Architecture + Dance Pas De Deux in “Secrets and Seawalls”

By Lee H. Skolnick, FAIA, Principal


Why did I agree to collaborate? First, it was on the strength of the spirit I felt upon first meeting and talking with choreographer, Melissa Riker. We found a remarkable degree of synergy with respect to how we view our art and expression. When she approached me about collaborating, I had to admit that my expertise in dance was less than limited – it was just about non-existent. In fact, I had to confess that while I felt attracted to and comfortable with just about every other art form, dance was the one place where I just didn’t feel like I ‘got it’. So I immediately thought that this would be a great way to finally learn to understand and appreciate dance in a way that would otherwise be impossible – from the inside out. And what better way to do it than by using Melissa’s piece as the guinea pig (just kidding!).


Seriously, when Melissa began to describe the theme of her piece, “Secrets and Seawalls”, how it was inspired by the devastation and exposed vulnerability occasioned by the impacts of Hurricane Sandy, the issues of strength—weakness—protection, and how there were obvious and attendant architectural and spatial allusions and potential that she wanted to explore….I was hooked. The space that can be created by and with the human body – what it can describe, define and evoke, is quite miraculous. The narrative and symbolic power of gesture and movement are very powerful. Interestingly, while many assumed I would be advising on physical sets for the piece, this was the least of my interests. In fact, I continue to eschew the idea that set design will add much to the interpretive power of the performance. I am continually astounded at how much can be expressed by the dancers themselves, although I am quite certain that costume, lighting and music/sound can be used to great effect.


In addition to architecture, I am a lifelong student and lover of music. In dance, as in architecture, I see enormous connections to music. If architecture is frozen music (Goethe), dance is music unleashed into space.