Take an Unconventional Tour of the Menil in This Year's CounterCurrent Festival

When Annie-B Parson did her recon at The Menil Collection, it was with the idea of co-creating an interactive performance piece at the museum that focused on just one piece of work. “I always feel overwhelmed when I go into a museum, like 100 plays going on simultaneously,” says Parson, who serves as co-artistic director for New York-based Big Dance Theater along with Paul Lazar. Their site visit was in preparation for the world premiere of “This Page Left Intentionally Blank,” part of CounterCurrent16 and presented by the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts (in partnership with the Menil).

As for that “one piece of work,” they chose the untitled pink, yellow, green, blue and filtered UV fluorescent light and metal fixtures installation created by Dan Flavin in 1996. “The building itself is discreet; it's isolated. So you enter the space, it's like a hallowed temple,” says Parson.

How viewers perceive the Flavin work depends on a lot of things, and it's no simple journey. According to Lazar, “It's a theater event that's disguised as a docent tour.” Participants will wear headphones and, as they are led through the museum, the docent will draw upon her theatrical background and do things that a regular docent wouldn't do.

“So there's this whole aural dimension to this, what's said through the headset, that influences your perceptual experience in ways that wouldn't happen as well,” says Lazar. “The tour is essentially one work of art; you travel through the museum, but everything is guided towards seeing the Dan Flavin work.”

Without giving too much away, the artistic directors (who have worked together for 25 years on theater, dance and dance theater projects) have a few surprises in store, including a possible cameo, some dance and “a lot of very elaborate sound set music.” Lazar says, “It's better that the readers don't know too much about what they're in for. Part of it is the pleasure of surprise.”

Parson says that “the journey to the work of art is one of warming up the imagination,” and it's “more about how you get people to think as you go to the work, in direct contradiction of how a docent engages an audience. Docents use facts, and we're sort of anti-facts in this tour.”

Participants will experience a few surprises, some elements of misdirection and precise choreography as they are led through The Menil Collection. Each audience group is limited to 30 people, and the 50-minute tour winds throughout the unique campus of buildings and satellite installations.

“This Page Left Intentionally Blank” is offered Wednesday through Friday, April 13-15 at 2 p.m.; and Saturday-Sunday, April 16-17 at noon and 4 p.m. at The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400, countercurrentfestival.org. Free. 

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