About the Key Game Project

October 24, 2013

In 2008, choreographer Kristen Smiarowski started THE KEY GAME PROJECT, a three-phase series of choreographic responses to The Key Game, a fictional short story by Polish writer Ida Fink about a family’s response to impending death in World War II Poland. Each work in THE KEY GAME PROJECT is a memorial to the one that preceded it.

Sleep, Staring, Well

Sleep, Staring, Well is the third phase of THE KEY GAME PROJECT. It is a site-adaptive, multimedia performance event about the construction of cultural memory.

Sleep, Staring, Well is currently in production. For upcoming events, CLICK HERE.


Audience members experience Sleep, Staring, Well on foot as they move freely through the performance space. They encounter a variety of media and modes of engagement, including live dance, spoken word, soundscapes, video, written word, and art objects. Interactive spaces invite attendees to respond to what they have witnessed. Fabrics, ropes, and tubing form a kinetic space that encourages audience members to actively observe the work and make choices about where to go and how long to stay in each location. Events take place simultaneously and in specific sequences. Like moments in history, attendees make choices: one is not forced to see it all, nor can they.

Sleep, Staring, Well is a contemplative piece exploring the ethical responsibility of remembering human suffering. It echoes the formation and reformation of cultural memory, and reflects upon the attempts to create a coherent history of the Holocaust by generations who did not directly experience it.

This project is a collaborative effort between Smiarowski, Berlin-based dancer Arianne Hoffmann, composer and visual artist Douglas C. Wadle, video artist Ann Kaneko, archivist Kathy Carbone, set designer Caitlin Lainoff, as well as a host of dancers and writers who are participating in workshops to generate material for the work.

The collaboration with Berlin-based dancer Arianne Hoffmann is a conversation between two artists, each reacting to the other’s performance. For this work, Smiarowski (working in Los Angeles), Hoffmann (working in Berlin) and volunteer audience members (in both cities) erase, add to, re-organize and morph an original dance. The resulting “erased” dances will be presented live and on video with different contextual backgrounds (a reading of Fink’s “The Key Game,” a live string quartet, a hörspiel about memory as a part of Sleep, Staring, Well.

Soundscapes and original music by Douglas C. Wadle fill the performance spaces. As the audience travels, they discover dances, art objects, and videos framed by layers of sound: a live string quartet, sound collages from the first works in THE KEY GAME PROJECT, and several hörspiels, the first of which is titled In Advance of the Archive. This sonic landscape mixes excerpts from the earlier works in the series with dialogues between Wadle, Smiarowski and archivist Carbone, about memory, memorial art, and the role of the archive.

Wadle’s commission also includes four painted canvases that are taken through an erasure process. Each canvas begins with a text generated in workshop sessions with Smiarowski and other writers. He then erases the text through a variety of means: painting over it, pouring water on it, cutting it out, or scratching it away with sandpaper. After, he studies what is left and adds more detail, continues a thread of an idea, and generates new writing on thoughts that emerge. The original writings address larger concerns generated by the work, including the prospects of a perfect history and the ethical obligations of remembering human suffering.

Ann Kaneko’s documentary video of Wadle erasing and modifying the original text accompanies the canvases. The result creates a layered dialogue between objects, texts and their evolving histories.

Phases 1 and 2 of

THE KEY GAME PROJECT began with The Key Game (2008), in which Smiarowski provides a concentrated glimpse of a family’s suffering through a single dancer. With acts of repetition, the game of survival takes on the psychological function of rehearsing impending death.

Premiere: Links Hall, Chicago. Choreographing Coalitions: Dancing the Other in the Self. Co-presented by Links Hall and the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago (2008)


In the second phase of THE KEY GAME PROJECT, Indexical Permutations (after ‘The Key Game’) (2009), the collaborators examined and reprocessed the movement and sound material from the the first dance in the series. By doing so, they emptied the dance of its original content and created a fragmented and abstract memorial to the dance which preceded it. The audience encounters a work divorced from its initial context and displaced from its original chronology, thereby reflecting how individuals encounter traces of the past.

Premiere: New Dance, The Wooden Floor (formerly Saint Joseph Ballet) (2009)


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