‘Technically Speaking’

An evening of dance at the Cochecton Pump House

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 9/15/21

COCHECTON, NY — Among the sights along the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway stands the Cochecton Pump House, a seemingly dilapidated brick structure, now home to a restaurant and performance …

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‘Technically Speaking’

An evening of dance at the Cochecton Pump House

Posted

COCHECTON, NY — Among the sights along the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway stands the Cochecton Pump House, a seemingly dilapidated brick structure, now home to a restaurant and performance venue.

On Thursday, August 26, that venue hosted a dance performance that interrogated the tensions between technology and human connection.

The performance, titled “Technically Speaking: An Evening of Dance,” featured Corinna Grunn and Isabel Braverman, with contributions by guest dancers Amanda McCormick, Mary Beth Hansohn and James Graber.

“Technically Speaking” was sponsored by Act Underground, a Narrowsburg-based theatre company with roots in Columbus, OH. That sponsorship was assisted by funding from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a program developed to ensure that state funding for the arts reaches every corner of the state; the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance, acting as the program’s local partner, administered that funding.

The program’s goal is to encourage the arts throughout the state. With “Technically Speaking,” it resulted in a beautiful and thought-provoking performance, enhanced by the rural surroundings.

The venue

Program notes for “Technically Speaking” called the piece “a site-specific movement-based examination of social technology and the nature of human connection.”

The specific site of the performance, the Cochecton Pump House, lent itself well to that sort of examination.

Standing at the intersection of State Route 97 and County Highway 116, the still-standing brick walls that make up the venue were the remains of an old pump station built by Standard Oil in 1879.

The pump station was one of 11 in a chain stretching from Olean, NY to Bayonne, NJ. The Standard Oil pipeline that they served pumped crude oil for over 50 years, pumping 40,000 barrels a day at its peak.

Standard Oil stopped operating the pipeline on October 3, 1927, abandoning the pump stations that ran along its path. This one was scheduled for demolition in 1936, but at that time—or so local legend has it—the demolition crew sent to destroy it couldn’t make a dent in its walls.

The building was left to stand, abandoned, following its failed destruction, until filmmaker Dave Lieber and his partner Jin started a roadside stand in its shadow in the wake of the pandemic.

Now the stand has evolved into a full-grown restaurant. Orders are taken and food is served from a pair of modified shipping containers. Seating is provided within the pump station’s brick walls, with a disparate assortment of chairs and tables scattered under the open sky. (An architectural plan for the venue includes a glass roof, but that is as of yet not in place.)

The space blends the artificial and the natural, the old and the new. The 19th century brick structure of the pump station stands imposingly next to the 21st century shipping containers at its side. The building is completely open to the sky and to the natural world around it, with the sounds of wildlife and the rustling of a nearby stream making their way through empty arches where windows once had been.

That liminality, the restaurant’s place on the boundary between the natural and the artificial, made it the perfect venue for a performance examining technology and human connection.

The performance

“Technically Speaking” itself blended aspects of the old and the new, the natural and the artificial in its performance.

At times, the choreography bore the hallmarks of a modern style, with a cast of dancers moving through the performance space with hip-rolls and shoulder-rolls and an emphasis on movement and flow.

At other times, the performance leaned more into the structures of classical ballet, with pointe shoes and a gorgeous pas de deux between dancers Mary Beth Hansohn and James Graber.

The tension between classic and modern styles of dance echoed the performance’s tension between technology and humanity, expressed in the program as the production’s central tenet: “An observation on human behavior and the body’s human antics, this performance explores the relationships between technology and personal connections in our swiftly moving world.”

Performers donned masks (full-face masks, not the medical coverings of pandemic life) for a number orchestrated by the buzzes and beeps of phone ringtones and alarms. Their movement, at times jerky and unnatural, seemed controlled by the alerts, with performers being controlled by the trappings of modern life.

In another number, two dancers held up a frame through which a third performed, posing as if in front of a mirror or captured in a picture frame. It provided commentary on the frame imposed by technology and by an audience, made all the more effective by the cameras watching from front and center, streaming the whole event on Instagram.

Editor's note: As of September 15, 5:15 p.m., the article has been updated with corrected spelling for Corinna Grunn and Mary Beth Hansohn's names, and with additional attributions.

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