choreographed expedition that requires the strict following of rules regarding when to arrive, how to engage with the soundtrack and where to park one’s vehicle. Still, there’s a curious and spontaneous nature to Cooped-Up that comes directly out of the time and social situation from which it was born. Each piece thematically coincides with some element of the quarantine experience: loneliness, isolation, restriction, the struggle to maintain daily routines, the boundary between inside and outside, connection through devices, and the intense desire for human contact.
In one piece performer Sophia Arnall, dressed head to toe in shades of purple, begins sitting near the sidewalk, on the edges of a large, grassy yard. Against a grey shed to her right leans the headless, toned mannequin of a male figure. As we drive up and park in front of her, she stands to face the life size, motionless doll before falling face first into its chest in desperation. Her supple touch awkwardly finds its way around the doll’s unyielding body. Over time, she learns new ways to interact with it, eventually picking it up and hoisting it over her shoulder before holding it in her arms and spinning round and round in the grass as the sun hovers sleepily behind her. Her desperation from the beginning seems to adapt into a sort of calm acceptance of her partner’s shortcomings. Sure, it’s not made of flesh, but these days, it will have to do.
The performers have devised creative ways to present their work within the confines of their homes, while staying visible to the audience on the street. Dancer Maia Veague goes through an elaborate workout routine from a picture window that looks out right onto the sidewalk, as Madonna’s “Hung Up” plays from the soundtrack. She jumps and kicks, punches and side steps, dressed head to toe in neon pink. Her mood vacillates from motivated and inspired to suddenly downtrodden, as she pauses for sips of water and tries to stay on the beat.
Other performers manage to flirt with the threshold of their houses while maintaining all due safety precautions. Kara Beadle and Andy Zacek perform their work in a glass-doored mud room at the front of their home. Their space becomes an important partner in their dance as they open and close the doors, smash their faces against the glass and stand atop what look like benches on either side of the room before falling forward to switch sides. At one point, Zacek juts his lower body out of a side window, his head disappearing from view as his white-shoed feet and bright red pants poke out from behind a bush. As they clamber up and down the steps and in and out of windows and doors, they hold us in this tight liminal space, as they, like us, look for any possible pores that may connect them with the outside.
There’s a lot about Cooped-Up that makes one feel like a kid again. The act of watching a performance from inside a car evokes summer nights at the drive-in movie theater, while the GoogleMaps route provided beforehand gives the performance the feel of a treasure hunt: the instructions specify where to go and how to get there, but what exactly you’re looking for remains a mystery until you arrive. The ingenuity within the limits of household items and architecture also recalls puppet shows and dance routines organized with friends to pass the time on rainy days.
Cooped-Up is a testament to the power of creativity even in uncertain times. Crosby and Doell have created a dance adventure that opens the possibilities of where and how we expect to access performance and that innovative solutions can come out of restriction and limitation.
Find out more about LanDforms here.