Photo sourced from “Whispers: a 2022 In-The-Works production” provided a unique show with its interaction between performers and the audience.

Artist creativity and audience participation came together for “Whispers: a 2022 In-The-Works production,” a student-directed dance show by Binghamton University’s theater department.

The show was directed and choreographed by René Neville, a second-year graduate student studying theatre, under the guidance of Andy Horowitz, an artist-in-residence in theatre. Performed in the Fine Arts Grand Corridor from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30, “Whispers: a 2022 In-The-Works production” explores the relationship between multimedia art and the audience’s experience.

The abstract and colorful paintings of Sylvia Rabeler Skok, assistant to the chair of art history, served as the basis for the show. Nine paintings were positioned in a wave-like pattern on the wall of the Fine Arts Grand Corridor, each labeled with a number and interspersed with written text and round wooden pieces.

Neville opened the event by describing her inspiration for the show. She said that, while an artist is creating a painting, their artwork feels alive. However, after its completion, the painting may be viewed as dead.

“How can a completed painting that is no longer alive live again?” Neville said. “The answer that I developed is this — when a completed painting serves as an inspiration force to elicit the creation of new movement and new music viewed by an audience, it allows the painting to live again. In effect, the painting ‘whispers’ its inspiration to new dance limbs and new music ears, to new audiences’ eyes.”

“Whispers” featured five dance performances, each inspired by one of Rabeler Skok’s paintings and prefaced with poetry. Neville worked closely with five dancers, made up of community members and BU students, to create poetry and dance for the paintings. Accompanying music was composed by Neva Derewetzky, a second-year graduate student studying music.

The choreography, words and music aimed to bring new life into the paintings.

“My interest in creating this dance project centers on exploring how a first-order cybernetic system, a completed painting, turns into a second-order cybernetic system — a response to that completed painting — through dance and music,” Neville said.

Derewetzky elaborated on her process of writing music for the show.

“I wanted each of the pieces to have a unique sound/style while still incorporating elements that are consistent throughout so the music sounds like it’s part of a series,” Derewetzky wrote in an email. “I based the themes for each of the pieces off of unique parts of the paintings being brushstrokes, a color palate or design.”

Rabeler Skok also discussed how her paintings “return” to life.

“When one of my paintings is shared through a collaborative, creative process, the whole of that process comes back to the painting,” Rabeler Skok said. “It relives in an alternate form … the painting becomes part of a whole of the creative process belonging to someone else.”

Audience participation was an integral part of the show. For the first interactive element, audience members scanned a QR code to generate a random number, which would determine the order of the numbered performances. For the next element, Post-it notes labeled “my choice” were attached inside the programs. Viewers were invited to place their notes below either the third or fourth painting.

In addition to the highly interactive element of the performance, the show featured calming poetry and fluid choreography. Nature-oriented imagery such as “the morning softly creeps in on silent feet / the circular movement of poppies in a green garden” prefaced dancing, backed with soothing atmospheric music.

Laura Ulrich, ’70, a community dancer, actor and narrator for the show, described her enjoyment working on the project despite unforeseen obstacles.

“I love doing work with [Neville] because she is so creative and she gets you to think about things in a different way, about some things that maybe you never even thought about,” Ulrich said. “It’s a great exploring and discovery process. As far as my personal dancing in this, obviously I was very upset when I broke my toe and could not continue to participate. That’s how I became the narrator. But my toe is healing, and so I was able to do the beginning piece and the ending piece, which wasn’t too strenuous.”

Neville discussed why she decided to collaborate with the dancers in choreographing the show.

“I didn’t want it to be a project where I just absolutely choreographed every dance step for them,” Neville said. “I feel that then they really didn’t have a voice to say what they like, a color that they’re attracted to, a shape that they’re attracted to, right? So in that way, just because I love collaboration, I worked especially on this project that way. So that they felt that they were contributing just as much.”

“Whispers: a 2022 In-The-Works production” offered thought-provoking art and gave the audience a unique amount of agency. The result is a palpable sense of collaboration among artists and audience members alike.