March 25–26 & 29–31, 7:30 p.m., $15–$20
The Fruit, Durham

For every question I ask Ginger Wagg, she poses five more.

“What’s the point of me? What am I doing? Is it serious? Is it not serious? Is what I’m trying to accomplish really frivolous?” she asks by way of explaining her new performance installation, Frivolous Artist, which premieres at the Fruit in the Durham Independent Dance Artists season this weekend and next.

These rhetorical questions erode the conventional relationship between journalist and subject, roles that, in Wagg’s sun-filled Carrboro home, come to seem first insignificant, then nonexistent. We are two people exploring a cloudy constellation of questions about the place of artists in society, the value of art, and the hard-to-define power of improvisation.

This is apt. Wagg’s creative practice, which centers on dance but also involves music, performance art, and more, is built upon deconstructing dichotomies between participant and observer, audience and artist, serious and silly. She invites us to perform alongside her, to respond to her movements and to one another’s, and to become attuned to the reasons why we find certain motions funny, troubling, or beautiful.

There is comfort in knowing the “rules” of a dance performance. (She is the dancer; I am the seated audience member.) There is comfort in having clear criteria by which to judge it. (That is a difficult arabesque, so it must be praiseworthy.) But Wagg prefers discomfort. While some of her improvisations might carry a trace of the conventional elegance of ballet, which she studied in high school and college, her performances disrupt assumptions about quality and meaning.

“I do go into realms that are hard to understandwriggling, writhing, rolling in odd ways,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about why those gestures are more or less available than a ballet gesture. What makes that wriggling or writhing have any value?”

Traditional artists are often after clarity, even obviousness. They want a certain emotion to be accessible. Wagg is less direct, more searching. She performs unfamiliar or grotesque moves to make us think critically about our impressions and assumptions and recognize our interpretive responsibility.

“I’m definitely asking the question, what would you like to bring to the table?” she says. “How are you standing? What direction is your head looking? Could I stand like you? Are you fiddling with your phone? What if I made that same gesture and now we’re doing the same thing?”

Wagg’s past performances have involved sound art (wailing horns, hiccupping electronics), props (mirrors, scrap metal), and collaborative dance. She’s hesitant to describe the form and content of Frivolous Artist in too much detail lest she limit our interpretive possibilities.

“It’s a site-specific, mobile audience-and-performer interaction,” she concedes. “We’re going to move in multiple spots in and around the Fruit. We’ll all be moving together, and there will be different things to see and experience and hear.”

The title Frivolous Artist speaks to Wagg’s good-humored and self-critical view of an artist’s roleespecially that of an experimental artist. But it also speaks to how central the audience is in her work.

“I’ve been asking, how is the audience relevant?” she says. “And for this work, I’ve been like, well, that’s the only thing that’s relevant. So how am I relevant?”

Making viewers aware of their agency and complicity is not merely a deconstructive gesture. It’s an empowering one with implications for sociopolitical life.

“I think a lot of us feel unempowered to make choices right now and feel like other people are just ruling, in a way that doesn’t give us agency, doesn’t give us the ability to make changes,” Wagg says. “I think this really simple idea is almost a radical idea. You have agency. You can make choices. Do you want the responsibility?”