Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer enjoy blurring the line between the visual arts and the performing arts.
The husband-wife dance duo, who will perform in Portland next weekend, are known for incorporating multi-media elements, such as recorded and live video feeds, into their art.
But Bridgman | Packer Dance takes the visual concept a step farther with its latest piece, “Voyeur.”
Co-commissioned by Portland Ovations for its 2012-13 season opener, “Voyeur” receives its premiere this week as part of the city’s First Friday Art Walk activities. It’s inspired by the paintings of the great American artist Edward Hopper, who spent considerable time in Portland in the early part of the 20th century.
The dancers will give six performances on Friday and Saturday at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art in Portland. The performances are free and supported by the Bates Dances Festival in Lewiston.
Bridgman and Packer live in Valley Cottage, N.Y., which happens to be next to Nyack, where Hopper grew up. Nyack is now home to the Edward Hopper House Art Center. As part of the Hopper House 40th anniversary, Bridgman and Packer were asked to create a piece that incorporated his paintings.
They ran with the idea.
“We did not want to stage his paintings or recreate tableaus of his paintings,” Packer said by phone. “We wanted to create a departure point that would be unique and our own.”
Bridgman | Packer came to Maine at the invitation of Portland Ovations executive director Aimee Petrin.
Petrin is a big proponent of dance, and has made contemporary dance a major component of the Portland Ovations recent programming.
The Portland Ovations’ new season will also include performances by the Joffrey Ballet and Spellbound Dance Company.
Bridgman and Packer have been dancing for more than 30 years and are Guggenheim Fellows.
The Hopper project appealed to them because of the artist’s tendency to make paintings of prominent or remarkable architecture. He filled his canvases with many windows and doorways — which, to Bridgman and Packer, represent opportunities for voyeurism.
“It was that aspect of his work that appealed to us very strongly,” Packer said. “As a viewer, you are looking through an opening to see what is going on inside the house. That is the essence of voyeurism. You are architecturally removed from what you are seeing. There is a lot of hidden actions in his paintings.”
For “Voyeur,” Bridgman | Packer constructed an accordion-style stage set that includes openings representing windows and doors. It’s about 10 feet high and 20 feet wide, and divided into 4-foot panels that zigzag across the floor.
The duo will perform in front of and behind the set, with cameras projecting live images to the audience when they perform out of view of a door or window. They will also project imagery inspired by Hopper paintings onto the set itself.
Bridgman and Packer collected their footage in and around Portland, where Hopper painted in the late 1920s. They came to Maine in August 2011 with filmmaker Peter Bobrow and shot raw footage of subjects that Hopper painted, primarily the Custom House and other scenes along the waterfront and in the West End.
“We found that Portland was an ideal location to film, because much of Portland was built in the time of Hopper and represents the times when Hopper lived and painted,” Bridgman said.
“We made great use of many of the residential homes in the West End, along Market Street and down toward the water and some of the city’s really old buildings. It just seemed like a perfect fit.”
Added Packer, “Some of these locations will be recognizable to people, and some might not be. Peter (the filmmaker) likes to blend locations, so they become composites of different locations and multiple elements.”
The couple had a great time exploring the city.
“We filmed all day for several days, but the last hour or two before sunset, our activity level would increase,” Bridgman said. “We would race from place to place capturing what Peter calls ‘the magic hour,’ when the shadows get long and the light gets nuanced moment by moment.”
The performance piece lasts about 32 minutes.
Before each performance, the set will be open for exploration. The audience is encouraged to come up on stage to walk around the set to get a feeling for the physical space.
Bridgman | Packer will perform three times on Friday in the large back gallery of the ICA at MECA, and again three times on Saturday.
Given the visual art connection, it seemed appropriate to stage it in a gallery setting, Packer said.
From Portland, it will travel throughout New England into 2013. As part of the commissioning process, Portland Ovations secured a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts to help support the tour.
Petrin supported this piece on many levels.
She has always enjoyed working with Bridgman | Packer, and likes the idea of encouraging new work.
But the clincher was the Maine connection.
“The beautiful thing is that Maine is in the piece,” Petrin said. “That’s what’s really exciting — not only supporting artists in the creation of this piece, but Maine has a starring role.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: