Mirror, mirror, on the wall

Luciana Achugar pulls the audience into her private world-the dance studio.

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FLOOR IT Clark, foreground, and Kjos go splat.

FLOOR IT Clark, foreground, and Kjos go splat. Photograph: Mancc

For her new work, The Sublime Is Us, Luciana Achugar had an eye on Dance Theater Workshop—but rather than its main theater, she was drawn to the third-floor studio space. “At first, I wasn’t thinking of performing there—I was mainly thinking of using mirrors,” she says over brunch in Williamsburg. “That’s where my idea came from, and in rehearsal I realized, Why build a set when what I’m actually doing and what my work has been about is the working process? I should just bring the people to the dance studio.”

In the intimate production, to be performed over the next two weeks and allowing only 30 audience members at a time, Achugar uses the mirror as a tool. “I wouldn’t say specifically that the piece is about that, but it’s a big protagonist,” she says. Though Achugar, 38, is reluctant to divulge the particulars of audience placement—in this instance, it’s best to save the surprise for showtime—she acknowledges being fascinated by the relationship between form and content.

“Form reveals itself visually,” she says. “I do look at myself in the mirror when I make work. I’ve always done that, and I know that in contemporary dance, a lot of people don’t. I’m always keeping the eyes of the audience in my mind so when I look in the mirror I can kind of pretend that I’m looking at them. I’m interested in that relationship; it’s not that I’m dancing and people happen to be watching, but that it’s about that gaze. I’m obsessed with that.”

She uses the act of feeling and looking—the sensation of doing something and the image it produces—throughout The Sublime Is Us, in which she dances along with Hilary Clark, Jennifer Kjos, Melanie Maar and Beatrice Wong (the alias of Jmy Leary, who also designs the costumes under the name of Icon). With her new work, Achugar is moving away from the idealist themes she explored in dances like Exhausting Love at Danspace Project and Franny and Zooey, in which the focus was the group as a collective. Now, things are different, and it’s not just because she is four-and-a-half months pregnant (the father is her boyfriend, choreographer and dancer Chase Granoff). Achugar is figuring out how to be a director.

“For one thing, it just happened naturally that I use a lot of symmetry in this piece,” she says. “It’s four dancers and myself, so a lot of what I designed in symmetry I’m not in because I had to be outside in order to design them. It’s not like I’m obviously directing everyone—it’s more subtle, but I am in the piece somewhat as the choreographer. In some ways, I feel like I’m drawing myself out. I am very much a hippie, and I like the utopian idea of us deciding everything together, but I do have a very specific vision. I do like what I want, and I’ve allowed that part of me to come out more.” She laughs. “To make your vision your own, you have to direct. I’ve had to work really hard at that in this piece. I like to be nice and I’m not your typical person where the dancers leave crying—even though I have made the dancers cry. You can’t help it.”

The score by composer and visual artist Michael Mahalchick is a combination of electronic music and instrumentation. “It has that kind of krautrocky, psychedelic feel,” he explains. “It’s going to be a pretty psychedelic soundscape for this show, which is really fun for me. But with the mirror being such a huge part of the show, that seems appropriate.”

In The Sublime Is Us, Achugar draws upon her dancers’ individuality—more than usual, she suspects—with sensual movement in curves and spirals that captures the feeling of unraveling. Yet she also focuses as much on the experiential nature of dance. She remains intrigued by the notion of the double or, as she puts it, the dichotomy of dance serving as both a visual art form and an experiential one.

“Not that I want to make a statement that one is more important than the other,” she says. “But I feel like I’m dealing with that, and asking myself that question I do think I have a reaction against people who only see dance as a visual thing, like you’re watching TV or something. I also feel like I want to be responsible for the fact that it is a visual tool. I’m still in search of finding the meeting of the two. Not that you’re going to be like Martha Graham, because it’s a different time now, but I am interested in dance and movement for a reason, and I’m still looking.”

The Sublime Is Us is at Dance Theater Workshop through Nov 1.

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