‘Takes’ mingles dance, multimedia for fleeting magic


Writing grants, it turns out, can be good for more than raising money. The process of putting creative concepts into words can be a clarifying process for the artists.

That’s what choreographer Nichole Canuso discovered when she and Lars Jan, who does media installations, sought funding for a big project they wanted to do together. The grant, from the Pew Center for Art and Heritage, supported the research and development of her new piece “Takes,” which lasts just under an hour.

“Takes” will be performed three times on Friday and Saturday at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty.

Canuso and Jan started out wanting to explore the good working relationship they had when he provided a small amount of video for her earlier project “Wandering Alice.” They exchanged a lot of e-mails and phone calls as they dreamed up general concepts for the new project, looking to blend their sensibilities and current interests.

“Takes” is a thoroughly multimedia piece, with complex technical and coordination issues that needed to be carefully developed. Its two dancers perform inside a box of video projections.

“A big goal for us was to create something the audience could navigate on their own terms, the way you do at an art gallery,” she says. “The film is pre-edited for you, but the live dance performance is a fleeting visceral experience that will never happen again. The screen is at times almost a barrier between you and me as a performer.”

Creating such a work required careful structural thinking.

“It’s about two people and bits and pieces of their time together,” she says. “It has a lot of emotional content in fragments and scenes, with photos that wash ashore out of order — some in clear focus and some so battered by the elements they’re barely recognizable. We have to fill in the blanks. Some are intimate interactions that are seemingly insignificant, some intense, some abstracted.”

Canuso, 37, is a Philadelphia native who lives and works in her hometown.

“I’ve always danced,” she says. “That’s through my childhood. I was in many sports clubs and had many after-school activities, but I always looked forward to dance. I also choreographed for anyone who came over to my house.”

Husband Michael Kiley is her sound designer. A singer and songwriter, he writes for and performs with the band the Mural and the Mint, which also is based in Philadelphia.

“I’ve always worked very collaboratively,” Canuso says. “When there’s no designer, just dancers, they’re co-creating. Their voices and intellect are part of the process.”

For “Takes,” “the set, lighting and sound designers were all in the room starting the process together,” she says. “The set was evolving along with the work.”

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