Ann Carlson: The Symphonic Body

A performance built entirely from gestures, “The Symphonic Body” is a movement-based orchestral work performed by people from across the UCLA community. Instead of instruments, individuals in this “orchestra” perform gestural portraits based on the motions of their workday. These portraits are like individual dances, custom made for each person, choreographed from the movements that appear repeatedly in their daily lives. “The Symphonic Body: UCLA” will be a window into the breadth of human labor and activity that animates this university, culminating in a performance in Royce Hall November 21, 2015.


Chapter 2: Finding Spontaneity and Concentration

Our ever-evolving social sculpture continues to grow, with new shapes, forms and textures entering the process with each new performer, all of whom make up our wholly unique performance work The Symphonic Body UCLA. In this installment of our behind-the-scenes video series, we talk to Meryl Friedman, our director of education and special initiatives, and one of the earliest participants in this project. As the web of participants expands there is much to see and learn about one another, and so much potential for singular expression.

Rehearsals with the full cast begin to ramp up in September. We’ll keep following the project for more stories from the participants. 

Chapter 1: Weaving a Social Sculpture

The Symphonic Body UCLA is taking shape. Ann Carlson has been on campus since January, connecting workers from across this campus. She spends time with them in their daily lives, listens to stories and elicits suggestions and recommendations of fellow coworkers and people on campus, who she then approaches to see if they would be interested and then immerses herself into their daily work lives at UCLA.

And this is how entirely unique sculpture of human endeavor is organically created and then masterfully woven into a performance of movement.

At this point in the process, open rehearsals are happening every other week, with participants dropping in when they are available, practicing and learning to fully embody and articulate the highly individualized and fascinatingly idiosyncratic “gestural portrait” that they will eventually perform in Royce Hall. They use their own bodies, their own repetitive gestural habits—as observed by Ann—to become an instrument of this symphony.

This is only the second time The Symphonic Body has ever been created and performed. It’s a riveting process to observe, watching daily life evolve into performance, watching a masterful artist like Carlson passing along her expertise to a cadre of individuals who may never have performed on stage before.

We’ll be tracking the progress of this project over the next five months. And on November 21, when the curtain rises in Royce Hall, we will witness something unpredictable and something that would be impossible to replicate exactly in any other setting. It’s for, by and about the people who keep this campus running every day. 

--Jessica Wolf June 18, 2015

From the concert hall to the dairy farm, the opera house to a mountainside, in the museum or on a frozen pond, Ann Carlson's award winning work defies description. Borrowing from dance, performance, theater, visual and conceptual art, Ann's work takes the form of solo performance, site-specific projects, ensemble theatrical works, and performance/video. Ann is the recipient of over thirty commissions and numerous awards, including two American Masters Awards; multiple years of support from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP program; a USA Artist Award; a Rockefeller Seed Grant; Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies Fellowship at Harvard University; a Guggenheim Fellowship; a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship; a Doris Duke Award for New Work; the first Cal/Arts Alpert Award in Choreography; a three-year choreographic fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as eight years of consecutive support from the NEA. Most recently, she was invited by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to be in residence on Captiva Island, Florida.

Ann Carlson at Elsie Management
The Symphonic Body at Stanford University
Like Ann Carlson's Facebook page
Rauschenberg Residency Page
MANCC Residency Page