Through a Window

Jennifer Sherburn stages a dance for our distant times


At Jennifer Sherburn’s dance event “Elsewhere,” through a window I watched a performer in a small bedroom swirl and twirl with a big piece of tulle. She wore a black vintage-y camisole with ruffled panties. Her movements were not explicitly seductive so much as they were they were  gestures made in imaginative play — a woman acting out a spectacular, glamorous fantasy dance routine in private.

I walked around the corner of the ranch house and through the bedroom’s other window I caught a different view: On the bed lay a fluffy cat looking indifferent and slightly bemused as it watched the woman (Hailley Lauren) dance.

Other vignettes took place in different rooms as we — an audience of maybe a dozen — crept around the house in the dark peering through the windows as dancers in underwear-like outfits cavorted and danced, pounced on furniture, listened to records, and played with large sculptural elements. (All of the dancers wore masks.)

Dance is always more than a bit voyeuristic. And the concept of “Elsewhere” acknowledges that voyeurism in such a literal and delightfully scrappy fashion that it’s pretty ingenious.

The venue, Rogge Ranch House, is just that: A 50s ranch house on three acres in Northeast Austin. Previous shows have taken place on the grounds or in the large warehouse. But with “Elsewhere” Sherburn makes particularly clever use of the house. After all, we have been for months now mostly in our houses, staying distant from each other. Of course that means we probably have more private time to perform a fan dance for our cat, but our desire to want to see what other people are up to hasn’t gone away.

The mood shifted when room by room the lights inside the house are turned off and our little gaggle of a socially-distanced audience is directed through the dark over to chairs spaced very far apart in front of a large expanse of the grounds.

If the first half of “Elsewhere” was intimate voyeurism, the second half was an exploration of distance and space beyond the usual parameters of audience and performer. We watched from afar as a different handful of dancers used the plastic-draped furrows of a very large garden as their stage, sweeping through large and energetic movements.

The disruptions wreaked by the pandemic leave us all elsewhere, literally and existentially. Sherburn’s managed to capture that state of elsewhere artistically, leading us to scurry furtively in the dark as we peek through windows or gaze across a nighttime garden at performers frustratingly not as close as we wish.

“Elsewhere” continues through Nov. 22

Elsewhere Jennifer Sherburn
A dancer interacts with a sculptural element in Jennifer Sherburn’s “Elsewhere.” Photo by. the author.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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