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Dance, Religion, and Ritual Collide in an Abandoned Pool

Choreographer Danielle Russo's last performance of 'Salome, and the anatomy of invisible corners' takes place this Saturday at Governors Island's South Battery.

Historically, modern dance has struggled to breach its inner circles and engage a broader audience. This Saturday at 4:30 PM, in an abandoned pool void of electricity and running water and loaded with 10,000 pounds of soil at the Governors Island South Battery, choreographer Danielle Russo seeks to challenge that paradigm with the third and final free performance of Salome, and the anatomy of invisible corners (Salome). Made possible by The Trust for Governors Island as part of its OpenHouse series, Salome is a site-specific dance performance that takes place in the deep end of the abandoned swimming pool.


The audience watches from above, their legs dangling into the depths or, if they’re brave enough, from the shallow end of the pool for a closer view. As the two almost identical dancers, Jason Collins and Ingrid Kapteyn, struggle with one another across the dirt, the hot sun warms the crowd and concrete surrounding the pool. Passersby wander in, accepting the invitation to engage in this public act of intimacy: the conversation between dancers and audience. The wind picks up the dust and rustles the transparent white veils of the dancers—a site-specific spontaneity of the kind that Russo hoped for when choosing the location.


Photo by Nima Chaichi

“Whatever or wherever the performance space, my objective is to create a situation that puts both performer and witness in an authentic state of vulnerability and empathetic connection,” Russo tells The Creators Project. Through Salome, the choreographer is determined to allow for an overlap between the public and modern dance. “Dance and dance theater is cousin to traditional theater and, I believe, accessible to all demographics," she says. "It is exciting to be presented on such a public platform as that of Governors Island as it is making our work free and available to such a diverse and local community. Connecting, communicating honestly and wholeheartedly with a local audience—familiar and unfamiliar—gives the work and its creation purpose.”


Photo by Nima Chaichi

The themes of ritualism and submission are central to Salome and stemmed from Russo’s familiarity with Catholicism. Her great-grandmother had 17 children, the first letters of whose names spelled out the words JESUS, MARY, and JOSEPH, with a pair of twins sharing a letter. “I continue to be fascinated by the fact that [my great-grandmother] spent most of her adult life pregnant,” Russo says. “And, so I began to look deeper into the portraiture of Woman (in the Christian lineage) in various works of art and writing, and noticing a consistency of postures and gestures that, in a sense, revealed a particular body language.”


Photo by Whitney Browne


Photo by Whitney Browne


Photo by Nima Chaichi

Salome incorporates many variations of the “submissive body": from Classical and Renaissance depictions of rituals in death, prayer, and purification, to architectural and mathematical reflections of the Golden Ratio, to gendered ceremony, and finally to three interpretations of the character of Salome as a female archetype—the submissive, the sinful, and the second body. The performance provides a space that feels simultaneously eerie, urban, and abandoned yet inviting and open, allowing for a varied audience and a real-time engagement with the site.

“Intimacy—whether up close or at a distance—is at the center of the experience of the work,” Russo explains.


Photo by Nima Chaichi


Photo by Whitney Browne

Danielle Russo is also partnering with filmmaker, Luke Ohlson, to recreate Salome, and the anatomy of invisible corners as a documentary to be screened in abandoned pools and four-walled galleries resembling the shape of its original site. Check out the last performance of the show at Governors Island’s South Battery this Saturday, June 25th at 4:30pm. For more information, visit the Danielle Russo Performance Project website.


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