From October 28–30, Britta Joy Peterson’s immersive installation “already there” opens at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In “already there,” Peterson has created a series of rooms and hallways that envelop visitors in swells of music, light, and movement. She invites audiences to “explore, indulge, and play in a sensory labyrinth of dance and design."
“Already there” will appear in the Kennedy Center’s new REACH expansion, a collection of studios that opened in 2019. A limited number of tickets are still available.
The installation is designed to be experienced in small, timed-entry groups, and visitors will have the space entirely to themselves for the duration of the piece. This was very intentional, says Peterson, an award-winning choreographer and professorial lecturer in AU’s Department of Performing Arts. “We set out to build a rich artistic experience without the attached anxiety of navigating large crowds in lobbies or being tethered to an assigned seat.”
What We Absorb, What We Filter Out
Dylan Lambert in Britta Joy Peterson's "already there," photo by Lauren Jessica Brown
In “already there,” Peterson says, projections appear, lights fade up or dim down, and music beckons to audience members, signaling where to move to next. “Wherever arts enjoyers are on their journey, mentally and physically, 'already there' offers a fully immersive experience where audiences retain ultimate agency.”
Peterson designed the installation to sharpen audiences’ senses towards things that we often filter out in our everyday lives, from background sounds, to textures, to changes in light. The timing of the show’s opening is particularly poignant, Peterson says, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to live in some degree of isolation and sensory deprivation. “Rather than rush back to what was, pre-pandemic, how do we rush into what’s possible?” she asks. “I’m also building stage works for 2022, but I knew we needed an experience that meets us in the middle, a stepping stone back to being together that scrubs our senses and helps us tap into what we notice, and how we notice.”
AU Collaborations and Connections
Carolyn Hoehner in Britta Joy Peterson's "already there," photographed by AK Blythe
When she first started envisioning “already there,” Peterson knew she wanted to team up with AU colleague, composer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sean Doyle. “Sean creates works for orchestra and voice with contemporary music sensibilities,” Peterson says. “We has a long history of collaboration.”
Collaboration is an essential part of the creative process for Peterson, especially during an ambitious, three-year project like “already there.” She pulled together a team of 30 artists including alumni Olivia Weber (BA dance and business administration with a specialization in digital innovation ’20), Vyette Tiya (BA dance and business administration ’20), and Dylan Lambert (BA international relations and affairs, minor in dance ’19).
“Our alumni are the perfect people for collaboration because of the training they received in our program at American University,” she explains. “But they are totally themselves as well, which is a very important component of collaborative work. Our alumni are beautifully opinionated and vivaciously involved in the world, so they offer lots of different points of view and makes our work so much more interesting.”
A Constellation of Relations
In addition to her work at American University, Peterson is an artist in residence at Dance Place and a DC Commission for Humanities and the Arts Fellow. She says she approaches choreography as the organization of constellations of relations, with current projects engaging questions surrounding environmental communication, holding space, and the ethics of attunement. Recent projects have been seen at the Sibu International Dance Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia; Performance Mix 33 in New York City; and Sonics Immersive Media Lab in London.
The composer for “already there’s” music, Sean Doyle, also composed Letters from Zelda, which was described by the Washington Post as a “vivid, eventful score… brilliantly written, full of the anything-goes spirit of the Jazz Age.” Doyle maintains an active role as a conductor, overseeing many premieres of his own works as well as repertoire both traditional and contemporary. As well as writing works for the concert hall, Sean continues to pursue his life-long interest in songwriting and is currently completing a full-length album of original songs. At AU, he teaches composition, music theory, and musicianship. Prior to this, he taught composition, choral arranging, and theory/aural skills at SUNY Fredonia.
For more Information
For more information and tickets, visit the Kennedy Center website.