Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios, June 24


Mette Edvardsen’s No Title (photo: Lilia Mestre)

In this first edition of Fest en Fest, curators Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard establish a benchmark for their festival in works with a rigorous choreographic approach to language. Karen Røise Kielland used it in A Slow Escape to compress a vast geographical journey on to a small stage, while Mette Edvardsen uses its negation in No Title to extrapolate the space of a small stage into the vast landscape of imagination.

At her last appearance in London, at the 2012 Dance Umbrella, Edvardsen presented a project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where she gathered a group of like-minded dancers to each commit a book to memory in the same way that dancers memorize a sequence of steps. The performance was in reading the story or poetry from memory to an audience of one (at a time) in a public library. No Title’s approach to language requires a similar closeness and concentration between performer and audience but Edvardsen’s craft has evolved around her own authorship and an expanded sense of theatrical space.

No Title (2014) is part of a trilogy of works with Black (2011) and We to be (2015) that explore the notions of appearance and disappearance through language. As Edvardsen observes in an interview with Eva Decaesstecker, ‘When I was making Black I thought it was the end of something, that I had closed a circle. I painted all my objects (from previous pieces) black in order to make them disappear, and with this removal of objects came language.’ In Black Edvardsen used language to make the objects reappear, whereas in No Title she uses negation in language to suggest disappearance. ‘The beginning is gone. The space is empty,’ she starts. When a word is invoked its sound signifies a reality with which it is associated; both the sound of the word (the signifier) and its reality (the signified) pass through our brain to corroborate the signification. But when the negation of a word is invoked, the signification is short-circuited; it becomes a space. As Edvardsen continues her series of verbal negations she creates a space on stage that represents the full potential of what has nominally disappeared. At the same time she constantly reminds us of the irreducible presence of the speaker — ‘Me not gone’, as she says — amongst what has disappeared or fallen away. The role of the choreographer in such an approach to choreographic writing that makes the signification of words a key element is to divest the creative language of any extraneous meaning. With a minimum of means Edvardsen eloquently demonstrates this to the point that No Title reveals the stage as a vibrant space from which all associative clutter has been removed. It is a lesson for any choreographer who takes space for granted as a container to fill with movement.

Edvardsen’s voice does not simply pronounce words but expresses its own muscular quality — ‘le grain de la voix’ in Roland Barthes’ terms — and she gives it even more power by sticking paper eyes over her closed eyelids. Blindness is the negation of sight, so the phenomenon of performing without seeing underlines the idea of extracting reality from the influence of words. Using her body to see, Edvardsen senses the physical limits of the space she is making either through touch or the sensation of proximity. At one point she traces in chalk a line on the ground from the back of the stage to the front, a feathery, uncertain line from source to completion. Putting aside the chalk she works her way back upstage making the motions of erasing the line with her hand but in her blindness misses it. ‘Line is gone’ she says, setting up a slippage between verbal negation and the physical attempt to achieve it.

Dance is often referred to as ephemeral but that doesn’t alter its ability to lodge itself in the emotional core of our being; while Edvardsen erases the appearances of her craft she never discards the core reality she signifies in her performance. As a writer of choreography she has created a work through its disappearance — even the title has gone — and at the end, as author, she also disappears. The stage we are left to ponder is far from empty; it resounds with the echoes of Edvardsen’s words and gestures and the chalk line is still there with the two paper eyes stuck to the proscenium. Even after she has left she remains pointing to her own withdrawal.

Mette Edvardsen: Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine

Posted: October 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen: Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine

Mette Edvardsen: Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, Central Islington Library, October 9

Mette Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen (photo: Ida Ramberg)

In Ray Bradbury’s book, Farenheit 451, firemen do not put out fires; they start them in order to rid society of books, which are considered subversive because they carry insidious thoughts and ideas that may run counter to authority (451° farenheit is the temperature, Bradbury believed, at which book paper burns). Learning from books is like an infectious virus that transforms the victim into a carrier. In our present society, health authorities marshal their forces at this time of year to eradicate flu by offering immunisation jabs. In Bradbury’s world the social health authorities were trying to stamp out books. Any that were found were burned, and owners prosecuted. Of course there were defiant readers who hid their books, but one of the most effective ways — one that went under the fire brigades’ radar — was to commit the books to memory. Mette Edvardsen started a group that does just that, and Dance Umbrella had the good sense to invite her to perform in the Central Islington Library.

As a former dancer, Edvardsen realised there are parallels between the way books are memorised and the way dance is passed on. You can’t destroy a dance because it lives in the muscle memory of a dancer, who can then pass it on to another. The act of reading to somebody else is also similar to a performance, and in the same way a dance takes on something of the life and character of the dancer, the book is subject to the mind of the person memorising it. For her Dance Umbrella project, Edvardsen gathered a wonderful group of readers to give a series of readings from memory of selected books, be it a story or a collection of poems. You reserve a time and when you arrive at the library your reader is waiting for you. ‘So you have come to read me,’ said Edvardsen. She was, for this performance, Natsume Soseki’s I am a Cat, a satirical view of the human condition through feline eyes. We search for an empty corner of the library with a couple of comfortable chairs, and settle in like a couple of cats on a sunny afternoon ready for a nap, but only time falls asleep. When Edvardsen begins to perform her book, she sets aside her own identity for the voice of the author. It is as if Soseki himself is present.

Edvardsen’s first language is Norwegian, but her English is faultless. I am a Cat is a translation into English from the original Japanese, so the ideas of Soseki have taken a circuitous route to Edvardsen’s memory. However, the images she passes on through the spoken word are clear, colourful and full of satirical humour. I was so taken with the experience that I booked the last available spot for Michael Donaghy’s Collected Poems read by Rosemary Lee. Lee knew Donaghy, who died in 2004, so there is another very personal connection that colours her performance. She says she can hear Donaghy’s inflections and rhythms as she recites. Lee has chosen the poems in no particular order, taken from the three volumes of Donaghy’s collected poems. She reads a poem twice to allow it to sink in, but if you don’t want her to repeat it, that’s fine, and if you want her to go back to one you particularly like, that is fine too. It’s a performance like no other, a discovery of a beautiful state of mind in a transmission of life to life. Donaghy’s life, Lee’s life, and now mine.

Seeing a performance in a theatre, of course, should be just like this. Any dance performance is in effect the transmission of an idea or ideas from the choreographer to the audience through the medium of dance. The transmission also requires, on behalf of the audience, the conscious desire to receive, and not simply to be entertained. It is, after all, a performance not a production (with all the overtones and undertones of a product to be sold, to be marketed, to be consumed). Edvardsen’s project has returned to the very core of dance.