Sunday, February 28, 2016
27 Blue Boxes are painted on sidewalks in Downtown Orlando. These boxes were put in place for panhandlers and buskers. Busking is possible only during day light hours. Although set up for panhandlers, police often insist street performers must use the blue boxes. Performing outside the boxes can result in 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. These Boxes represent the only places downtown where theoretically there is freedom of expression.
On February 22nd, Corinne Mele from Red Right Return Dance Company encouraged a group of dancers to utilize Blue Box # 5 as their stage. They had just rolled off of a performance of Guard Down at the Orange Studio on February 20th. They had also rehearsed the night before, but that didn't dampen their enthusiasm to perform on the streets of Orlando.
I was the first to arrive and anxiously searched for the box with map in hand. The last one had been spray washed away but this one was pristine, looking like it had been painted yesterday. I got a text from Corinne. Construction had blocked access to this street from the East. I redirected her to let her know that the street was still approachable from the West from Parramore. Soon dancers started to arrive. Corinne drove a cute little car that was covered in an ad for hint which I believe makes flavored waters. The dancers came prepared, with water and sunscreen.
They were concerned that this was a rather small stage. All movement had to be linear and having two dancers abreast, limited what they could do. Corinne walked the blue dotted line like a circus high wire performer. She did a pirouette and when she spun out of the box, she abruptly stopped and walked like a pedestrian to re-enter the box from a new location. Dancers soon realized that their extensions would most certainly cut outside the plane established by the blue box stage but with one foot planted inside the box they decided they were within the letter of the law. The dancers had two collection bowls set out. There was however no foot traffic on the sidewalk. We were one block away from the UCF Center of Emerging Media and the Bob Carr Theater. Construction effectively cut off all vehicular traffic. The only hope for a tip might come from a student. Towards the end of the dance company's improve session, a single pedestrian approached on our side of the sidewalk, Corinne bet the he would cross over to the other side of the street to avoid coming to close to the art. Sure enough twenty yards from us, he crossed over to steer clear. In a town where art is seldom experienced in public, it can be intimidating for the uninitiated. There is no fourth wall to protect the audience. Art in public is a rare beast that must be caged in blue boxes.
Heidi Busher and Corinne were the first dancers to perform a duet on the tight painted stage. They supported can other and negotiated the tight squeeze past each other. Paige Maxwell bent over backwards like a sheet of paper folded in half. Her goal was to grab her own ankles. She grabbed one but the second eluded her. I was absolutely astonished by her flexibility. Kim Matovina displayed incredible feats of strength and balance usually reserved for gymnasts. She balanced on one hand and folded in her limbs balancing with her face inches from the pavement. She then did a headstand using her forearms for support. All five dancers got in the box and tried to duplicate the move for a photo. Not everyone had the strength, but for the flash of an instant they all held the pose.
After several hours of dancing, everyone was sweaty and tired. Paige was unexpectedly hit in the face when another dancer spun with her leg extended, effectively doing a back kick. I heard the smack as if it were a sound effect in a Japanese Kung Fu movie. Paige's eyes watered and she held her nose. Luckily there was no blood. On a larger stage the dancers would not need to be so dangerously close.
Though no tips went into the tip jars, and not a single pedestrian walked by, it was a beautiful day and I'm so thankful that these beautiful dancers shared their talents to help point out that art should not be boxed in. Winter Park will never experience such a spontaneous outburst of creativity expressed on a sidewalk in public. These aren't criminals, but highly educated and trained professionals who love their craft and share it openly. Such joyous outbursts of creativity might happen more often if Orlando City Commissioners didn't create ordinances that effectively treat artists, dancers and performers as panhandlers that need to be boxed in.