Westbeth

Leon Ingulsrud's picture

On Monday of this week, as New York city was steadily brushed by the broad cold white paintbrush of winter, the SITI Conservatory trekked down from our home studio in the Garment district down past the Meatpacking district to the Westbeth, to spend the afternoon working in the Martha Graham’s Company’s beautiful 11th floor, penthouse studio.

SITI Company first worked in this room when we rehearsed our Trojan Women there in preparation for performing it at BAM in 2012. But our shared sense of history in the space went much deeper than that…

Before the Graham Company occupied the Westbeth Studios, it was the home of the Merce Cunningham dance company. It is stunning to think about how much work was done in those rooms. How much work that directly impacts our work. Work that is the floor we stand on every day in our bodies, in our minds. Hearts. Work that inspires and holds us. Work that chases us and wakes us up. Work that keeps moving the bar higher and higher.

As a theatre company that has drawn so much from the traditions, techniques and aesthetics of Modern and Post-modern dance, this is holy ground for SITI Company. I don’t believe in ghosts. But I cannot deny a palpable sensation that space has memory. That what happens in a room changes it in ways that are difficult to quantify but sensible to our blood and bones.

We wanted to take our beloved conservatory artists to a larger space to work in a room where they can really let go, and throw off the constant proximity of our studio walls. To eat up a big bite of open space with their hungry bodies. But this space is not just big in space. It is also big in time. It has history. It’s haunted with years of movement and grace. Sweat and tears and laughter and frustration.

The room is flanked on each of it’s long sides by a row of tall arched windows. On one side, the river and New Jersey. On the other, the historically stunning panorama starting with Midtown Manhattan and sweeping all the way down through Soho. The soft gauze of snow and mist was like dragon’s breath on a mountainside. Deep mysterious depth and a constantly varying composition in grey, and white and black and brick-tan. As the evening darkened, the lights would slowly come on, one at a time turning the view into a view of a nebula from the Hubble, with constellations of multi-colored stars winking into life.

This is a room that doesn’t let you forget that you are not only in a beautiful room, but you are in a room in a beautiful city. There is a way of being outside, even when you are inside. It’s true in our little room on 8th Ave as well. We just have to remind ourselves more often. We’re still in a beautiful city. A haunted city. Surrounded by rich space and time.

On the way to the Westbeth, many of us passed by the front of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s home. It was obvious. Public, media location of tragedy. News vans and camera crews huddled around piles of flowers and tributes on the steps… 

Sometimes the cold feels colder and the snow feels wetter and more bitter on your face than it did half a block ago, or even on Saturday… as you make your way on New York sidewalks.