Choreographer and educator Britta Joy Peterson moves through life constantly thinking, often sitting on and incubating ideas for long periods of time. Her installation piece “already there,” a product of this inclination to ponder profoundly on life’s intricacies, was first conceptualized in 2018 and born of an impulse to question how we can more fully attend to one another.
The installation, which will run October 28-30 at the Kennedy Center, invites patrons on a unique journey through a sensory labyrinth of hallways and rooms created by fabric walls. Throughout the 25 minute experience, audiences will wind their way through various spaces with swelling light, sounds, projections and more.
A key tenet of “already there” is exploring how tuning our senses to the changes of our environment allows us to tap into the idiosyncrasies of the world around us. Connection, Peterson posits, is impossible without collision — whether that be colliding with the sights and sounds of our environment or with the ideas and moods of the people around us. She modeled the installation with this idea in mind.
“All frequencies, no matter what, begin with a collision: whether it’s the strike of a mallet on a drum head, breath colliding with vocal cords, electricity colliding in the filament of a light bulb, gas smashing together in the sun,” Peterson says. “Collision is generative; it creates these waves that are then experienced by the great resonating chamber that is our body. So we built all of this movement material in a system of choreographic improvisation generators that was about colliding and tuning towards the group of people.”
Patrons should expect to be inundated with moments of surprise that shake awake their senses and allow them to be present with their environment. These moments — which include moments of bright light, physical sensations such as fans blowing and sounds occurring from far and near — allow patrons to collide with different frequencies of their environment, illuminating elements of the world they might usually miss.
“What we’re chasing is submersion or immersion, and these moments of surprise are very precisely crafted to tune us to the volume of the space,” says Peterson. “These moments of interruption are really ones of challenging assumptions.”
Situated in a world of performance that often obligates audiences to maintain attention in a particular way, “already there” is unique in that it allows patrons to choose where and how they direct their focus. To accomplish this, Peterson crafted the exhibit so audiences can sit, stand or meander within installation spaces in ways they deem fit.
“My work is creating spaces for people to contemplate, to dwell,” says Peterson. “The way I’m interested in crafting my work right now is in these dwelling spaces, where there’s agency for an audience in terms of their experience that isn’t necessarily possible in a performance didactic. There’s something about being able to situate your body to choose where you see from, to choose what’s interesting to you, and to not feel like you can’t move a muscle or you’ll disturb who’s on stage, that opens up space in a different way.”
For Peterson, taking notice of how we dwell and attend to our world is a radical force for change. She hopes that audiences will walk away from “already there” questioning what they pay attention to and why.
“Attention is one of the resources that we all have, and how we dole it out is a direct reflection of our values,” she says. “If we notice how we notice, if we pay attention to how we pay attention, then we can actively shift that, and that is what will move us towards a more just world.”
Accordingly, Peterson is intentional about directing her attention and care not only toward the creation of her project, but also toward the collaborators and audiences of “already there.”
“The way I work is so collaborative,” Peterson explains. “I am the director and choreographer of everything that I do, but I work really hard to craft environments of care for everybody. Audience care has been a massive part of the design of this work.”
Ultimately, Peterson hopes that this environment of care will help others pay attention to what they may have been tuning out but that which was always — or “already” — there.
“[This installation] is trying to encounter what is already there, which is us, our bodies: which hold all of our histories, experiences, values and processes, and are the source of how, what and who we tune to,” Peterson says.
This installation is open from October 28-30 and has a runtime of 25 minutes. Purchase tickets here.