The choreographer, performer, urbanist Kyle deCamp performed a piece on urban renewal on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7pm, at Barnard. I participated in a panel after the performance, along with Robert Beauregard, Reinhold Martin, and Mabel Wilson.
Kyle de Camp’s Urban Renewal brings together personal narrative, history and memory, with acuity to movement and place. This is a theater piece, but de Camp began her career as a dancer, and I think that perspective seeps through the entire project. Moving through projections on the floor and up the back wall, de Camp puts herself into outlines of her family home. Sketches of furniture move; rooms scroll up and away; she is moving in place.
The form fits the story. De Camp moves in and out of concentric circles of her family’s residence on the South Side of Chicago, the history of urban planning from the Chicago World’s Fair and Louis Sullivan’s skyscrapers to the urban renewals plans of the mid-20th century, and the intertwined racial, social, and political dynamics throughout. She eventually lands on Chicago in the 1960s. There is the institutional power of the University of Chicago, the longstanding segregation of the city, and childhood. Her family home was razed in a Le Corbusier vision of apartment towers in parks. Instead, it became an empty hole. (And largely remains so.)
Empty lots are good places for dance. As in the filming of West Side Story in the same era, the demolition for the Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Project allowed for an easier stage set. Holes could be dug so that the camera could be placed low, projecting up to get the full movement of dance. This kind of stage set that de Camp reprises fills that emptiness not with buildings but with people moving in, through, out. These artistic representations of urban renewal insist on people, on movement, before and after the bulldozer.
Did de Camp become a dancer because of the empty lot at the center of her childhood?