Meadville Tribune

February 26, 2013

Improvisational dance turns into on-site sculpture at exhibit

By Mary Spicer
Meadville Tribune

ERIE — This is the story of a collaboration between two Meadville-area artists that took root on Market Square during the summer of 2012, blossomed in the art galleries of Allegheny College during an eight-hour period in September and is now coming into bloom in Erie.

The public is invited to drop by Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to observe the creation of the final component of “The Cup: Works by Valerie Gilman with Doug Lodge,” in the Roland E. Holstein Gallery at the Erie Art Museum’s Frame Shop, 423 State St., Erie. A public reception will follow during Gallery Night from 7 to 10 p.m.

Each performance in connection with “The Cup” is an exercise in creating a sculpture that has a dynamic energy relating to the already-installed show.

Gilman, a visiting assistant professor of art and technical assistant in the Allegheny art department, has been a resident of the Meadville area for the past seven years. A native of Alexandria, Va., she holds a master of fine arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“The sculpture that I have been doing for a very long time has been based on concepts of the body,” Gilman explained. “The idea of bringing in a body that plays with movement the way my abstract sculpture plays with movements seems like a really exciting juncture.”

Enter Lodge, who started dancing as a student at Allegheny 40 years ago, and has been a principal dancer/collaborator with the Erie-based Shen & Bones Performance Group since its founding in 1999. He is also a long-time collaborator and performer with Allegheny graduate Joan Meggitt’s Cleveland-based Antaeous Dance Company. A resident of the Cochranton area, Lodge notes that he’s been roofing slightly longer than he’s been dancing. “In particular, I appreciate maintaining the slate roofs of Crawford County,” he said.

Playing together

As for the collaboration with Gilman, “We play together,” Lodge explained. “We dance. We move, looking for the particular pose that will be sculpted.”

In Erie, when they went into the space for the February performance, the other sculptures were already in place and Gilman had a cup for him to dance with, Lodge continued.

And then something wonderful happened. The museum brought a group of sixth-graders who were touring the facility through the performance space. Asked if he could dance, Dodge responded by doing a set of movements for them, the likes of which, based on their tittering and snickering responses, they had probably never seen before.

Out of that set of movements came the posture Lodge and Gilman agreed upon for the piece. And when he tracked down the group to tell the sixth-graders he and Gilman were using a pose that had been developed during their visit, that visit had apparently been the most meaningful element of their day. “They couldn’t stop talking about it — and they were making a lot of moves,” Lodge said.

Friday’s performance, like a similar day-long performance on Feb. 1, two weeks after the formal opening of the show, will begin with improvisational dance leading to the on-site creation of a new figurative sculpture. This will mark the beginning of yet another phase of the show, which will continue through May 4.

While the installed portion of “The Cup” features 24 clay pieces by Gilman that have been fired, the piece constructed of red clay during each of the performances is of a much more temporary nature. “It will last for only a brief period of time,” Gilman explained. “It’s not fired, so it’s destroyed at the end. It’s about the decaying process — it’s about life, really. We grow. We die.”

Lodge is also fascinated by the transient nature of the sculpture. “They never get fired, but they get dried up,” he said, “so they’re moving — in a state of decay, almost. That’s a reason to go back and look at it again and again — to look at its process.”

For Gilman, the collaboration has been especially exciting because her work has always included, as she puts it, “a path that has been about dance.” While she’s fascinated by the motion, the fleeting quality of dance has also been an area of interest. “It happens in time and then it’s over — as opposed to sculpture, where there’s a process in making it, but then you end up with an object,” she said. In this case, it’s a fleeting object.

“I guess I like to move,” Lodge explained with a smile. “I like physical activity. I like the collaborative creative process. And I must like performing, too.”

He also likes to consider his body as an instrument, “so I like improvisational movement with musicians who can play improvisationally and let me be one of the instruments — so that we respond to each other,” he added.

Friday at 9 a.m., the improvisation will begin.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at