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FluxFlow on "making space" in contemporary art

Rani Bawa, Ohio State third-year, Neuroscience, Dance, and Clinical psychology

Mon, Nov 18, 2019

The welcoming nature of the studio and the dancers struck me most about observing rehearsal at FluxFlow Dance and Movement Center. I was first greeted by Sole, the dog of co-owners and founders Russell Lepley and Filippo Pelacchi, as I stepped in the door on a Thursday morning. I subsequently met Lepley, and he introduced me to Pelacchi and Kelly Hurlburt, the other two dancers in Ursula, featured at the Wex in December. 

FluxFlow is a dance and movement center based in Columbus, Ohio. Co-founded by husbands Lepley and Pelacchi, their work has two main efforts: holding classes at the movement center and the FluxFlow Dance Project, their resident dance company. The voice of the company is “a decided break from tradition, find[ing] way to a public by displaying the humanity of vulnerability, the humor of our attempts, and transformation of the unmentionable to the universal,” as described by Lepley and Pelacchi themselves. Ursula stems from this core mission by incorporating elements of dance and theater to explore the concept of freedom through the lens of contemporary art. The hearts of these dancers are made vulnerable in this work as they freely share raw pieces of themselves that get transformed into movement phrases within the world of contemporary art. They truly embody the mission of “making space” for the audience, and for all, in their work.

I recently observed a rehearsal of Ursula and listened to an interview with Lepley, conducted by Demetra Chiafos (Ohio State, Dance and Japanese Language, class of 2020). As the rehearsal unfolded, what stood out most was the collaboration between the dancers. The genuine connection and friendship between Lepley, Pelacchi, and Hurlburt shined through both in the in-between moments of rehearsal, and the running of the movements themselves. After each run, the dancers stopped and discussed which choreographic elements went smoothly and which needed further development. This process intrigued me, especially having been trained in classical ballet, where the power boundaries are much more defined in the rehearsal process. The choreographer or director makes decisions about the piece, and the dancers follow those decisions. In his interview, Lepley reflected a bit on his own background as a dancer and how his past fuels his vision of Ursula. Having been a member of a ballet company, he expressed a feeling of “being willfully imprisoned”—a feeling of having chosen to be in the company, being privileged to be there, but of not having a real voice. This element, along with many others, are elements of tradition that the work of FluxFlow strives to break.

After each run of a phrase, the dancers often discussed the balance between mime and movement. They toyed with the amount of mime needed to give the audience context of the scene, without feeling like they were simply telling a visual story. Lepley described wanting to “make space for the audience.” Elaborating on this, Lepley explained feeling that all too often in contemporary art, audience members feel overwhelmed with the art they’re experiencing and feel that they don’t have the capability to understand it, since they don't see themselves as artists. In Ursula, the dancers aim to instead “make space for the audience” by giving them enough context to be able to share in the story being portrayed on stage. Lepley believes it is crucial for the audience to be able to see themselves and their own stories in the art because it is much more impactful.

"Lepley explained feeling that all too often in contemporary art, audience members feel overwhelmed with the art they’re experiencing and feel that they don’t have the capability to understand it, since they don't see themselves as artists. In Ursula, the dancers aim to instead “make space for the audience” by giving them enough context to be able to share in the story being portrayed on stage."
Dancers Filippo Pelacchi and Kelly Hurlburt of FluxFlow Dance Project play with balloons during a rehearsal of FluxFlow's Ursula

The story of Ursula tackles topics of freedom, relationships, and humankind. Each audience member will take away his/her/their own view of the piece; that is the beauty of art. Lepley harkened on his own past when building this work, and hopes that audience members will be able to do the same when experiencing it. There are elements of humor, surprise, and stunning beauty. But behind all of that are elements of humanity, being offered to the audience by the dancers in hopes that they, the audience, will let themselves become a part of the piece as well.


 

This selection is part of Writing about the Performing Arts at Ohio State, an interdisciplinary student-led project supported by the Ronald and Deborah Ratner Distinguished Teaching Award. Students from departments across the university composed responses to the center’s 2019–20 Performing Arts season under the direction of award recipient and Department of Dance Professor Karen Eliot and Manager of Public University Programs Alana Ryder with support from Performing Arts Director Lane Czaplinski.

 

Photo with costume by Kate Sweeney; image of Filipo Pelecchi and Kelly Hurlburt in rehearsals courtesy of the artists.