State of Flux: Forgetting Natasha

Posted: October 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on State of Flux: Forgetting Natasha

State of Flux, Forgetting Natasha, Patrick Centre, Birmingham, October 25

Melissa Spiccia in Forgetting Natasha photo: Chris Nash

I should start by saying this may constitute a conflict of interest and an egregious case of self-promotion as I am rehearsing State of Flux’s new work that will première in the Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich at the beginning of February. There, I’ve said it. We have been rehearsing for the last week in Birmingham’s Patrick Centre, where DanceXchange presented State of Flux’s Forgetting Natasha on Thursday and Friday. We ‘front’ the performance with a public sharing of the fruits of our first week of rehearsal, after which I scuttle into the audience to watch the show, which I am seeing for the first time although it has been touring to critical acclaim over the past two years. My six-day experience of artistic director Heather Eddington’s creative process has undoubtedly influenced the writing, though after the sharing her process is no secret.

Forgetting Natasha is about remembering: the nature of memory, what it means to lose it, the attempt to recapture it, and the effects of its loss on the individual and those around him or her. The further back the events and the stronger the emotions, the easier they are for Natasha to remember, but as the remembered past drifts closer to the present, so events lose clarity and form. Although Natasha is played by three performers (Melissa Spiccia, Josephine Darvill-Mills and Baptiste Bourgougnon) so as not to identify her too closely with any one person or gender, it is Spiccia who principally inhabits her with a bewitching mix of frailty and passion. All three are dancers by training, so they bring a broad and confident movement vocabulary to their acting roles.

I am reading Jonathan Meades’ collection of criticism, Museum without Walls, in which I came across this description of the relationship of memory to place: We create, often without realizing that we are doing so, narratives of our everyday topographies – these are personal to us and mnemonically potent. The shaping of memory and imagined memory, of self or the self we longed to be, of self in relation to place as much as in relation to people…Nostalgia is a basic human sentiment. It literally means merely the yearning for a long-lost place we once knew.[1]

It is the narrative of Natasha’s life that is unraveling. Eddington’s original stimulus for Forgetting Natasha was thinking about how memories shape who we are and how they, like places, become the pegs on which we hang our identity. When memories disappear, we become disoriented and lost. This is doubly so in Natasha’s case because, as she says, ‘When they first told me I was losing my memory I was petrified. I wrote my whole life in a book. Where the fuck have I put it?’

As Natasha shines a pool of light on the definitive moments in her life, her alter egos relive them as cameos: crying because she can’t go to Nana’s funeral; a snail race; her teacher – the big, fat Mr. Clues – who said she wouldn’t come to much; going to art school, getting kicked out for smoking pot (‘Everyone smokes pot; why did I have to get caught?’) and wondering how to tell Mother; leaving home for the first time; her first commission; losing her virginity; love, betrayal, and marriage; the birth of her daughter and their subsequent, strained relations. Bourgougnon and Darvill-Mills portray these beautifully. Then there is a moment when we realize we no longer have a perspective on the past; it is merging with the disintegrating present.

This is not the story of any particular individual; Natasha’s memories are gathered from the performers as part of the creative process in which each writes down or improvises their recollections. It is then the task of poet, Anna Mae Selby – a long-time collaborator of Eddington – to sift through these memories and create a consistent language and a credible narrative, like a collage of memories that threads through the work. Memory is thus the underpinning of the work, and one of the means by which it is informed. Eddington’s principal role is to direct the diverse creative talents towards her vision for the work, and she also provides the input of the dance sequences – fluid, lyrical and at times explosive – that are themselves analogous with memory: transmitted, learned and expressed through muscle memory, an ephemeral bridge between the mind and body.

Eddington evokes Natasha’s nostalgia not only in the beautiful text by Selby but also in her choice of music (tracks from Balanescu Quartet, Murcof, Sylvain Chauveau, Deaf Centre and Ludovico Einaudi), the lighting by Damian Goddard and in the immersive projections by Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler, aka KMA. Images are projected on to a backdrop and a front scrim, giving them extraordinary depth. As a particular incident is remembered, the performers may relive it within an isolated frame of light like a window on the front scrim – as when Baptiste reenacts the snail race – or fleetingly within a moving page of a diary. On the backdrop, family photo albums or 8mm movies with grainy images pass by with dates and annotations, images of scribbled notes on paper:  all the paraphernalia we use for recording events. As Natasha says, ‘I am searching. Life rushes past me. Sometimes the most enjoyable thing about doing things is remembering them.’

As the work progresses we get closer to the heart of Natasha’s whirlwind mind, with her struggle to remember, her frustration at the gradual loss of any mnemonic reference points. Here the visual animation comes into its own, not simply as illustration but as an integral part of Natasha’s process. Images are reminiscent of banks of data bytes with their potential to corrupt, brain functions, and the flurries and eddies of thought as they escape from Spiccia’s mind like bubbles under water or snow flakes in a storm or a swarm of bees, all brilliantly coordinated with her actions. One section of Forgetting Natasha is given over entirely to the animation, a depiction of a fluid universe of memories like the Milky Way that swirls and sweeps across space.

As the effects of memory loss deepen, and the anchors of daily life get pulled from their sea bed, Natasha can’t remember who her daughter is, nor the strange man who always tries to get into her bedroom; she rejects both her daughter and husband and becomes angry when they remain in her house. She finds a note in her pocket on which is written Your name is Natasha. She looks puzzled. ‘I don’t know anyone named Natasha.’

She is haunted by the memory of the book, and continues to search for it. It is under her nose (Bourgougnon runs on with book to place it before her) but outside her grasp (as Spiccia reaches for the book, Bourgougnon passes it to Darvill-Mills). The cruelty is in the games the mind plays with us. Once Natasha has finally laid hands on the book she cannot decipher it. She reads a letter she had written to her daughter, saying this disease would take her daughter away from her, and her away from her daughter. But she no longer knows to whom she was referring. ‘I’ve always wanted a daughter. I would have called her Isabelle. We had fun today. Who is that girl in the photo?’ The events in the book no longer make sense to her, but she is unaware that this book is all she has left of her fragile self. In the final moment, she sees someone hovering in the shadows. ‘Is this your book?’ she asks.

[1]  Jonathan Meades, Museum Without Walls, Unbound, p 20.