Features of Fool. A ten minute performance of ideas and quotes from the reference book Fools Are Everywhere by Beatrice K.Otto, performed at the Victoria Baths in Manchester.
On Saturday the 10th of January (2015) was a showing of the first showing of The Dancing Plague by The Ashes Dance Collective. It was platformed at Resolution in The Place theatre venue in London. This piece (as the title suggests) is based on the dancing plague of 1518. This recorded event was considered a type of plague because, like an epidemic, it spread through and affected many in a physically (and arguably psychologically) manner – in fact many died from it. Accounts of this dancing plague suggest a variety of causalities for this phenomena, of which the source seems to be financial or religious reasons. Here dance, which is ordinarily associated with positivity: personal expression, release, and alternated and useful states of consciousness became a symbol of hardship, pain, guilt and death. It is written that the dancing plague began with a woman named Frau Troffeau. Who, in an apparently inspired moment (of madness?), took to the streets and danced…and didn’t stop. People, and more people followed suit, they kept dancing regardless of physical and mental sacrifice. The spectacle of Frau Troffeau, to those that followed, was attractive, for reasons that seem implausible, but they were influenced to join her in constant movement that may have been a trance. Opinions are that Frau’s outbreak into constant dance movement may have been: a gesture to spite her husband (who didn’t like dancing), the result of a vengeful saint, a favour for (advertisement of) a saint, divine punishment, a mental break-down as a result of extreme poverty and/or suppression.
As previously mentioned, there must be a reason why improvisation has always been included in my work. It is certainly not a laziness for performance preparation – improvisation takes just as much preparation. I think this can be explained (if I can explain it) through the understanding that public performance pushes you into a place in which you are bringing out your performative best, presenting your sensibility for performing arts using the approach/work intended. Surely in this public place of ability, vulnerability and energy, improvisation (action that works with instinct as oppose to rehearsal) is now ‘silver-lined’ with these sensibilities: a search for, a grappling with emotion, a conscience for aesthetic qualities. Surely this results in moments of that unfamiliar self being un-earthered occasionally as more characteristically poignant – a refreshing point of interest. I have been told (and hope to be true) that some of these moments in my own work have been viewed as refreshing and meaningful for the spectator. I hope these moments have also been observed as being refreshing for the performer as they arise (that sense of sharing a moment)…However, now is the time – FINALLY – to move on from improvisation…
I last performed Cafe Repartee at Free For Arts at the Penthouse in Manchester (a great layout of conceptual and visual art work). This performance is partly script which leads into the improvisation. I was aware (before, through and after) that I didn’t give myself time to re-learn the script, to make the best of the words and actions – this vastly (of course) affected the performance – particularly the Ball and Heulsenbeck sections. During presentation I had the mindfulness of that fear that what I was delivering might not be what conceptual/visual artists would want to see, mainly because of the forced and shifting energy involved in my work/a moving body in a space.
I later understood that aside from ill preparation the work was affected by my not enjoying it, because I hadn’t done/used enough research in the last two of the three dadaists that featured in the script. Perhaps I also didn’t spent the required time embodying the men that fascinated me, though this was avoided as it seemed very anti-dada, regrettably I felt I failed to inflame the performance with the idea of their brilliance. Also the last two sections were not composed as interestingly as the first (it was commented, “the first was alot more powerful”). Perhaps I am just trying to involve too much in one performance – probably!
The grapheme element was a little better than the previous showing, the graphemes were used and slowly develop from sounds into actual words (from out of nowhere – unexpected). I understand now that having a script presented before the graphemes are spoken and improvised with doesn’t work in favour of the grapheme experiment. I use the script information as a reference point during improvising and the improvised section becomes more about the rearranging and playing with script rather than the idea of the graphemes being the instigator for new language – the sound leading to new words, implanting new image and taking these to a new place accompanied with new action – different from what had previously been seen
To do this again I would need an appropriate and willing venue which was specifically about sound, language, and the use of the body in this. Because it is (why didn’t I accept this before – perhaps I didn’t care) a difficult thing to do. The body and the voice has to be properly prepared for this, patience is key, and not the idea that performance always have to be entertaining – this is not the point here. It is about trying to present the idea of improvising from very little and improvising from sounds…improvising FORM… (an abstract idea) and an aesthetic idea. And how this can make new ideas lead to, perhaps, the poetical, the non-literal, the literal…whatever – it doesn’t matter because there is nothing set in place – it has to be a minimal and organic experiment! To do this again I need to view it differently, and I need the right, not necessarily but partially sympathetic space. I shall look and hope.
However, for now a NEW approach…I am researching and devising a short script which will be presented as a durational piece and will be concerned with the psychology of the comic Fool…more soon.
Really enjoyed this performance, particularly the revisiting of a scripted work, to be able to build on separate sections. A well received show – woooPeee. I think this performance is set to be dragged up a few more times should I be offered a spaced for it.
please excuse the noise pollution!
The first presentation of Cafe Repartee was at Unity Day on Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, Unity has been good to me, I have now performed two solo’s and a collaboration at this days festival. All of these were a first showing with an encouraging and helpful audience. I’m always extremely nervous before performing, but even more so with this recent piece because I was attempting to improvise with material that was so unfamiliar to me – which had no emotional history or narrative to draw upon. I comforted myself that this is okay because now,rather than any post performance dissatisfaction coming from a judgement of the quality of my delivery or lack of audience appreciation, it now comes from knowing whether I have experimented to the extreme that I can. This is experimentation. This is a selfish thing. But, for me, the artist is expressing to develop on a personal plane, and to live as themselves – thanks to Willem De Kooning, Scott Walker, Don Van Vliet, Viv Stanshall and Phil Sanger (but a few) for reminding me. Phil said recently (on paraphrasing Dr Seus), ‘Just go right along, and here we are trying not to try’ – gorgeous. This sensation of moving through time effortlessly and with ego satisfied is also, I think, for the spectator – if the performer is enjoying it the audience are too. I am only ever put off watching performance work if those performing seem to want to be somewhere other than the circumstance they find themselves in. However, I like that people have different motivations for performing – for me, the word is experimentation, experimentation to find the new. And, I realize now always has been – otherwise why am I still not allowing myself to let go of the improvised act! Script can still be involved, and in my recent work is. Cafe Repartee began with a ten minute script which attempted to, in my own style, (briefly) convey the personalities and works of Walter Serner, Hugo Ball and Richard Heulsenbeck. Perhaps arrogant that I could assume to show the personalities of such extraordinary, changeable and unfixed persons in such a short time. The method for performance was to deliver the script once and then to repeat, beginning to feed in texts made up of graphemes which were contributed by audience members (a grapheme chart and instructions in the performance asked spectators to do so – if they wished). This element of the work was problematic – only a few (by my pre-performance request) contributed, so the same texts were used more than once as an instigation for improvisation. As I have said this was ultimate experimentation and I was not sure if something visually interesting could emerge from having a script broken up and finally overtaken by texts made up of only graphemes: texts such as ”sch sch sch oo oo eck eck kow ugh zz (short) chow ee”. But, what is wrong with just making sounds? words that don’t conjure a known image. This, although far from it, attempts to support Ball’s theory that abstract language is more useful because here representative image is more personalized, away from indoctrinated and damaging image attached to habituated language. But, also, because attempting this pushes me more to a place were I have to be less concerned with constantly satisfying and engaging the audience but instead to allow myself to get to that place of discovering the ‘new’ through patience and concentration. I am not successful yet in this. At my Unity day performance the improvised element, though it did occasionally involve graphemes (which had often changed from the initial reading to the incorporation into performance – I have a bad memory), took a route of improvisation drawing from my script. Duh, of course this would be the case! When improvising you go back to retrieve what is in your ready memory to play with, this was my script I had been rehearsing – not the graphemes. So, though the intentions, and purpose for selling this show, was that audience members would see their contributions being performed verbally and at a development through gesture and rhythm, this was only occasionally the case. I also, particularly when I performed this at the Beacons festival, repeated sounds that were not necessarily graphemes, because I felt they fit and were all that were readily available in my head, I even spoke lines from a past performance. But, this is part of improvising – you have to keep going, you have to keep moving through, whatever comes out, even if it may be dull, until you get to that place where ‘you are trying not to try’ (thanks Phil).
I was upset with myself following Beacons, here I was reminded how environment/ audience can affect your work, and actually I rely on their engagement and understanding of what I am doing, feeling a need to satisfy them as well as myself. And, I realize now most of those I idolize who have the courage to work with ‘difference’ do so in isolation while creating the work and then present it to the public for critique. I can’t do this. Most of the audience I believe were engaged for a sufficient time but (understandably) there is only so much investment you can put into observing a dramatic and repetitive work at 11am when you are a few days into a festival. I could quickly sense that this was not the environment for my work and I allowed this to affect my performing. I finished what was supposed to be a 45 minute piece in 30 minutes and walked out dissatisfied with having allowed myself to get overwhelmed by being to concerned with the external instead of believing in my philosophies and just using the space to play, despite what people may think! People don’t have to watch, but perhaps my nature of feeling discomfort by others discomfort was present. However, the dadaists could not have been concerned with others opinion, and welcomed a distaste and rebellion to their choices – increasing the potential for individual opinion/response. I have one more chance at this. I am performing at Free For Arts. I shall not sweeten the pill by putting a sign explaining that repetition and moments of struggle are part of the work, I shall just ‘be’ in the space, to not worry, to concentrate on the body, a balance between the task and expressing the mind as it wishes and people will hopefully enjoy my personal approach to performance work!
Reflections and ramblings on an enjoyable day
The many and varied artistic offerings for the drawing sheds IdeasFromElse[W]here project was the starting point, and key focus, for my own contribution, (I think I was lucky to have been there on the final day of the project). I always consider that in being invited to share your own ideas to an art project there has to be a thought that it might be appropriate for your work to be a commentary on the environment for presentation, or on the history of the space, or at least be fitting to the through-line theme set up by those organizing the project and those who have previously contributed. So, despite Sally’s encouragement that I should play with and deliver whatever I wished (reminding me of my own comfort that art is so about personal interpretation – with a sense of isolation), I took the approach to use what was in the space as a stimulus for performance action. This is of course a simple and easy approach to creation, especially as the art there was so attractive. I set to pick a collection of the art pieces (there was not the time to use all of the art that adorned the space sadly), and then observed each art piece separately, extracting and recording basic and obvious aspects of its presentation e.g. observation 1: a photography image of detail with a black circle set in it, the aspect of this was of absence in time – something missing, an sudden gap or emptiness midst action and happening (?). Once I recorded the observations of each art work I then translated them into a performance action. To help form the performance action the observations were categorized as stillness, inconsistency, or repetition, an effort to lean even more on these three elements which exist in performance art. The second art piece I responded to was a stack of sculptured bottles, with the aspects of difference, deformity and hardness, while these suggest all elements: repetition, inconsistency and stillness, this work was categorized as stillness due to the material used: they were ‘rock-hard’ and cannot be reshaped and appeared with a discomfort which shows a lack of freedom, this art piece was performed as an performance action of a stillness which provoked endurance and tightness/stiffness – shown in the body. My process worked with the aesthetic – interpretations of the physical appearance of the art and representing these using the physical – the body-voice. Perhaps I was too occupied (or lazy) but what I thought about only after I left the space that day was that all the pieces of work were conceptual, with (perhaps) a specific message which I over-looked in my own observation of the work; perhaps these ‘black spots’ , these absences set in a photo are a personal expression and symbol of a lost moment or, memory or identity connected to the artist, perhaps it’s a more generic statement on society(?). I wondered that while I am a firm believer that ‘a camel is a horse designed by committee’ (that an idea is pure coming from one artist without interference) I couldn’t help think that had I spoken to the artists and had a detailed explanation of the work, beyond the aesthetic, my response would have been vastly more interesting. And, I am left reminded that while, should one declare themselves so, everyone is an artist, ones art is perhaps more interesting if we took more time to investigate the variety out there, to understand the process behind the presentation. OR is it enough just to walk into a space and engage in whatever way we as individuals choose with a collection of many varied artistic offerings! – well done IdeasFromElse[W]here! http://ideasfromelsewhere.wordpress.com
So – the next project! I have for a long time felt an affinity with the concepts included in the Dada art/ anti art movement. As well as an understanding for their methods I hold a great appreciation for the courage Dada artists adopted to dispute the regular methods (in art), advocating the importance of autonomy and imagination. My fascination has led me to want to present a project which is not about me but about others, some selected central figures of Dada. Fascinating to me are Hugo Ball, Walter Serner and Tristan Tzara, the key men of the Zurich Dada movement which began at the Cafe Voltaire in 1916. I am currently constructing a performance proposal to apply for space to carry out a performance experiment which works with research into the period, phonetics, abstract performance presentation and performer-audience engagement. More on this soon…