Monday, July 15, 2002

This last weekend was spent in a Butoh-based workshop. It was incredible how the tasks set here enabled such emotion to flow. Having never done Butoh before and having generalised it as an art form where you need to be painted white, move slow and act weird I didn’t expect much about what I would be made to do. I signed up for it because of one line in particular on its advertising flyer. It read, “Rather than aspiring to an aesthetic ideal, the dancer attempts to bare her/his soul, to reveal the human being.” Butoh: Shades of Darkness by J Viala and N Masson-Sekine. Yes, this is what I am to show the dancer as human being.....and if insight into methods of how one goes about this meant being painted white or acting weird I was up for it.

The workshop was indeed inspiring. The use of visualisation was very strong and relied on each dancer to embody, interpret and manifest the mental into the physical. However, it was not acting or representing the visualisation, it was becoming it, in the moment and this was the most relevant aspect of the workshop for me. I know the idea of using visualisation to evoke movement from dancers in not a new one. In fact it was the feel good “dance as if you were a flower blooming” modern dance of the 70s in America, that I grew up on. So the use of visualisation in dance is nothing innovative. However, having the guts to take on the visualisation as if it were happening to you in the moment, without worrying about an audience or their reactions to you, is quite a liberating exploration. This is probably where my ‘Butoh equals weird’ generalisation comes from. If anyone who wasn’t informed about the content of the workshop had stumbled across our activities this weekend would most certainly think there were a bunch of crazies on the loose. Then again, one would never embark upon such a workshop if one truly cared about the opinions of the public or if one weren’t partially crazy in the first place.

Jesting aside, what struck me most about the success of the workshop in terms of getting dancers to show themselves as human beings was the powerful tool of being aware, having a heightened state of perception and this, the workshop leader stressed. Every activity was done in groups and every activity started and finished at the same time without verbal communication or eye contact. The group was meant to feel the moments of starting and stopping; more difficult than it sounds when you are in a group of 15 or 30 as the case was.

For me, there really is something in this feeling perception that makes the dancers have to be alive, thinking, always ready. When I watched the dancers in this moment of readiness to begin their movements their bodies seemed electric, full of energy, like a cat waiting to pounce. There was something quite beautiful about it and as I continued to watch this state of readiness over time, even as an observer I began to feel a surge and drop of energy in the room. Hokey as this may sound I experienced it and although actively being in the state of readiness (the workshop leader had a specific name for this state but it now escapes me) was much more powerful than when watching it, it nevertheless was there.

There were many, many aspects of this workshop that I found incredibly useful for my own practice as a choreographer in search of the dancer as human being. Fortunately, I will have the opportunity to work with this workshop leader again in September, so surely more on this topic will unfold.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

I finally saw a show that gave me something to chew on -- conceptually. Wendy Houstoun & Guests, The Purcell Room, 13 June 2002. Good lookings for intersubjective juicy bits and relevance into my ideas about choreography (as I struggle to materialise them).

On 13 June I entered the Purcell Room, a formal theatre setting with large video images filling the whole back wall of the stage. Once settled into my seat, front row and centre, I noticed an illuminated red plug glowing in front of me reading “keine angst”. The show begins. Wendy stands offstage left, down level with the audience and speaks to us casually. Wearing faded black t-shirt & jeans it appears to me that she is just “being herself”. In further efforts to convey this Wendy tells us what we are about to see is an experiment, just some ideas she and her guests have been working on, then humorously, she says “I would like to call your attention to this plug” (i.e. the “keine angst” plug I am sitting in front of). What??

I was struck by the opposition of her down-to-earth, somewhat bizarre, relaxed approach of her words and appearance vs. the setting in which I find myself. The Purcell Room for me has always been a venue for serious dance companies, reserved for the big boys (and girls even). Wendy’s lax introduction made me feel as if I were in the wrong place and I started to question the £25.00 I had just laid down for my two tickets.

But once the performance began I was excited by the concept, the attention of the dancers, the sound and video capturing the live moments of structured improvisation. It was fantastic and I was happy to watch what unfolded from layered tasks of fluid components. The layered tasks of the evening expanded from six dancers creating their own individual dances spontaneously and in the moment as they took their movement cues from each other and from two videos playing on either side of the stage. Engaging!

The second layer upon this was repeated movement making in this way by two dancers whilst one man wrote spontaneous thoughts on an overhead projector, one man read these aloud, and one man sat sketching the live movement.

After this followed one dancer, a woman wearing a pair of headphones listening to text or a talk show of some kind and trying to say exactly what she heard as she heard it. Quite entertaining as she could never quite keep up with the speed of whatever it was she was listening to.

Towards the end of the show we saw three duets. One of each of the dancers in each duet was blindfolded. They moved only when they felt their partner move and tried to match them energetically.

Finally, in the last section of the “experiment” pre-meditated members of the audience were brought up on stage and seated in a row of chairs just within the sightlines of the television sets tuned into an episode of East Enders. Their job was to replicate movements and body postures as seen on the screens. While this was happening each of the six dancers wore a pair of headphones also tuned into the show and the men & women spoke in turn in accordance with the characters. A final touch which I liked was scrolling across the back wall there were projections saying “To vote Nigel off call 07876 281 081”, “To vote Jane off call 07791 267 542” etc.

What turned out to be a sceptical evening for me at first turned into my favourite contemporary dance event of the year. It was innovative and well explored and definitely worth my 25 quid!