Company presents ‘SHOW,’ a take on modern dance, visual art

"SHOW" is a mixed-media project, comprised of dance, live sound mixing, visual art installations, complex lighting design, videography and photography. It will be presented at The Fruit in Durham July 11-15.Alex Maness

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t get experimental modern dance, you’re not alone.

“There’s sort of a PR problem we have with modern dance,” says Justin Tornow. “People are a little like, ‘I don’t know what I’m getting into!’”

Tornow is one of the minds behind “SHOW,” a new multimedia project by a group of Durham creatives that includes Tornow’s dance company, COMPANY, which was founded in 2013. Visual artist Heather Gordon and filmmaker Alex Maness and lighting designer Chris Fleming round out the set of collaborators.

For five nights, “SHOW” will take over the The Fruit in Durham, a warehouse that once housed industrial coolers for produce, and now serves as a space for modern art.

“SHOW” is truly a mixed-media project, comprised of dance, live sound mixing, visual art installations, complex lighting design, videography and photography. The parts are all tied together by a thematic thread.

“The prompt we’re all working under is the idea of absence and presence,” Tornow said. “There’s a lot of layers of ‘When are we present, when are we absent?’ Is it by agency and choice, or is it not?”

How those themes are conveyed will be subtle. For example, dancers — a different group each night — won’t dance on a traditional stage. Instead, the audience is almost part of the cast with the interactions varying from night to night. They’ll view the performance from all sides. Three sides will have seating, but from those three sides, the dancers will be somewhat obscured by a gauzy screen. The fourth side will be open and easily visible, but without seating.

“I keep things wide open for a reason,” Tornow said. “Not to be vague and mysterious, but to invite people to participate as an audience member. I don’t want to lead anyone into thinking that there’s a right answer in my mind.”

COMPANY has presented five full-length works since it was founded. “SHOW” is being developed as a framework for future performances so it can be restaged in different venues by different collaborators.

“We’re honing in on what we’ve been trying to accomplish since beginning our work together — a version 2.0 for our way of making highly collaborative, rule-based work,” Gordon said in a news release. “We are providing an idea, a framework, a seed in the hopes creating a laboratory for other groups of artists to experiment in. It’s a way to set-up collaborations without hindering personal interests and exploration, where all the inquiries strengthen the conceptual whole.”

However, if the meaning behind artistic decisions aren’t immediately apparent, Tornow wants the audience to know that’s OK.

“I just want to have a meet-up to talk to people about how they don’t have to get it,” Tornow said. “I just want them to come and see, and feel like they have enough agency to do that and participate. See what you see, I’m not trying to tell you anything. Just enjoy. There’s no answer; there’s nothing to decode.”

“Show,” a mixed-media exhibit by COMPANY

When: July 11 through July 15 at 8 p.m.
Where: The Fruit in Durham, 305 S. Dillard St., Durham
Tickets: $15 at or at the door. The July 12 show will be by donation at the door.


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