Janet Johnson wants to put dancers where they don't normally fit. The artistic director for Ormao Dance Company has, as a result, been staging more and more site-specific performances — the kind that get dancers and audiences alike out of the typical studio and stage venues.
But why stage something at the empty building that once housed the Gazette?
"I think we brought the cool to an ugly building," Johnson says. Back in April, they staged a show called PRESS at the 30 S. Prospect St. production facility. It was an exploration of the years between World War II and the rise of television, when newspapers were the main way people got their news. Next weekend, they're doing a new show in the space titled PREPRESS.
"We're definitely doing something entirely different," she says of the new production. "Shawn [Womack, co-director] and I just wanted this to be a more immersive experience for audience members as they enter the building."
Though the space has only been vacant for around four years, Johnson says it feels like it's been empty "for decades." Most of the movement will happen in the 20,000-square-foot paper storage room and the old printing floor. The latter is a two-story space with catwalks serving as a mezzanine, looking down on the floor below.
"That space is very black still — leftover ink residue everywhere," she says. That smell of ink, machine oil and musty building helps set the stage for the performance as much as the costuming. Johnson bubbles with excitement about how the cold, oppressive atmosphere of the building ties into the multimedia component — looped films with audio and visuals taken from the building and from conversations with former employees. Musicians will also move through the building along with the performers.
Mostly, the audience will be able to explore the building, with a few guides keeping them away from the areas that aren't part of the exhibit.
"Every person who comes in will have a different experience, depending on where they choose to go and what path they take," Johnson says.