The Kent Museum in Calais, built in the 1830s, has been home to a tavern, a stagecoach stop on the way from New York City to Montreal and a post office. But beginning Thursday, June 18th, it will take on another life as center stage for a performance art installation called Threads and Thresholds.
Vermont dance choreographer Hannah Dennison has created a multi-media site piece with dancers, live musicians and different sets in each of the small rooms.
Dennison describes the space as having lots of little rooms and a small ballroom upstairs, which is what initially drew her to the building. “I grew up in Massachusetts and my best friend persuaded me to take a ballet class. It was at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, and that building also had a small ballroom upstairs,” she explains. “When I walked into the Kent, I was just awash with memory. And besides the ballroom, I loved the other rooms … What you see is the artifact of the building, the way it was built, the bones – it’s like you’re inside of a body. So that was very compelling to me.”
Dennison says when the building was a tavern, the ballroom was very much used as it was intended: for dancing. “People danced more in those days. The windows would be thrown open in the ballroom, the light would pour out and it would be a [summer] evening and the music would be coming out. So that vision has really stayed with me and even though we can’t get all of the windows open, because they are old and they are fragile, the music will be outside too,” she says.
Dennison's group made a decision to limit the number of people the audience for each performance, to give each viewer a “really good opportunity” to see the work. Dennison says the experience brings you from room to room, sitting and standing, listening to live music and watching dancers.
Dennison said the aspect of the audience moving through the performance was very important to her. “I feel really strongly about when people are in experiences where there is art going on, if they can actually move into and out of it, and feel it somehow, rather than sitting in a chair absorbing it passively, it’s a different experience,” she explains.
“I find [the Kent Museum to be] soft and filled with memory. Sometimes I felt it was sad, and then I went in there with [the] ballroom dancers in October to just sort of play and find out what was going to come up,” says Dennison. “And there was laughter, giggling and falling on the floor, and thought, ‘Not only is there sadness in this building, but there’s a lot of joy.'”
But organizing a performance art installation is hard work, and this is Dennison’s 13th site piece. “I get to this point and think, ‘Why did I ever decide to do this?’ And then I always feel there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing,” she says.