Voluntaries Service: MoMA Teens + Dean Moss

Teens assisting with Dean Moss’s Voluntaries performance at MoMA

Recently, a group of our In the Making and Cross-Museum Collective teen alumni were given the opportunity to assist choreographer Dean Moss as he finished his preparations for Voluntaries (created in collaboration with visual artist Laylah Ali), for MoMA’s recent dance performance series Some sweet day. The eight teens met with Moss prior to the performances in order to learn about his working process and ideas behind the piece, and then worked side by side with him on the creation of dozens of objects and props to be used within the work. Finally, the teens assisted during the three live performances themselves—an experience that they discuss in-depth within the following post. Instead of having one of us boring, old MoMA staff members talk about what happened, we asked two of the teens, Cliff Tang (age 15) and Charisse Sanchez (age 18), to look at some photographs from their time with Moss and reflect upon their experiences. As always, they do a better job of explaining this than we ever could, and we are so incredibly proud to share their insights with the public.

—Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator of Teen and Community Programs


Charisse: Here we all are in the Atrium after practicing a run-through of our roles in the performance. A week prior Dean had invited us to watch his open rehearsal at BAC, so I took that invitation and watched him and the other cast members rehearse Voluntaries. I saw how the boards we made were going to be used in the piece, and I learned the significance of the Mylar on the foam boards. Dean explained that, in a way, the performers were being beat by their own reflection. That concept was very intriguing to me, and I thought it was quite poetic. Aesthetically, the Mylar’s purpose was to reflect the light from the stage around the space in the Marron Atrium and onto the audience so as to engage them further.


Cliff: For each performance Dean wanted to have a new set of freshly made boards, and it was up to us to create three sets, one for each of the performances. We had already talked to Dean about all of the ideas behind his piece, and we were excited to get to work! So to the beat of some very interesting jams and with the aid of delicious MoMA snacks, we made these beautiful Mylar mirror-boards that would actually be used in the performance, which was super awesome! I was initially nervous to cut the boards, since they were going to be used in a performance at MoMA. But it turned out that Dean was really cool and chill about the small mistakes that we made while making them (even though we had to completely toss and start over on some disastrous boards), which calmed all of us down.


Charisse:  In this photo Llefri, Qi, and I watch as Dean demonstrates how to cut a straight line across the foam board properly. As everyone took a turn cutting through the board, we laughed with each other over how terrible our cuts were. We all shied away from the task because we did not want to ruin them, but regained confidence after receiving guidance from Dean. At first I thought the task would be mundane, but instead it was an opportunity to get to know Dean better and get an understanding of our role in the performance. We realized that pasting duct tape to the edges of the board required that you have long legs, so Dean and I created a mini system where I placed the duct tape along the short edges of the board and he covered the long edges, and we switched off. It was a pleasant way to converse with him about his career and experiences visiting other countries.


Cliff: We rehearsed our roles in the performance quite frequently. Even though it may have seemed like a simple task, Dean was very specific about when we would start throwing and when we would stop throwing the sheets of Mylar. Here is Skylar, Llefri, and I watching the Mylar being thrown down from the sixth floor by the other interns! The Mylar coming down on us was so incredible and dynamic, and Dean was extremely pleased with the outcome.


Charisse:  Here’s Dean, along with his crew of Kacie Chang, Cassie Mey, Sari Nordman, and Asher Woodworth, performing in the Marron Atrium. During my visit to Dean’s open rehearsal at BAC, I had the luxury of asking the performers some questions. They each explained that performing Dean’s choreography required a substantial amount of emotional effort. Kacie, having worked with Dean before, explained that she takes on a completely new persona while performing, including new memories and emotions, in order to successfully perform the piece.


Cliff: The performance itself was so moving and so intense that I was really grateful to have been given the chance to watch the whole thing come together! The entire performance made me think about what was happening on the stage. Dean charged the space with electricity and thought, and it clearly made the audience extremely pensive. If you look closely in the background, you can see the crowd, with their heads cocked to the side, watching the performance, giving Dean their undivided attention. With nothing but their actions, the props, and lighting, Dean was able to get the entire crowd of people engaged with what he was doing. Now that is what I call the power of art!


Charisse: Here we are dropping the Mylar “leaves” from the sixth floor and looking downward as they descend onto the stage below. We received some assistance from MoMA visitors, a great way to conclude our collaboration with Dean. He really opened my eyes to a new level of passion and appreciation for performance art. And we all took home a foam board signed by each other, the cast, and Dean as a memento!


Charisse: In this photo we see what is left of the performance and the crowd exiting the Marron Atrium. Looking at the photo I can see remnants of John Brown’s legacy, which Dean used as the central inspiration for the piece. I can see the fury of the emotional and physical battle in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. I can sense the eeriness of hate and the regret of loss.


Charisse: Skylar, Christian, Julia, and I pose in front of the stage after watching the “leaves” fulfill their role in the performance. I think we were all inspired by the performers to do a little dancing of own. The music, the dance, and the Mylar all contributed to an extremely beautiful closing sequence. Although I was able to record the rehearsal at BAC and present it to the other teens, the addition of the Mylar “leaves” really made a difference. It was captivating—the way the stage lights reflected off the “leaves” and the foam boards. It allowed us to become engrossed in a way that was unique to that last sequence.


Cliff: By the end of the program I had gotten to know the other interns so well. Like all of the other MoMA Teen Programs I had been a part of, we became more than just a group of people that were put together, we became a family. We not only learned a lot about creating a performance art piece, but also learned about each other, like food preferences and our clearly individual, unique tastes in music. This photo was taken after a long night of board making, and one can clearly see that we felt completely at ease and completely at home with one another. With Some sweet day ending and the performances of Voluntaries over I was able to take with me not only a board (signed by Dean himself!) but also some extremely valuable experiences. I learned about the different mediums art can be made in, the processes of creating with them, and also the power of art on its audience. During my time working with the other interns and Dean, I met people that I will never forget and I learned things that will stay with me for the rest of my life. For me, simply watching the performance charged my brain with thoughts and ideas. But isn’t that what art is supposed to do?


Extra special thanks to Dean Moss, Jenny Schlenzka, Jill A. Samuels, Alan Calpe, and all of the teens who worked on the project: Cliff, Charisse, Llefri, Qi, Skylar, Christian, Julia, and Xiomara. For more information on MoMA Teens visit or Applications and course outlines for our spring 2013 season of In the Making’s free art classes for teens will be available on December 1. Email [email protected] for more info.</p>