ProjectLIMB's Re-Vision: Two Dancers' Love Story Transforms South Beach

Some artists dream of performing on stage. Others dream of carrying their craft beyond the stage to blur the line between art and everyday life. Dancers Gabriel Forestieri and Marla Phelan of ProjectLIMB fall into the latter category, and they'll be showing Miami Beach how to make a more expressive use of space when they perform their al fresco Re-Vision at Lummus Park Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m.

The duo, who are real-life lovers, say the performance is a portrayal of a chance encounter between a man and a woman during which "one completely transforms the other." Over the course of 50 minutes, the dance will travel from the intersection of 14th Street and Ocean Drive all the way to -- and into -- the water. Targeted lighting will highlight the performance and delineate spaces on the sand as the dancers' twists, contortions, and expressions unravel their tumultuous love story.

Forestieri studied theater and dance at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA. A classically trained dancer, he began an "extra-curricular" exploration of site-specific dance while still an undergraduate. "Many of my friends were jazz musicians, and so we would work together and do a lot of improvisational work... and then we started to do things outside, just because we weren't [getting permission from] the school. We would also take over a space like the student lounge and put on a show there, or do it at an art gallery," Forestieri said. "So it began through improvisation."

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In 1999, Forestieri moved to San Francisco where he began dancing professionally in other choreographer's productions, meanwhile working on environmental restoration with the Americorp Program. One of the projects he participated in involved converting a parking lot back into a salt marsh. "I was always outside when I was working, and it was a really powerful thing for me to change the landscape," he said. "And it was huge for me to see that transformation - to watch what was possible and to really come to know a place. When you grow up in the suburbs and the city, you know places by shop and streets, not by plants and hills. It's a different way of knowing the place."

This growing connection to nature spawned a frustration with the confined spaces of darkened theaters, so he began putting on performances outdoors, including one particularly arduous number that spanned 16 miles and involved nine other dancers he met along the trail. But his studies of traditional "indoor dance" were not quite over. Shortly thereafter, Forestieri moved to New York where he pursued and received his master's of fine arts in dance from New York University.

During his studies there, he choreographed dances that had large and important themes -- from water, to bio-tech, to music -- but in light of his experiences in San Francisco, the pieces still felt small. "It was controlled, in a theater where only a few people [were] going to come, people involved in the dance community," he said. "But when I was working outside, it was bringing in people who had never seen dance. It felt much more enmeshed with the world, because you're in a space where everyone is, and you're changing the dynamic of that space just by acting differently," he said.

And so he began finding opportunities to integrate site-specific outdoor performances into his curriculum. It was then that he coined the name ProjectLIMB to describe these alternative performances. "When people see you outside, they say, 'Oh, you're doing martial arts,' or 'Oh, you're doing yoga, or ballet, or hip-hop,'" Forestieri said. "But when you're doing a movement they don't recognize immediately, they're like 'What are you doing?' And that was powerful for me, to see the jarring effect it had on people."

It was in 2011 during one of these site-specific dance initiatives that he met Phelan, a Miami Beach native who started dancing as a child in the City of Miami Parks & Recreation dance program and attended high school at New World School of the Arts with a major in dance before going on to New York's Julliard School for dance.

"I was classically trained in ballet and modern, so site-specific work is kind of newer to me. But I was always kind of a drama queen, so the theatrical and dramatic side of dance is what interested me," Phelan said. "And that deep expression, more than just pretty dance moves, although I like those too, was appealing to me. The communication aspect of art and of dance has always kind of pulled my heart."

Phelan said she actually finds performing in public spaces to be more comfortable than performing on stage.

"Performing on a stage definitely scares me a lot more, because you're kind of up on a pedestal. The museum for dance and theater is the stage, so you're kind of a moving sculpture, and you're supposed to be just perfect," she said. "A lot of people who go and see dancers in a theater are dancers and in the dance community, and the dance community and people who go to see art with a capital "A" are kind of competitive. Also, there's something wonderful about being so close to your audience and being able to see them and make eye contact with them. It's encouraging and empowering to be so close."

As far as the unique challenges that are presented in composing and performing work with her significant other, Phelan said it's both difficult and wonderful.

"We fell in love performing together. And it's challenging, you know, it's like getting to express all those challenges of a relationship through our art. But it's a beautiful challenge," Phelan explained. "Different questions come up than if we were working with someone who we weren't so intimate with. You're already so close to this person, and your art is your other love. When you start to combine those two loves, it can be very challenging but very very very beautiful," she said.

Re-Vision will go on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting 8 p.m. at 14th Street and Ocean Drive, and will mark the project's first official performance in Miami. Tickets are available on ProjectLIMB's website for a suggested donation of $15, or can be paid for in cash on site.

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