Winter Garden Hosts People-Watching Performance Amid 'Chaos of the Space'

People seated in Brookfield Place Winter Garden become the unwitting audience for "Days Go By," a production of Monica Bill Barnes & Company. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib  

Oct. 11, 2019

There were two audiences for “Days Go By,” the dance and spoken word collaboration performed for four evenings last week amid the hubbub of the Brookfield Place Winter Garden. First, of course, were the intended viewers, seated on the stairs with glowing headphones. Hearing the recorded music—all carefully picked oldies—and live narration, they could make sense of the action before them: a woman in the spotlight, removing her shoe, or the guy playing air guitar, or the two women having a fraught exchange, or the troupe of dancers who seemingly sprung from nowhere to perform to the 1979 Neil Diamond tune, “Forever in Blue Jeans.” 

And then there was everyone else who happened into the marble space, confused but bemused by the odd, soundless sequence of vignettes. To the headphoned crowd, anyone walking through the space looked like an unwitting extra. Might they actually be part of the show? Who could be sure?

Photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

A production of Monica Bill Barnes & Company (self-described as “a contemporary American dance company that brings dance where it doesn’t belong”), “Days Go By” brought together Barnes’s choreography with the writing of her frequent collaborator Robbie Saenz de Viteri, and his observations, ruminations and imaginings about the small moments of everyday life by ordinary people on the Winter Garden “stage.” 

Add to that the nearly dozen choreographed numbers performed amid what Barnes called “the chaos of the space, and you have an engaging but unpredictable site for this site-specific piece.

“Initially our conversations were around how to create a meaningful experience through language and movement in a space that doesn’t ask you to slow down and observe anything,” Barnes said in a phone interview.

“I had to remind myself several times that this is the way we wanted to make the show, with all these people in the middle of it,” she added. “So there definitely were times where I thought, oh my gosh, this person crossing is perfect. That’s exactly what we wanted. And then there were other times when somebody walked in and I thought, that’s going to make it harder.”

Most often Saenz de Viteri kept to his scripted people-watching observations. But then there were the planned pauses for real-time, ad-libbed commentary about non-performers in the space. Such as this one: 

This kid, directly in front of us in the camel pants 

Is so completely nonplussed by this public dance 

I’m glad he manages sometimes to get his sisters attention 

But there’s hardly anything that causes him a digression

“Were trying to really look at the people in the space as though, what if this all was a performance.” Saenz de Viteri said. “So constantly reengaging with the space means you’re taking in all these pieces that aren’t intentional and then trying to have the audience question whether they’re part of the show or not.” 

“That sounds really fun to do,” he added, “but stressful in the moment.”

“Days Go By” entertainingly forces the audience to forget for an hour their own day-to-day lives, and consider the travails of those around them. It’s an exercise that concludes with the writer/narrator’s critique of us all.

And when the headphones come off it’ll be harder to care 

Where they’re going, where they’ve been, or what they might need 

Because your agenda will take over with speed 

That rectangle will come out of your pocket 

You’ll press all the buttons so you can unlock it 

Check your texts, Oh shoot, you forgot to get bread 

And look twenty emails that you still haven’t read 

By instinct, your thumbs will start to take a photo 

So you can make a post and sum this up in toto 

You’ll check the train schedules, make Plan A and B 

When you look up again you won’t find dancing in the trees