John Berger, ‘The Theatre of Indifference’ in The Sense of Sight (1975: 72-73)
Performance research blog detailing collaboration between choreographers Colin Poole and Simon Ellis
A couple of weeks ago I got to talk with some MA students (and new graduates) at The Place. Afterwards, one of the students (I didn’t get her name) started talking about the showing/performance Colin and I did on the 12th.
She talked about how she didn’t ‘believe’ that I felt awkward at the end, or that I ‘failed’.
I think she was right (although there were times dealing with how to get the audience out that felt quite awkward indeed). I wonder about how to make this work … I suspect the most honest way would be to talk about hoping to feel awkward or ‘unsuccessful’, and perhaps asking the audience for help in this matter. To be frank in my retelling of the ‘authentic’ awkwardness I experienced when we first did this in the showing in the studio … but how this is no longer the case.
4 September 2009
I haven’t been able to keep up with this writing online. In part this has to do with having a few other commitments, but I think it has mostly been to do with the density of the working process. The worst part is that because it has been some time I don’t quite know where to start.
Yesterday we had a closed sharing (not sure if calling a showing a sharing is a Place thing, or a UK thing) for about 6 or 7 people. I’d started the day thinking we were going to organise ourselves for the showing, but we began talking about the last scene or ‘cell’ for the work and didn’t stop until 15 minutes before we were scheduled to begin. This has been a common situation … we start talking about the ramifications of various actions or words and then stay with that line of thinking. The discussions are not easy – we have quite distinct ways of thinking about dramaturgy, and also the ‘personal’ within the structure or form-content of the project. The discussions are frank, complex, and often heated. They have made me think a lot about what processes of negotiation are involved in collaborations. This is so different from the idea of making compromises, something that Elizabeth Boyce and I considered in detail as part of a residency at Performance Space in Sydney in 2005 (there is a document online at http://skellis.net/lab/Collaboration.pdf in which discuss the word negotiation in relation to collaborative practices).
This work (which is, I think, going to be called “Colin, Simon and I”, or “Colin, Simon and me”) is increasingly revolving around questions of identity within relationship dynamics: the degree to which we need each other, the extent of difference, absence and presence within performance (and the demands of an imagined/real partnership). If there is a story it might be thought of as the way in which I become defined by Colin’s absence and/or disappearance. But this is too simplistic with respect to the dynamics of power that are present in the work’s form-content.
Perhaps most significant is the ‘type’ of work it is. The cells (and their actions) are very loosely structured (some hardly at all), and the possibility for change/difference in each iteration of the work is high. There is a strong feeling of uncertainty in the performance (or my experience of it) that is underpinned by considerable attention to the conceptual, psychological, and dramaturgical possibilities. This makes for a curious mix of total commitment to building a complex (emergent) dialogue around self/other, presence/absence, and audience/performer, that is then ‘tested’ within various performance scenes. It is as if the rehearsal of the work is in dialogue alone (not quite), that then builds a base of mis/understanding that ‘fills’ (or loads?) the actions/improvisations with a very nuanced set of performed exchanges.
I haven’t really worked this way before, and it seems unusual just how strongly the body can be filled with language that can propel it into something else.
But that’s enough for now.
Oh, this week we were joined by Cobie Orger in the studio. Cobie provided a very clear (and patient) voice in criticising and responding to the things she was seeing/hearing. It was a deep pleasure to get to hang out with her, and to listen to the clarity of her voice (and such a welcome change from listening to Colin and I yabber on - not that we really stopped). But now she’s off back to Australia.
Oh (2), the ending … how to avoid or subvert the notion that my role is somehow transformed as a consequence of Colin’s disappearance? But is he disappearing? (Colin and I differ on this). But Colin is also curious to know what (or how I) might ‘appear’ as the other of his ‘disappearance’.
Colin becomes stereotype
Simon becomes archetype
Chris Bannerman (http://www.mdx.ac.uk/rescen) dropped in on the 20th August (yesterday) acting in a mentoring role. It was invaluable (at this stage) to have someone to push our ideas/thinking/actions onto. It reminded me of the great potential for isolation in the studio … ironic given Colin and my interest/focus on what and how audiences see.
These are some notes from our chat after Colin and I had shown a small section of material.
Clarifying what we mean by ‘responsbility through viewing’
Are we asking the audience to be more than receptive?
Do we tell them who we are? (later, earlier). I thought, given the ‘mediated through Colin’ way I open the text in the material that my saying “I am Simon, and this is Colin” would be a little ambiguous anyway … a little like Morecombe and Wise (but probably not as funny).
Chris talked of a different set of performance codes going from ‘introduction’ to the ‘channel’ physical work on the left hand side.
What of referring to the difficulty of the audience’s task? “You may be finding this difficult”
The feeling of ‘they have chosen me out of this group’ - when being looked at directly by performers.
Allay fear of audience participation.
Talked of ritualisation of opening text/looking.
The audience has the option to frame us (when no technology involved).
Talked of ‘sensitising the space’ to what is about to happen, and what is happening.
Colin: “How neutral can your power be?”
How problematic can our relationship be?
How problematic can the audience’s viewing be?
Our job is to create the conditions for them to take up the ‘offer’.
What makes a choice/constraint a responsibility?
Making choices matter.
Something about this depends on me watching (in this way).
How can we make the looking matter?
The power of gaze.
Negotiation of power relationships including the audience.
“You can look at both of us now” - before belt?
It could create more problems than solutions (the work that is).
Our experience together - in concrete terms.
Building this into the looking.
Grounded in this experience we are having.
Chris: “about text and visual” - gaze, iamge, movement, text.
Body language - only 5% of how we relate UNTIL it doesn’t match with what is being said - then it matters a lot. The incongruency is critical.
We spoke of ordering - of how images cause audiences to revise what they have seen (curious about operation of memory in this).
Chris: “aesthetics of absence”
There is a game here - in paying attention, in concentration, in risking missing so much because of what might be seen. We can’t see it all.
“rupture”, or “door opening” … with belt scene.
How to make our performance depend on their viewing?
The viewer doesn’t need it - but what if we can develop the idea that they need it … ?
It would be a shame if they couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
Our relationship with audience, our relationship with each other.
Phew. Long post.
More notes. These are all a bit over the place, but I want to get them ‘out there’ for Colin, and the other two people following this blog (my mother? my sister-in-law?)
request, demand, obligation, threat. Increasing levels of inflexibility with respect to demands on an audience.
We talked some more about the ‘ecstatic’, and of the notion of ecstatic place existing across a spectrum from being totally about the ‘self’, through to an act of selflessness.
Colin was interested in working with scores/actions in which we were trying to achieve something. Functional activities (care/interfere). e.g. making myself comfortable.
We talked of framing boredom as a value (something that has come up a bit).
Without closing your eyes, can you make me disappear?
It’s about you, it’s about you looking at me.
Trawling through some old notes about responsibility, and the demands/requests we might ask of an audience …
If you find yourself wandering from this responsibility, then it might be useful to …
remind yourself of your commitment
be kind to yourself, and bring your attention back to me
listen wholeheartedly … to me, with me, for me.
Responsibility to see and listen as best as you can …. to me.
Cultivating an attitude of care that implies a responsibility in viewing. Making it even more problematic with some actions - unisons, alternating, overlaping.
There is cost involved in who you look at? Your choices are costly. A forced choice? The key quality is care. How can you bring about care in viewing? This is why people avoid boredom … ‘I just don’t get it’.
How to bring them to a place of boredom and make them care?
Determining who you are responsible for.
I may not meet every expectation you have when you go back.
How to keep the focus?
To keep this in the foreground.
What are the stakes for them in not doing this?
What if they didn’t do it?
It makes me uncomfortable admitting to the things that make me comfortable.
Colin and I devised a list of things that made us comfortable. These questions are designed as a kind of questionnaire to elicit similar answers to my list. That is, ‘if the answers are these, what are the questions?’
Who does history belong to?
Do you deserve to win?
Have you ever felt invisible?
Can you blend into the background?
Do people find you scarey?
What do others think when they see you?
Do you belong?
What is the group you belong to, or identify with, most?
Are there places you cannot go? Give examples.
Do you, for the most part, feel right or correct?
Have you ever had a door closed on you?
What does it feel like when you are first?
How do you feel discomfort?
At what times do you recognise your similarities?
Are there people who mean less to you?
Is the past yours?
What about the future?
What is the worst loss you’ve ever experienced?
Is belonging important?
Are you the same?
When do you feel most different?
Can you be reduced to nothing?
Do you feel filled with potential?
Is this potential God-given?
Can you escape?
If yes, would you want to?
Where would you go?
Do you feel as if you are in the foreground?