Dance foam tableaux by Al Hill

Published on October 4th, 2012 | by Alicia Coombes


Morgan Thorson’s Spaceholder Festival

What do an auctioneer, an archaeological dig, your trash from last year and repetitive movement have in common? Choreographer and 2010 Guggenheim Fellow Morgan Thorson might have an answer in her latest dance performance piece, Spaceholder Festival, playing at the ODC Theater in San Francisco on October 5, 6 and 7.

After reading some of the work of archaeologist Sarah Croucher, Thorson began seeing connections between the movements of the body and artifacts. She and five performers began developing what they called “movement artifacts,” the idea being that repeated gestures throughout the life of a person create muscle memories that display their behaviors and patterns. The particular movements seen in Spaceholder Festival are extraordinary in the fact that they resemble every day gestures more than choreographed dance.

“One example is the use of finger-pointing,” Thorson said. “Pointing your finger is universal, and one of the first behavioral gestures a baby learns.”

Through the life of a person, the gesture of pointing your finger morphs and layers its uses based on experience.

She worked with the personal history of her dancers (4 women, 1 man) and together they devised the gestures, objects, and movement of the piece. Thorson uses the word “spaceholder” in her work a lot.

“The idea is that there’s a space here that we’ll fill with something,” Thorson said. “We’re just not sure what that is yet. Kind of the opposite of digging something out, it’s making room.”

Part of their research involved spending a day analyzing bags of materials found at an archaeological site. Thorson and her performers discovered that digs are often conducted at sites that were essentially trash dumps.  A single object could inform the archaeologists of the patterns of the humans who used them. In the process of excavating a site, the archaeologist unearths newer layers to the object, gradually revising their original idea of what it is they are looking at: a clod of dirt becomes a stone, which then becomes a bead. Seeing the connection to modern human movement, Thorson began to incorporate the excavation process as well as the idea of trash becoming historically significant into dance.

While developing these ideas, Thorson came upon several related themes. One was the experience of hearing an auctioneer, realizing that the process of auctioning was strangely related to the patterns of behavior and repetition, as well as the value placed on items. Seeing this connection, she decided to become a certified auctioneer in order to integrate the same techniques, pattern and repetition into her Spaceholder piece.

Thorson believes that Spaceholder will help to develop her future work in profound ways, especially in understanding how to use the body as an artifact of movement.

“The hope is that with the next piece,” said Thorson about her future work, “we’ll be able to make the movement part of the notation of the piece itself, create an embodied record of it, and recreate it again later.”

Spaceholder Festival is playing for three nights only in San Francisco: October 5, 6, and 7. Spaceholder Festival is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by ODC Theater in partnership with Alverno Presents, Legion Arts, Red Eye Theater, CFA Wesleyan and NPN. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information visit To find out more about Morgan Thorson and the Spaceholder Festival, visit

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About the Author

Alicia Coombes is a dramaturg, director and writer. Growing up in rural Oklahoma as an outsider with a flair for the dramatic, she wasn’t exposed to very much art or theatre outside of rodeos and Halloween Hell Houses. Luckily as a teenager her family returned to the Bay Area and she quickly immersed herself in more arts and culture than she had imagined was possible. She still has a particular soft spot for the dramatic (and clowns, perhaps from the rodeo days). She graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Theatre with an emphasis in Dramaturgy. She was Aurora Theatre Company’s Literary Manager and Artistic Assistant for four seasons and served as resident dramaturg for the 2011-2012 Season. She has worked in many aspects of the theatre with several other Bay Area companies including Crowded Fire Theater, Marin Theatre Company, Z Space/Word for Word, Golden Thread, Woman’s Will, and CalShakes and is currently the Company Manager for San Francisco’s foolsFURY Theater.

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