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Tonight is the first time we have more than one person watching us move

Sarma 1 Nov 2001English

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This lecture is not an attempt towards a theoretical analysis of tonight’s project. I am not a theoretician. I have come in as a practitioner who likes to observe, think and link. So, this lecture is likely to yield into or borrow from other people’s thoughts. But it doesn’t develop any thought to its very end. It rather wants to be understood as a door opener that allows roaming from one room to another and during the walk make thinking connections between the rooms. This lecture is an extension of the frame put up by Paz and Litó. It is divided into the following chapters:

1. A situation of friends

When I arrived to Amsterdam on Sunday night, there was the farewell party for Barbara at the Gasthuis. In her speech, she talked about the mechanism of choosing for certain artists to work in this theatre. She said something about falling in love with people as she might fall in love with a man or a pair of shoes. A few months ago, the writer Myriam van Imschoot said in a lecture in Berlin that art is in fact the coming together of people who share a way of thinking and doing. The art that is then perceived and discussed by the ‘outside’ world she called a mere side effect of the initial meeting.

In both statements, a certain sense of complicity becomes apparent. The idea of the genius artist who thrives on his or her inspiration and is discovered by a potent impresario gets pushed towards the background. As Paz and Litó said in their introduction, various other artists inspired them, so did the context of a whole city and liking to work with each other.

Laying open your interconnectedness with other people, some of them artists, others not, when you present your work, might be fully in the zeitgeist of today’s live art market. But what counts here is the importance that is given to people. I am not saying that aesthetic and formal questions are no longer important in dance or theatre. They still are and they will always be, I hope. But I get to understand once more that theatre is very much a situation of friends who ask each other questions in order to find solutions and afterwards even more questions. The fact that I am sitting here tonight is part of this situation.

2. Systems, Surfaces, Symptoms

When two people set out to question their knowledge and to discover the unknown they have to develop a system for this. This system will be based on what they know and it will lead to more knowledge as every unknown place that gets visited quickly turns into a known place. All that is left is what Litó and Paz call revisiting movement and keeping the interest in reflecting on these visits alive and mobile. But in such a research even the system has to be revisited and questioned over and over again. There is no way that the system may turn into a method. It has to be willing to change at any given moment. This means that the people applying the system have to be ready to leave the just experienced and go to a yet unknown experience.

I am not talking about the totally new here, but rather about small shifts in one’s perception of small details. This requires a system or a frame, which acts as a surface that is open to all sides and not as a grid that directs a way. I imagine a body of disorientation, constantly changing shape and place and allowing the researchers to move freely from asphalt to soil to grass. Like this image of Steve Paxton, in which one can put a pen anywhere on the skin of a body and travel even into the mouth and through the intestines only to exit again and arrive back at the starting point on, let’s say, the little toe, all on the same surface. Revisiting this spot on the little toe will not provide one with the same experiences as the first time. The pen has moved through some dark and slimy spaces and in the meantime the little toe might have been dressed in a sock or a shoe (the one that one has fallen in love with).

The structure of the body and the pen, which moves across it, remain the same. But there will always be these small shifts in perception of slightly changed details. The structure of Paz’ and Litó’s research has remained more or less the same over the period of their collaboration. But for them the same goes as for the image before: Revisiting doesn’t mean repeating the same but allowing the differences to the visits before to occur.

Litó and Paz have already mentioned that they don’t understand themselves as the subjects once they throw themselves into a session. They see themselves as vehicles who undergo a certain state or condition. The researchers choose to be the pens, which move across the surface of their research. But before they need to be subjects who decide for the condition under which the research will take place. They need to decide for a symptom, for example the condition of “full”, that will make an unknown reality occur. In psychiatry the symptom is always on the surface and speaks of a denied reality underneath the surface. There is a doctor who can help the patient to understand the language of the symptom and deal with the so far denied reality. In Paz’ and Litó’s case the two are doctors and patients at the same time. As it is them who choose for the symptom and for the surfacing of an unknown reality, even the inside or that which lies underneath becomes part of the surface. In one of his lectures Slavoij Zizek tells the story of a widower who copes seemingly well, almost coldly with the death of his beloved wife. The only strange thing people around him notice is the hamster he carries with him all the time. Only when the hamster dies it turns out that it has been the hamster of the wife. The man suffers a breakdown and with the help of a doctor he finds out that his care for the wife’s hamster replaced the mourning for the wife’s death. But tonight, there is no hamster in the hands of a widower that represents the denied mourning for the deceased wife. The hamster and the mourning inhabit the same surface and the lines of a pen, moving across this surface, can connect them.

3. Image, Polaroid, Image

Recently I have seen a rehearsal of “todayUlysses”, a piece by Jan Ritsema, in which he talks about the image in theatre. He says that in Russian there are to words for image: One for the photos taken during a vacation, the other for the image that occurs when we read a poem or watch a theatre performance. The second kind of image works when an idea we have in our heads meets the matter we deal with in the art form we have chosen to enjoy. If we regard idea and matter as two opposites, one might be able to say that every good image in theatre must hold the tension of a paradox.

Paz and Litó have told me that in the condition of “full” their bodies have to be empty in order to be open to as many impulses as possible, and that the condition of “empty” allows the space to be full. Maybe these are paradoxes, which allow us to call these short dances images. Maybe already the paradox of mere movement turning into an image provides us with the tension required when two opposites meet. If there has been the reconciliation between idea and matter, if mobilizing thought about movement and the moving body have met tonight, maybe we can speak of poetic moments. But maybe it is already the very basis of this evening that can let us regard the presentation as one big image: The constant oscillating between study and the search for poetry. Litò and Paz have called this a problem. I think that even with some (Polaroid) vacation images in between, it is this problem that might have rendered a theatrical image.

4. A List of Questions

How do we address a way of seeing knowledge and placing it in another way?
What is the atmosphere of the evening?
Condition of the audience?
How can we revisit movement?
How do we treat our own past?
How do we place our knowledge in relation to what we don’t know?
How can what we know and what we don’t know form a platform of understanding the moving body?
How can holding on to conclusions be avoided?
How can you trick yourself into questioning your own knowledge in order to open up ways of perception?
Which audience is addressed?

What is the difference between this research and traditional ways of looking at movement?
Are you looking for a state of unconsciousness?
What role does inhibition play in this research?
Where can one go with this research?
Is the development of a methodology desired?<
How to deal with the fact that places of not knowing are extremely short living and quickly turned into knowledge?
Do you want to share the problems or the solutions?
Can you be more specific?
Are you interested in getting close something really new or in accepting the illusion of the new?
What does it give to you?

Where does fullness go once it has been emptied?
Does full mean big?
Is there such a thing as a full detail?
Is frame the right word to describe what they do?

5. Flipping the Coin

In a talk at the SNDO yesterday afternoon, somebody called Litó’s and Paz’ research of states of unknowing an impossibility and their pursuit for opening up new ways of perceiving and thinking about movement a quest for the holy grail. I agree. But neither the student nor I mean that this impossibility should keep one away from trying to get to this utopist place. It is exactly the impossibility of answering a question which will get you moving constantly in your mind and, if desired, in your body. Mobilizing thought about and reflection on movement is Paz’ and Litó’s declared aim. There is nothing heroic about this, even though it requires courage to go for the unknown: We never know what to expect. Also the constant letting go of the known is a difficult task: One has to constantly pull away the ground underneath one’s feed.

But what interests me here is what this striving for the impossible means for the theatre. Since yesterday I have been trying to follow Paz’ and Litó’s search. It got clear that they are friends who try to put together their interests, one being the attempt to perceive perception, the other one the try for a becoming in which the performer and the watcher are able to enter a dimension which goes beyond what is seen. For them, this means two things: Going for extremes and bringing together opposites. The extremes they have chosen for are full and empty. In their fulfillment both extremes would mean death. Full movement would lead to full exhaustion, the stopping of all body systems. Total emptiness would mean something similar: A totally empty mind or body is a dead entity, which doesn’t move anymore.

On the other side, we have the attempt to bring together opposites. If you go for the model of the half circle in which the top crest represents a neutral state, the left end a state of calm and the right end an ecstatic state, we would have to complete the circle downwards in order to make the two far ends touch again. We would arrive at another circular model, the one of the life circle. In completion, this life circle represents a whole life, including death. I am aware that especially the last deduction is far fetched. But my point here is that in all the vagueness of an ongoing research as the one of tonight, we can still find one of the subjects of theatre: the moment of dying.

The problem has always been how to treat this subject, as the times of real sacrifices are long over and nobody dies anymore on stage. We have to find ways to represent death. In “Sacre du Printemps” it is the dancer’s frantic movement in her final dance and the throwing herself to the ground with the last chords of the music to rest immobile until the lights fade. Another example are the dancers in Jérôme Bel’s “The Show must go on” who slowly go down to the floor while lip-synching The Fugees’ “Killing me softly with his song” or Romeo and Juliet drinking from a flacon which is supposed to contain a lethal poison. All of these examples demand from the performers a certain degree of becoming something that goes beyond their experiences, as none of us knows what dying actually is like. It demands an emptying of the body or, in other words, a body without organs, which was described by Artaud in one of his letters to a friend. A body that is open to another dimension to enter and speak through it.

This requires what I call for tonight “flipping the coin”. Everybody in the theatre knows that these performers don’t actually die. It is all played. In fact, we want life to continue afterwards, when we applaud and the performers take their bows. But for a moment, maybe just a split second, we believe in the death we see played in front of us. This is when theatre is most alive.

For Paz and Litó, “flipping the coin” means to constantly change between the two opposites of the immobility of death and their desire to mobilize thought about movement. A paradoxical situation that is hard to explain and full of tension for both, mind and body.

Tonight we have witnessed two dancers in a hybrid situation: A research is presented in a theatre. We have seen failure in which the paradox slipped away into banality and we have seen moments in which the tension was sustained and endured. Even though it was not Litó’s and Paz’ aim to present a theatre dance piece, there were all the elements which make us go to the theatre: Death, ecstasy, concentration, becoming, bodies without organs, opposites coming together and, last not least, two friends on a quest for the impossible, reflecting on what they do at the same time as they go for it.

Thanks for listening.

Invitation to the lecture

Amsterdam, November 15, 2001

Dear friend,

We invite you to experience and share an exchange: the beginning of a series of conference-presentations called ‘Frames for Moving’.

Gerald Siegmund wrote: “…if dance wants to position itself as a critical form, it might as well pause for a moment, stop moving and reflect on it’s own situation”.

With this first meeting, we want to consider together with you a structure of thought and practice.
We attempt to pause the dance by ‘mobilizing it’. Our focus will be on Active Reflection:
A frame where the body is submitted to a condition of emptiness and to a condition of fullness.
Strictly relating to these conditions, allows us to keep seeing the unpredictable nature of movement while considering perception, rehearsal, presentation, speech and writing.

It is not our attempt to give answers. Our attempt is to ‘discover problems’ in order to engage a continual articulation of dance.

’Frames for Moving’ is a process that situates itself among the possibilities that already exists. We hope that it can be a bridge for your own understanding.

You can join us on the 27th of November at the Gasthuis theater in Amsterdam at 19:00p.m.

The 150 minutes will consist of short movement studies alternating with short discussions and accompanied it by a lecture from Martin Nachbar. Food and drinks will also be around.

Warm Greetings,

Paz Rojo and Litó Walkey

Paz and Litó have been working together since 1998. This work is a response to their common education and experience with dance making.