Dancers Celebrate the Subway and All of Its…Charm

March 29, 2015

If you live in a city, you probably understand the struggle that comes with public transportation. Sure, you can get pretty much anywhere on the cheap, but you also never know how long it might take—or what grossness you might encounter along the way. (Just a hint, NYC newbs: The subway is not the best place to clip your nails.)

Many times, though, subway rides can be pretty fun, especially when the car is suddenly taken over by a mariachi band or a hip-hop dance crew. I’ve even experienced a magic act, complete with a top-hatted magician, a live bird and disappearing/reappearing underwear. I’m serious.

Jamie Benson in Party to Go, created for last year’s PLATFORM (Photo by Marc A. Hermann/MTA NYC Transit, courtesy Benson)

Looking at subway happenings is the idea behind PLATFORM, an arts initiative by the New York Transit Museum that presents a series of cross-disciplinary performances inspired by commuting. Choreographer Jamie Benson and his Shakedown Dance Collective are participating in this season’s PLATFORM on Wednesday, April 1. I spoke with Benson ahead of the performance.

Have you always been an NYC commuter?

I moved from L.A. to NYC a few years ago. I wanted to explore my “quirk” as a choreographer a little more, and I feel that in NYC, quirk is more respected than it is in L.A.

You’ve made a few other pieces inspired by mass transit. What interests you about commuting?

I’m fascinated by haphazard, or accidental, communities that get created when a big cross-section of humanity is in a tiny space. I love exploring what happens when people who wouldn’t normally ever be together are thrown together. That tension propels our understanding of a city, or just life in general.

How did you create
Third Rail
, your piece for PLATFORM?

I sent out an online survey to collect transit stories from the public. I asked a few questions about people’s experiences, and I’m taking some of those moments and adapting them for dance. So it’s a series overlapping moments inspired by real-life transit stories.

I imagine you got some crazy stories.

Some were pretty outrageous. There was a lot of people getting hit and hitting—both intentionally and unintentionally. There were stories about vomiting, and one about someone dressed as Jesus. But some moments were really touching, like when a punk kid falls asleep on an elderly woman’s shoulder and everyone smiles.

Of course, there’s also #manspreading involved. Take a look at this short preview of Benson’s work in rehearsal, and visit his website and the New York Transit Museum’s site for details and ticket info.