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From the Ground Up

The tactile sensations in a performer’s feet inspired a new piece by Bowen McCauley Dance

The tactile sensations in a performer’s feet inspired a new piece by Bowen McCauley Dance

“Afoot in Vienna” began as an exercise in creating dance based on sensations.

“We dancers love to move,” says Lucy Bowen McCauley, artistic director and choreographer for Bowen McCauley Dance. Well, sure they do. She’s making a particular point, though: Dealing with restrictions within a dance can be tough for an artist whose body is accustomed to embellishing movement whenever possible.

Last year, Austrian composer and visual artist Wolfgang Seierl invited McCauley to his native Vienna and placed her on different surfaces throughout the city — a grassy field, a creaky wooden floor, steps — and asked her to spontaneously dance, solely using the sensations in her feet as inspiration.

Instead of moving in response to music or even her own intuition, her movements could be influenced only by what her feet were feeling. She couldn’t lift her arm just because she thought it would look good; all movement had to come literally from the ground up. For example, if she was dancing on hot sand, her arms might get frenetic in response to the heat coming from below.

McCauley says it was hard to fight the urge to let her body freely dance.

“[Seierl] wanted to see how my feet functioned on different surfaces,” she said. “It was definitely hard to stay rooted in the sensations. But he knew what he wanted, and he kept trying to tone me down.”

The results of that experiment became fodder for a piece titled “Afoot in Vienna.” Seierl, who directed and video-recorded the movement explorations, later composed scores for each section to perform live. McCauley, meanwhile, used the improvisations to develop a series of short choreographed pieces for her Arlington-based company, which will perform “Afoot” this weekend at Artisphere. She won’t be onstage herself, but the company’s dancers will perform to a backdrop of the original video segments.

This is a second collaboration for Seierl and McCauley, who created another piece together two years ago. This one, though, has its own distinct feel and sense of place. Beyond the various environments referenced in the piece’s sections, McCauley says she hopes a broader impression of the Austrian capital comes through.

“It’s not the skyline of Vienna, it’s the sense of Vienna,” McCauley says. “I hope the audience feels an essence of that.”

Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; Sat., 8 p.m., $20-$25; 703-875-1100. (Rosslyn)
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