Yesterday around lunch time, four women stood at the intersection of 14th Street and First Avenue, scanning the crowd and timidly making eye contact with the occasional passerby. Their white t-shirts read: “Slow dance with me.”
“It’s very awkward,” said Katya Grokhovsky with a smile. She’s the creator of Slow Dance, a performance that’s part of the Art in Odd Places festival. For four days, her team will occupy various locations along 14th Street, inviting the audience to slow dance and documenting people’s reactions on camera.
Grokhovsky, who was born in Ukraine and moved to Melbourne, Australia, at 15, developed the idea for Slow Dance while studying for an MFA at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. The first sessions were a way to defeat loneliness and break into the community of fellow art students — “a way to connect with people,” she said.
The concept drew on Grokhovsky’s own Ukrainian heritage and childhood memories of her parents slow dancing at parties, and has continued to evolve. For this performance she decided to step back from center stage and direct the action. She held an open call and selected a group of 7 performers to join her in what she defines as a “research performance.” With her work, Grokhovsky seeks to elicit the reaction of the audience by taking them out of their comfort zone, exploring issues of urban alienation and investigating the ways in which environment conditions human behavior.
She has brought Slow Dance to the street only once before, during the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival 2013. “The street is the edge of my practice,” she said. “There is so much to learn from letting people into the performance space.”
Rachel Jochem, who has flown all the way from Colorado to participate in the performance, agrees. “Sometimes people just spill out their own life to you,” she remarked. A young man told her all about his recent break-up, while a woman spoke about her battle with cancer – all within moments of beginning to dance.
Not everyone is so responsive, however. Most ignore the invitations extended to them entirely; others shake their heads and make up excuses. “I don’t dance and it’s too late for me to learn,” one man said yesterday. Two extremely enthusiastic teenagers giggled and took pictures. “I don’t know what the hell is going on in here,” a woman proclaimed as she walked by.
Grokhovsky encourages awkward interactions during her performances. Unlike her previous Slow Dance sessions, those at Art in Odd Places feature no musical accompaniment. She eliminated a pink bunny costume, part of an earlier version of the performance, in order to make the experience “a little more threatening.” Rejection, embarrassing moments and indifference are part of the game.
“I want to see what people take from this,” she said.