Monday, July 19, 2010

Where you put your eyes

In less than ten hours I'm going to be in an apartment near Sloane Square on day one of rehearsals for Tim Crouch's The Author, and it would seem that my plans for an appropriately resorative early night have already come to nothing. Just want to leave a very quick note here as a sort of Muybridge photoset of a few thoughts captured on the wing.

Firstly, I want to retract -- not all the way, but a little way -- my unnecessary mini-rant about BAC's One-on-One Festival in my last post, which I fear came across an ungenerous swipe at what seems to have been a good and significant enterprise. I want to say a little more clearly that I've no real problem with the work, but only with the critical culture around it, which is so lubricated by the appeal of easily-summarised novelty that it's very difficult for a really engaged and rigorous assessment of this vein of work to come through, at least in the context of an ongoing consideration of what theatre is and might be. (Matt Trueman's having a good stab, I should say, though his perspective is rather less insistently categorical than mine.) This is probably not an interesting or important question to many of the makers showing work at BAC, or, to cite another topical example, the makers of You Me Bum Bum Train; nor need it be. I think -- as I try to imply, in a rather ungainly comment on the last post -- I'm concerned mostly that we don't mistake a (by-no-means improper) walking-away from some of the most freighted challenges of theatre-making now for having found solutions to those challenges. It is as if -- no, not as if; I'm sure it's actually to some extent the case that -- these pieces are reverse engineered from top-of-mind questions about the audience, about how relational encounter and experience are translated into value. This manoeuvre produces models that at first sight appear fresh and vivacious --which they are, in a way. But they attach only umbilically to the specifically theatrical dimension of sociality; what we end up with feels like a re-enactment of the breach through which live art refuses theatre -- and then, more often than not, goes on to recreate exactly the same problems around power and consequentiality that continue to fuel the struggles within progressive theatre, but in a made-over guise that appeals to critics partly because it permits, and indeed encourages, the mapping out of an extension to inherited critical topologies and lexicons, and therefore doesn't oblige yet more thinking-through of the same-old same-old. In that context, obviously, Lifegame is, I simply want to aver, more radical than it appears both to audiences and, it seems, to critics too, who are pleased to report -- and why not? -- how enjoyable it is, but, perhaps for exactly that reason, don't seem to want to dig any deeper.

(With a bit of luck I'll be able to return to this topic in due course, but in the meantime, do feel encouraged to add your voice to the budding conversation under the last post.)

As the last performance in the current Lyric run of Lifegame was coming in to land, so were Jonny & I, after four mostly happy, often stimulating, certainly exhausting days in Cork for SoundEye. I won't attempt a proper account -- though I wish there were something better to point you to than this narcissistic, cravenly pseudonymous confectionery -- hopefully other reports will be posted over the next few days; but a few highlights in passing: Maurice Scully, as always -- agile, musical, witty, all the things you want a poet to be if you like your poetry to sound like a string quartet; John Hall, and in particular in his reading/projection of Interscriptions, a collaborative writing/visual work with Peter Hughes, which occupies with astonishing grace and receptivity an interzone between the page and the body, the verse line and the choreographic line, the relative contours of compositional and erotic tendency towards text as a close and tangible apprehension; Swantje Lichtenstein, an even more frankly sexy and intensely realised body of poems, full of heat and contortion and blissfully tangling intellection; amid a mostly awful thirty-reader 'closed mic' session at the Cricket Club on Friday evening, laboriously hosted with subzero charm by Mairead Byrne and a series of hapless co-opted victims, recklessly intimate and thrillingly serious-minded poems, open and candid as flesh wounds, from Joe Luna and Nat Raha; perhaps more than anything, a set at the Thursday night cabaret by the Cork Shape Note Singers, such an unguarded demo (as in "political demo") of avid vocalisation amid four days of mostly close-held and often muttered utterance in a drab downstairs room that it was like an almost cruel crash course in the naked emotional life of earthlings. 

As for my own contributions to proceedings, I dunno about the reading -- the venue and the characteristic tonalities of my fellow readers in the session made me respond with I think a rather aggressively pitched and over-emphatic set (in which I quickly started losing my voice due to too much yelling in the first piece), but some folks reacted warmly, especially to the new long poem, which I'd been nervous about so that was kind of gratifying; the cabaret, later, was an unexpectedly giddy pleasure, with a much larger audience than I anticipated, who seemed to lap up in particular my performance of some old-favourite Christopher Knowles texts, and a pretty haphazard and seat-of-the-pantsy blast through Trailer X, a new collaboration between Michael Basinski and Buffalo artist Ginny O'Brien, which Jonny and I launched ourselves into with basically no preparation at all. Suddenly, five minutes before lift-off, we were bumped up to a beautiful performance space and found ourselves in front of I would guess at least a hundred remarkably attentive and enthusiastic audients, and everything had to go up a notch or two, and a little adrenalin started to flow, and we had a great time, really great.

A page from Michael Basinski & Ginny O'Brien, 'Trailer X'
as performed by CG and JL at the SoundEye cabaret

Across our four days in town, there was much more that was likeable, and little, or little enough, that wasn't; and it was really good to hang out with old friends and newer ones, and drink milkshakes, and even (at a stretch) to listen, in the wee small hours, again and again, to a stuttering copy of the Wu-Tang Clan's 36 Chambers. Every home should have one. In general I'd cautiously say that, on this year's evidence, SoundEye's reputation as a hotbed of experimentation seems a mite overheated: but I guess, as the Sesame Street song used to go, "where you put your eyes / that's about the size of it"; and perhaps finally it's in its careful informality and uncompetitive nature (excepting the odd yucky blurt) that the festival reveals its radicalism most fully.

Since when... Hm. Instead of all the things I should have been doing today -- and believe me that's a long goshdarned list -- I spent much of my Sunday zeroing in, kind of fractally it turned out and therefore both excitingly and uselessly, on thoughts about the inchoate new project. My meeting to discuss it with a producer turned out not to be earlier this week when I thought it was, and in fact won't happen for another ten days, so at the moment the VISION is forming through not much more than a series of more-or-less blurry and/or convulsive exchanges, tete-a-tete and mostly in transit, with Jonny. (A particularly useful recapitulatory conversation about nakedness and liminality which I mention here solely as a memo to self.) I couldn't be more excited or confused or unable to grasp what I'm actually trying to think, nor all of the opposites of all of the above. Will share what I can when I can. I've started to assemble a scrapbook which may eventually become a post here. 

In the meantime, something you should know about. To tie in with a participatory performance project by the Michael Clark Company, Tate Modern is once again hosting a season of Clark's films with Charles Atlas, which previously formed part of its earlier (I think 2006) Atlas retrospective. The unmissable Because We Must is in there, as is the peerless Hail the New Puritan, which I would have to say is to my mind probably the most important performance-related artwork still available to us from the 80s: a more exemplary piece of thinking-through-making is hard to imagine. I'm really nauseously sad that I'll miss this programme (by one day!) due to my Edinburgh commitments. Book now, for the lot, or there'll be tutting.

Also: the new album by The Books is the best I've heard so far this year, absolutely stunning, outrageously so.

And: I remembered today how much I like Luigi y Luca. (Handle with care, if you're new to them...)

Luigi y Luca at the Zenit Hotel, March 2008

And: I could go on; but Day 1 of rehearsals is -- oh, shit -- 116 minutes closer than the last time I looked, so I'm outtahere. Wish me luck :)


kier said...

i like luigi y luca a lot.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your mention of our performance, from a shape-note singer in Cork =)