Ian Abbott previews RISE 2019 at Findhorn

Posted: April 16th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott previews RISE 2019 at Findhorn

RISE 2019 – festival of contemporary dance, Findhorn May 3-5

Robbie Synge and Julie Cleves in Passing Through (photo: the artists)

With the upcoming edition of RISE, curated by Karl Jay-Lewin, a little under a month away, I want to draw attention to the artists who’ll be making the trip to the wild beauty of Findhorn and have a deep dive with one particular duo; there’s a strong international presence with works from Canada (Singeries by Mandoline Hybride) and Taiwan (Bon 4 Bon by Chang Dance Theatre) alongside independent, female lead works (Screensaver Series and The Human Clock by Janine Harrington, and These Hands and Ritual Echoes by Crystal Zillwood) from England. There’s a number of collaborative pairings from Scotland/Canada (Paysages Mixtes and Dix Commandments by Katrina McPherson and Harold Rheaume) and Scotland/England (Extremely Pedestrian Chorales by Karl Jay-Lewin and Matteo Fargion), yet none from mainland Europe. 

RISE is a festival of contemporary dance which this year centres upon themes of landscape, the everyday and relationships; the terms ‘festival’ and ‘contemporary dance’ have lost their vibrancy and currency in recent times as everything is a festival and everything is movement-based practice. There is a definite change in the use of language and the approach of how people are describing and curating festivals and showcases; we often hear talk of communities, activism and dance but they turn out to be little more than a hollow program of works slapped together over a period of time with little care for the audience/artist. 

RISE is different — and I say this from experience — as it gives space for communities to form; it offers time for morning walks along Findhorn beach, time for the whole community to eat together, to share stories and reflections on the work seen. There’s classes for professional dancers and for little people with their big people alongside a talk by Simone Kenyon’s work being with women who walk, work and live in the Cairngorms – a work being made in response to Nan Shephard’s seminal Into The Mountain.  

However there is one work which embodies all of the festival themes: Passing Through by Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge. Julie and Robbie have had a long relationship with Dance North Scotland, spending time in residence, making some of the films seen in the work and they’ll present the latest iteration of their partnership at the festival. I spent some time with them recently in Glasgow talking about the work and their relationship.  

IA: There’s something radical and political about the act of sitting. It’s been used throughout history as a marker of resistance; what are your thoughts on that and how sitting has manifested in your practice. 

JC: The thing about sitting is…sitting in the wheelchair the whole time, and people ignoring me, blanking me and asking whoever is with me questions; they don’t treat me like a human. Whereas when I’m on blocks I know that I’ve got power in that moment. I’m in control of how they’re noticing me. 

RS: I haven’t considered the dramaturgical connotations of sitting; but it’s always struck me when we’ve done it in places where the ownership of the land or the environment is a particular way. So for example Findhorn beach. Karl’s initial support was to go and make a film on the beach and talk about it. Sitting there on the sand for the first time…politically it’s a leisure and recreational space, but when we went to Tate Modern last year (the installation with the swings — One Two Three Swing! by SUPERFLEX — was so clever because you can sit together and have this conversation; it encourages social dialogue and inclusivity. Of course for us we can’t get on those swings. But we turn up with this massive bag on the back of Julie’s chair and the security guards don’t question it, because probably… 

JC: I’m not going to blow anything up!

RS: She’s a bit disabled. It’s a bit awkward to ask her. So I get my backpack searched and we rolled down the bank and decided to get down among the swings, and once you’re down there there’s no quick or easy way out. 

IA: It’s about 15-20 minutes to get back up? 

RS: Yeah. We were clocking out the corner of our eyes all these security guards going ‘Is this OK?’

JC: And we were literally right in the middle with the swings all around us. 

R: We also discreetly placed a camera on top, which is a big no-no there. That felt like an act of resistance, but it’s a bit like ‘Fuck you with your swings which are inaccessible and are bullshit around access and your inclusive joyful social experiment’. Similarly we did it on land near Tower Bridge which is owned by Kuwait Oil…in that area there are people with sunglasses from Men In Black watching you…

IA: You’re making a choice about where you make the films. 

R: There’s a kind of cinematography even if it’s quite amateur. It’s Tower Bridge. It’s a recognisable landmark to people. We tried to choose as many recognisable things as we can. We thought about going to Parliament Square. It’s amazing when you dig in to the access and find out what’s permitted. There are all these 10-metre squared sections where you’re allowed to protest. It’s owned by a certain estate. I thought about going into Westminster…going along to a protest and us getting down there and just dancing. I think you’d find that exciting.

IA: There’s activist possibilities to it?

JC: I think it’s pushing the boundaries really. Just to see what would happen. That’s what gives me the excitement really, to see how far we could go. It’s like Robbie’s saying, there’s the leisure spaces and then there’s the one where you say let’s see how many people we can piss off. Or how are they going to kick us out.

IA: In some of the films when you’re in the woods or the beach, you get the sense there’s nobody else around and that has a totally different feeling; we are being let in to your world. But then there’s the opposite. You being very visible in spaces like Tower Bridge or Calton Hill; you’re toying with that duality of look but don’t look. 

RS: I think we both respect that it might be interesting, amusing or provocative, this question of people’s responses and the strange responses it provokes. I don’t want to laugh at people for their responses because it’s an unusual thing to see…us with these boards taking two hours to go along a little loop. People do check in and I totally respect that. But when it’s in the middle of Tate Modern and they’re singing the praise of some accessible, social artwork…if you’ve got a problem with us sitting on the floor, come and make our film better by standing in the shot and talking to us about it. Going to the beach is different. It’s a personal conquest. 

JC: And it feels different; inside me it feels different. In Tate Modern I really didn’t like it there. We walked around for ages trying to look for a spot and we were like, are you sure this is OK? It really didn’t feel welcoming at all. But the beach or Calton Hill is a lot more welcoming and I can feel it inside; I’m a lot more relaxed. I like how it takes me from one to another.

IA: You use the words ‘solutions’ and ‘design’ and you’ve iterated from yoga blocks to wood blocks to gravel things. Can you talk about how your being together might be solving a problem? 

RS: I guess it started with a very biomechanical process in the studio…about how two bodies work together to move. We worked out very quickly that if there isn’t contact, weight and pressure between us then we are quite static. In order to set up the challenge of can we move from A to B across the studio floor — which is the challenge we give ourselves — we tried to find ways of doing that. After a while being in the studio we thought it would be nice to do something else like walking around the town together. By that stage we’d already got to the floor in the studio. That was the thing that got us going, embodied solutions to problems rather than the machine. Could we do it together? Save money, save time. And where could we sit? We don’t need to just sit in the studio, we could sit…

JC: …anywhere. It’s been quite a slow process but it started very simply…with us getting to know each other’s bodies. My skeleton is nothing like yours, and it’s nothing like anybody else’s in this room. So it’s finding out about that, finding out how best to empower and enable me. And also do the same with Robbie. It’s a two-way street. Then it’s taking that from there and that’s how we’ve got bigger and bigger; as we’ve got bigger we’ve thought we need advice, support and funding. 

IA: Have you engaged any designers? Or have you done it yourselves?

R: So far it’s only been us…just because it’s that thing of money and when you’re in this sector it’s a familiar thing touring a piece but it’s quite unfamiliar engaging with designers. We had a great residency at Siobhan Davies studios, and met a lot of people from architectural backgrounds and academic institutions. We had a follow up at Metal and now we need to contact these people and see where it’s going. I think it will be productive. But in terms of the next stage, there isn’t anything in the pipeline. We’re always thinking about how we might improve on the blocks. 

JC: You need to think small and then prioritise it. We had some great responses from people at Siobhan Davies; it was just an idea we had about these blocks and then you go in and you’ve got someone who is a really posh architect who is like ‘Actually that’s a bloody good idea, but if we make it like this it’ll be a lot better or a lot lighter’…or whatever. It’s really exciting to know it can develop into something else. 

RS: If it could all fold up into a little backpack or if it was made of carbon fibre or was a lot lighter and took up less space… It’s about avoiding motors, electronics and keeping it primitive. 

IA: Choreography as design. There was an article on how choreographers have impacted on city planning. Dancers are people who are using their bodies as their tools every day. 

RS: The idea of embodied solutions rather than an engineer thinking ‘I’ll put a motor in it’ which is a very disembodied experience…

JC: …Or a piece of equipment like the hoist. That’s the last thing I want. I want something I can move with…I want to move on my own rather than be being part of a piece of equipment. 

RS: What we’re doing isn’t a solution for everyone. It’s an art project and we really hold onto that. We’re not going to create a product that is going to sell millions and we’ll be retiring in the Bahamas. 

IA: You could create Julie and Robbie : Embodied Solutions with a bit of venture capital…You’ve done a lot of work and thinking on it. 

RS: I think it’s a very social thing. The benefits aren’t the result of the action of getting up stairs. It’s the interaction between people which is communicative and cooperative; in the way you would see in a kid’s playground…it might take two people to pull a rope and turn a thing…it’s that sort of potential you wonder about in the back of your mind. Is this a thing in our digital age? With everyone in their tunnels…is that a thing we could do?

JC: I think it’s important that the blocks are a great thing, but we shouldn’t just roll with it and forget the other stuff we’re doing. That’s what’s so good with us…it’s only a part of what we’re doing. 

IA: I was looking back and the first thing I could find of you two is a video from 2009. 

RS: Oh god! 

IA: It was of you two. 10 years ago. How has your relationship changed over time. A decade of collaboration is a great longitudinal study. That’s what’s at the heart of this. Julie and Robbie. 

RS: It’s open ended. So it probably won’t have an ending. It’ll keep going as long as we can put up with each other. We’ve discussed the quickness and pace of that early work…we both slow up a bit and our interests have evolved now. We’ve just hung out more and you get to know people better; I think as we’ve gone on we get more aware about other people’s perceptions and the broader discourse around disability and privilege. Our relationship hasn’t really shifted much, I think we were always good pals, but we’ve talked a lot more about ourselves in relation to other people and the obstacles that can throw up. Obstacles, funding and narratives other people want to hear.  

IA: Are you like Ant and Dec; is it Robbie on the right Julie on the left. 

JC: Oh my, that is scary! 

RS: I wonder if there is a consistency there…it would be funny if there was. 

IA: What’s your response, Julie? 

JC: I think at the beginning it’s like any kind of dance relationship or friendship. You want everything done tomorrow or yesterday. You know we had these great ideas of what we wanted to do in the studio. Ups and Downs and Whoopsie Daisies was great and it was about when you’re a teenager and ‘I’ve got to do everything.’ Then as we’ve gone on we’ve learned a lot about each other, we’ve relaxed with one another and I think that’s shown in our work. There’s a lot of shit stuff that Robbie’s seen — when we’ve been out travelling — the way people treat me. A lot of people don’t see that. That’s going to affect the work and how we talk to each other about it. I’ll come up with stories as well: yesterday so-and-so said this to me. I think as time has passed we’ve got a lot more honest with one another. Now I feel a lot more like a Grandma. I feel pleased with what we’re doing and I still want to challenge myself more. But I’m really happy where I am.

RS: Being a family guy now, and having a child, certain things aren’t quite as exotic and exciting any more. They’re just a bit tiring. But also being comfortable with what we’re doing and just letting it tick over…being conscious there’s opportunities out there and our work has become more about the story, the broader relationship and the implications rather than what you can do in 40 minutes. 

IA: It would be interesting to do a retrospective of the 10 years. This presentation feels like a concentration of that. How could you represent that 10-yearness? 

RS: One of our strands is having a website. A digital encounter. Partly because it’s difficult to travel and have those live encounters…but we want to get it out there and a timeline that we can add to every time we hang out and do one of these things. An accumulation that you could scroll through, stop at and look into it further. 

JC: As Robbie is saying about family, my body’s ten years older. It’s s not what it was and there’s times when I’m feeling weaker or whatever. We have to think around that and ask ‘Do we use film more?’ It’s getting your head around that because we’re both changing, our bodies are changing and we need to talk about that…how can we express what we’re expressing now in ten years time. 

IA: How would you define your relationship? Julie first this time. 

JC: No! 

RS: Yes!

[pause]

JC: I would say…he’s my brother. He’s annoying, frustrating…sometimes he thinks he’s right when he isn’t but I smile anyway. But he’s very very talented. Sometimes I think he doesn’t realise that. I think I’m lucky to have met him in a way. Now if you say anything horrible about me… 

RS: You know when you’ve got a scab on your…no…when we met it was quite an important time for me. I’d massively changed direction in what I was doing. I’d sort of studied biological sciences and worked in that and did all sorts of things. I was teaching English for a while, stuff happened, and I was sort of lost. I did Laban for a year — not even a year, 9 months — and I got an audition for Candoco somehow. I don’t really understand how and I remember my technique teacher at the time — I’m going on a bit of a roundabout way here — was quite condescending about my auditioning for Candoco. But then obviously I didn’t get in, but met Julie and it was quite an exciting adventure, to challenge dance and what we were doing. I was quite bored of what we were doing at college. This was the first creative project that I felt co-ownership of. It wasn’t that we were really good friends…it was a really good gift to have that way into a friendship, and a unique friendship that’s bound together in this investigation. Physically of course we’re very close, and I think that opens doors, if we have that kind of relationship then you’re able to share more. It’s just got stronger and stronger, and more and more exciting. When you have really good friends, that becomes apparent really soon, it doesn’t take long.

IA: Could you talk a bit about labour? The energy and the investment in the physical. 

RS:  For me that’s something society wants to reduce. They don’t want you going out to your woodpile, chopping it and carrying it to stay warm. But what else can that bring you? What can labour bring you in a physical, tactile experience and engagement in the world with its materials? I get a kick out of our adventures. In life in general I often do things the difficult way…which is a constant kind of cursing myself but it always feels great when you’ve done it. I love that it’s just the two of us, and Julie’s PA maybe with a camera ‘Karen. Karen can you push stop?’

JC: She’s gone off to Hollywood now, she has. 

RS: I suppose it’s a bit of a social statement that we clearly engage in an amount of labour that is maybe primitive to some people. It’s technology. These blocks are a primitive technology. But what can you get from encouraging labour rather than discouraging it, which is where my head first goes. 

JC: I don’t know what you mean by labour. Do you mean the energy I put into the work or…?

IA: So if Robbie is describing himself as a blue arsed fly in order to set up the shot, if it takes four hours to set it up, that is an investment of time. What is that time like for you? 

JC: It’s totally different for me. If we’re setting something up physically I’m unable to do anything. So I’m sat and he’s running around doing everything. Sometimes that can make me a bit upset because I see him running around and I want to get up and help him. But I think it’s to do with my energy and I have to prioritise it as well. For my sake and Robbie’s. I’ve learned that I need to listen to my body more and I’ve started doing that now. That’s a really good thing. I still like to take risks…you know that log over there, I want to get on it. I still want to. 

RS: It occurs to me that I’m quite often busy around Julie attending to things, orbiting in a sense in and out and there’s a couple of things to say about that. What is going on in Julie’s body, and the effort involved isn’t always as apparent because there’s a different type of effort involved. People might not want to see the narrative of this privileged young man being physical around a disabled older woman…well tough luck, because that’s the way it has to be if we’re going to do this. If that’s not the desired easy narrative in current times; take time to talk to us rather than assuming. There are questions of consent, initiation and decision making. 

IA: Is Robbie doing this to Julie…

RS: There are moments of initiation. Sometimes when we’re doing the movements Julie will initiate something and we’re very careful with that. But you can take it to such an extreme you drive yourself nuts trying to cater to what everyone thinks. In the performance we just did, when I made that comment, ‘Look at that man doing something to that disabled woman’, it got a laugh because I think some people would be thinking that and it’s important to acknowledge that. If we can demonstrate our awareness of these things, it’s nice to be a bit provocative as well. It’s really good to talk about it to a third person, to be interviewed; it’s a good creative tool. 

IA: What are the things people are curious about? 

JS: I always say to people ‘Ask anything. No I mean anything.’ But people won’t. 

IA: It’s like ‘Oh, is he touching your bum when he’s pulling you up…’

JC: Yeah, and ‘Is it OK that he does that to you?’ But they don’t. They still don’t…but I’d love it if they did.


Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle

Posted: May 10th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle

Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle, Universal Hall, Findhorn, May 7

Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)

Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)

Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE.” – Sid Vicious

Liz Aggiss was forged in the cauldron of punk and her new feminist soup, Slap and Tickle, riffs on pishy old women, yummy mummies and flagrantly tosses collapsed floors and sexual taboos out the window. ‘Tis one of the finest crafted and hilarious hours I’ve spent in a theatre.

To witness lizaggiss (the performance persona and brand) in motion is to behold an artist in complete command of her visual world. She nudges the fourth wall, gives it the glad eye, but there’s always the hint that she could demolish it if she wanted. However, it’s also a space where I feel safe as she demonstrates consideration by building the audience’s hardiness to material that some might consider a little saucy. Mining childhood songs, witty word play and music hall standards, there are enough recognisable tropes to keep us comfortable. Through the presentation of her body and what it can do, has done and might do with us watching, it enabled me to consider my own body, the stories it holds and how we look at others. Are you sitting comfortably? You shouldn’t be.

Make them laugh, make them cry, and back to laughter. What do people go to the theatre for? An emotional exercise. I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that.” – Mary Pickford

Slap and Tickle is a machine gun of visual joy; no sketch, sequence or quip outstays its welcome, and mixed in with the frippery and froth are some puncturing sentences which aren’t just close to the knuckle; they’re brushing your elbow with a cheese grater. “Are there any wet women in the house tonight?” she asks with her comedic timing and technique honed during her early 80s stints in cabaret and working men’s clubs; it’s a lean, slick and impressive performance (on only its second public outing) that doesn’t let go of your eyeballs or earballs throughout.

I recognised compositional echoes from her previous stage work, The English Channel: a single microphone, a box of props, and the use of multiple costumes and her body to conceal a wunderkammer of curiosities that are revealed as the performance progresses. There’s oodles of jerky early-modernist hand gestures (in reference to a series of pioneering female inter-war choreographers) mixed with rhythmic beat-filled speech; it’s a little bit rude, a little bit anarchic and actively resists neat definition but the narrative is universal and should be celebrated: Women and their Bodies.

If I want to define myself, I first have to say, ‘I am a woman’; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Slap and Tickle is presented in Findhorn as part of Rise 2016, a three-day festival of contemporary dance and performance sensitively programmed by Karl Jay-Lewin. First on the same evening’s bill are Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley, aka Nora, who present a double bill of duets by Jonathan Burrows/Matteo Fargion and Liz Aggiss. It is the first time that Bloody Nora is programmed on the same night as Slap and Tickle and it is fascinating to see the tone, scenography, language and ribaldry of Aggiss channelled through two younger female bodies. It looks like an Aggiss, spits expletives like an Aggiss and smells like an Aggiss — yet the solo body has been split and removed from the mother ship. Now we have two distilled red Aggi imps morphing their bodies, accentuating our gaze and letting us linger in the land of the uncomfortable before they “fuck you’ed” into the distance.

There are tens of millions of female bodies and minds in the world that are aged 62 and over yet in our culture they’re almost invisible. Liz Aggiss resists that invisibility and in doing so has created over the past decade a body of live, film and other work that would benefit from the focus of a festival, symposium or conference to see how the works sit alongside the wider UK ecology.

Slap and Tickle is dance/comedy/art (delete as appropriate) that makes the audience snort, howl and cackle with laughter. It’s a rich and visual collage of womanhood and even though Aggiss actively embraces the maverick tag, she’s exploring and presenting a world that every woman can relate to. Let’s have a party.

 

For a darker view of Slap and Tickle, see a review from the Brighton Festival by Nicholas Minns


KnowBody, Elixir Festival 2014

Posted: September 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on KnowBody, Elixir Festival 2014

KnowBody, Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, September 12

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in Memory (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in Memory (photo: Stephanie Berger)

The image on the front of the program (above) is of Mats Ek and his wife Ana Laguna in a duet called Memory. It is a fitting image, not only because Ek and Laguna in that fleeting moment express all the joy and sensuality of their lived experience, but almost the entire evening — the opening salvo of Sadler’s Wells Elixir Festival — is about memory, the kind of memory that dancers call body, or muscle memory. Dancers don’t simply learn steps like facts to repeat them on stage; they embody them on both a physical and emotional level through the mechanism of repetition and the stimulus is often, but not always, music. The body and mind of a dancer thus constitute a treasury of memories that can, as the Elixir Festival proved convincingly, offer up their remarkable wealth or even be coaxed out of a state of voluntary hibernation.

Matteo Fargion and Jonathan Burrows do just that in The Elders Project, weaving remembered movement phrases of a select group of retired dancers into a droll, intelligent, touching collage of their dancing lives. Kenneth Tharp, Geraldine Morris, Linda Gibbs, Brian Bertscher, Anne Donnelly, Christopher Bannerman, Lizie Saunderson, Betsy Gregory and Namron provide a unique glimpse into what once was, but more interestingly, what still is and could be again. There is a palpable emotional response from the audience who are either reliving past memories or are simply drawn into the delightful euphoria of the work, or both.

Mats Ek is one of the early champions of mining the expressive quality of mature dancers, and with his extensive experience in theatre and dance he has developed a mastery for choreographing theatre. His first duet with Laguna, Potato, is a reminder that a simple idea — sharing a bag of potatoes — can be heightened into something universal by the corresponding depth of experience of the dancers performing it. Ek’s work is not overly concerned with technique, but more with ‘a lyrical approach which conveys through movement the underlying emotions and feelings rather than just the narrative detail.’ His pared-down and often idiosyncratic vocabulary draws in the spectator through its unpretentious, ludic sense of reality.

To watch Dominique Mercy in the solo, That Paper Boy, created on him by Pascal Merighi is to be transported to a state of physical and emotional weightlessness, nowhere more so than in the section he dances to the Reckoning Song by Asaf Avidan (‘one day baby we’ll be old, think about all the stories that we could have told…’). With fourty years of performing with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, he can elicit the same kind of attention whether he stands still (as he does at the beginning), dances, recites an existential text on silence and death, or scans himself with a neon light. As with Ek and Laguna, his every stance or gesture, however small or transitory, is filled with both genial abandon and infallible conviction; his physical and emotional intelligence leaves no room for half measures.

In an evening that celebrates the value of maturity, Hofesh Shechter chooses to restage part of an existing work, In Your Rooms, by replacing younger dancers with older ones (Sadler’s Wells own Company of Elders). According to the program notes, this is an adaptation ‘to suit the bodies and life stories of this older group of dancers’ but in the overpowering music and claustrophobic choreography there is more a sense of oppression than setting free. Perhaps that is what Shechter wants, but it sets his choreographic vision above the potential of his dancers.

Jane Hackett, the creative producer and guiding spirit behind the Elixir Festival, invited the Chilean company, Generación del Ayer, to perform at the Elixir Festival after seeing them in their hometown of Santiago. Unique on this evening’s roster, this is an artist’s collective founded in 1996 specifically to allow professional dancers to continue their artistic life cycle beyond what is culturally accepted. Lo Que Me Dio El Agua (what the water tells me) is choreographed by Sonia Uribe as a tribute to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and is inspired by her painting Las dos Fridas (The Two Fridas). Both Uribe and Carmen Aros perform with a passion and pride commensurate with their inspiration, but the ritual stylization of the work sets it apart from the predominantly European aesthetic in which it is presented.

The evening finishes with another duet, Memory, from Ek and Laguna that reminds us yet again of the huge gap that exists in current dance repertoire where youthful athleticism trumps the art of age. Ek and Laguna dispel this myth with a poignant refusal to take leave, a gentle kicking against the dying of the light that is candid, playful and yes, timeless.


Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion: One Flute Note

Posted: October 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion: One Flute Note

Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion, One Flute Note, Studio Theatre, UAL: Central Saint Martins, October 5

‘There is nothing to say, and I am saying it.’ This is the opening statement of John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing and in Jonathan Burrows’ and Matteo Fargion’s One Flute Note presented by Dance Umbrella last night at the suitably pared-down Studio Theatre in Central Saint Martin’s there is an echo: there is nothing to do, and I am doing it.

I recently was introduced to John Cage’s ideas after hearing Richard Bernas’s radio program, Beyond Silence, celebrating the centenary of Cage’s birth. I hadn’t realised the vigour and humanity of Cage’s discourse on music, sound and life. I feel Burrows is a similar voice in dance, and in Fargion he has found a co-creator to give form to their ideas. As Burrows writes in his book, A Choreographer’s Handbook, ‘Collaboration is about choosing the right people to work with, and then trusting them. You don’t, however, have to agree about everything. Collaboration is sometimes about finding the right way to disagree.’ Anyone who knows the book will recognise the balanced form of his axiomatic advice, and Burrows’ fruitful collaboration with Fargion since they met in 1989 is proof of the validity of this particular axiom. They have been creating duets together since 2002: Both Sitting Duet (2002), The Quiet Dance (2005), Speaking Dance (2006), Cheap Lecture (2009), The Cow Piece (2009) and Counting to One Hundred (2011). Dance Umbrella is presenting a mini-retrospective of five of them.

This is the first performance of One Flute Note, and evidently there are some (permitted) errors that one can sense only from the occasional lapses into self-conscious smiles. Burrows and Fargion are so comfortable with each other on stage; seeing them in the bar afterwards, it is as if drinking a cold beer is as natural as the performance on stage: no makeup to remove, no costumes to change out of, no barrier between performer and audience. This naturalness is encapsulated in one of the maxims for ‘beginnings’ in the Handbook: ‘we walk on as though we were walking into Matteo’s kitchen.’ Another is that ‘we walk on in a formal way that is unexpectedly informal.’ The simplicity of these two statements belies the complexity of what we have been watching for the past thirty minutes. Burrows and Fargion play predictability against unpredictability, the expected against the unexpected, action against stillness, silence against non-silence, narrative against abstract, and absurdity against a sense of normal. In the intersection between these opposing ideas they find the space for both tension and its release in laughter.

The program notes underline the importance to Burrows and Fargion of the structure of Lecture on Nothing, proposing that One Flute Note is ‘at once a homage to and questioning of a way of thinking that has underpinned so much dance and performance in the last 30 years.’ Presumably this is the continuing decoupling of dance from the classical form and the corresponding embrace of everyday movement in dance vocabulary. It is also the liberation of thinking about dance that allows endless permutations. There is certainly a sense of freedom in One Flute Note, somewhere between a Peter Cook sketch and a rigorously intellectual approach to dance performance. It involves amongst other elements a surreal array of sound inputs that vary from the one flute note to the sound of 45 choirs, two versions of a chair dance (one without and one with the chairs), and a constant disequilibrium that is kept in play within an absurdly rational structure.

That structure is a paradox of Cage’s lecture: his ‘way of thinking’ liberates, while the form in which it is delivered is carefully constructed. ‘This is a composed talk for I am making it just as I make a piece of music. It is like a glass of milk. We need the glass and we need the milk.’ It is the first time I am seeing a duet by Burrows and Fargion, and I find it liberating. At the same time it is clear that One Flute Note is highly organised and heavily cued; the sound engineer is in effect a third performer. There is no room for improvisation or chance occurrences, nor is there any notion of dissociating the movement from the score, which is one of the central ideas of Cage’s partnership with Merce Cunningham. Burrows and Fargion are forging their own path of questioning and coming up with their own ‘handmade and human-scale’ answers. One Flute Note owes something to John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, something to Lee Scratch Perry’s Bucky Skank (it’s in the Handbook if you want to know why) and a lot to the intellectual rigour and integrity that Burrows and Fargion bring to their work.

At the end of his radio program, Richard Bernas says that after a performance by Cage his mind and ears are ‘refreshed, more at ease, more balanced, more alert to the world than when it started.’ I feel the same after watching One Flute Note. It is as if Burrows and Fargion have fashioned a way of performing that is a metaphor for living with more freedom within the conflicted confines of our daily lives.