What are Good Fridays for?
About to turn 33 and being mid-named Jesus, I’m trying to forget their intended aim. Maybe that’s why this year I saw the opportunity to bring the lab outdoors, something we haven’t done now for a long time.
Chisenhale Dance Space, our usual HQ, was ‘Closed for Holidays’ and having opened the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park a few weeks earlier (and having not visited myself the parklands within the Park despite of living in it) the question of what would have happened to OPENLAB on that day was immediately answered.
So there we were at Hackney Wick station waiting for all of those who were attending the session; We were: Galina Kalichin, Susam Kempster, Debbie Kent, Jan Lee, Alisa Oleva, Amaara Raheem, Thelma Sharma and myself.
Soon after our meeting at the station we quickly moved inside the park area and decided first to get a hot drink at Timber Lodge, a community centre/café inside the park. Once there, I shared my plan for the day with all of us. We agreed to stay longer that we first had planned because we were already running an hour late, so we could dedicate a full hour to each of the two tasks I proposed.
For the first hour, we had a simple task: stroll around the park lands whilst being co-independent, i.e. staying together but undertaking each of us our own exploration of the park. The only two prescriptions for the stroll were to stay silent whilst ‘being in the present moment’ and to find moments of sharing our experience with the others.
This first hour felt, at lest to me, like a wonderful present. Aiming towards staying mindful for a long periods of time, leaving aside deadlines and to-do’s, having the chance of fully tasting reality without having to be a step-ahead constantly, always feels like both a luxury and a daily essential for the soul. I really needed this after the last months in which I have been very busy.
The exploration during this hour kept on reminding me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland, having Alisa telling us her name in English is Alice like the one who had gone through the mirror, and being in a park called after the Queen, filled with all kind of holes (like those in the picture above) for all kind of rabbits… the only difference is maybe that we weren’t actually late, on the contrary time passing became the less important element.
In any case, every time OPENLAB comes off-site a new element is always gained. I don’t mean the obvious element of being in the real world full of real objects to interact with. I mean the element of having other people, witnesses to our actions who haven’t chosen to be one of them, although that’s always the case within the public sphere. Some witness other people and neither group has chosen that… and it is still completely normal because, how could it be otherwise?
But every time OPENLAB happens outdoors the same questions arise: Where does real life ends and performing begins? What are the differences between performing and not performing? Are there any at all? And if so, what are their common characteristics?
These questions lead into the task we explored during the second hour of the lab. These questions and more:
What do I need to do in order to be performing? Does it have to do with the idea of doing things that look different to every day life actions? Or, can I perform despite any type of actions? Is it performing an action in itself? But if so, does the action of performing need to be accompanied by a specific set or type of actions? Can I perform by being every-day-life-like? Aren’t we al,l after al,l performing all the time? At least this is the way in which Erving Goffman talks about human social interactions in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
So, the way we tried to explore this questions for ourselves during the second hour of the lab was by creating an instant outdoors theatre. Although the park was very busy by this time (and therefore full of potential witnesses), we have decided to support each other by having a group of us watching whilst the rest were performing. The only limitations were to have at least two people at any given time in each group, and that we will finish by 1pm.
The experience was… well, it was hard to grasp because the way we were performing with each other, and the way other people unaware of what were our intentions did interact (or rather pretended not to be interacting) with us was constantly changing.
Goffman’s idea about face-to-face interactions as theatrical performances returned to my stream of consciousness, specially whilst I watched the others performing. What I experienced then wasn’t so much that we were imposing others to become audience members of a performance they didn’t asked for but rather that we have made them accidental performers of a piece they will never know it had taken place. There an idea…
Today’s OPENLAB was inspired by a desire to research the relationship between sound and movement in performance. The themes were WEIGHT and TIMING. I’ve noticed that as both a musician and dancer I use these as a base to listen to myself and to other performers.
The people who came today were – Thelma, Ethan, Marina, Lavinia and myself.
We started off walking ‘as something that can’t be helped’, a momentum of nature… Weight, weight, weight…. Finding the weight in our movements. Then a short body scan, playing with the delivery of the timing – from each body part, a steady pulse and a calm matter-of-fact way, to sudden lists of body parts, quick quick one after the other. People seemed to enjoy the contrast between calm reassuring order and sudden pouring in of fastness…
Enjoyment… Do we ask for anything from the audience, that they are enjoying it, and what do we mean by this?… We played Peekaboo. The ultimate game for enjoyment, can anyone not enjoy peekaboo?! (as a baby) Well, as we found out, yes, not all peekaboos make you laugh. We worked in partners, one as a adult and the other as a baby – changing the timing of covering and uncovering our faces with our hands to affect the ‘baby’s’ laughter. Some babies got quite scared…
We took this idea into moving through space. Working in partners, one was moving and one was witnessing. Some witnesses experienced having a lot of responsibility for making the performance happen and began to participate in the ‘performance’ – some movers felt like they had to react really fast all the time to the witness and wanted to slow down. So we added that the witness does not have to be polite and help the mover. This seemed to open up space for each person to explore the fuller range of relationship between witness and mover, other than just looking for laughter, although this was an anchor.
I wanted to take this into more of a physical focus and to add the element of sound. I had brought objects which had different kinds of weight and qualities that might inspire ways of moving. The objects also made sounds. I brought: a bottle with a bit of water, a big metal ‘egg’ containing rice, a small suitcase of large rocks inside, and objects that could contain other things like a crumply plastic bag, sticky rubber bands, a very furry hat…
We explored touching and moving these objects only with our kinetic sense, feeling the weight moving, the touch of it, and how it made us feel. The objects created a sound but the task was to listen to the sounds as an outcome not as the inspiration. I noticed that as a mover I have a habit of translating what I hear in sound into how I move, but in a very particular way and usually the same way… and it was a good discovery to break this and find new ways of perceiving and relating.
The second task was to ‘be’ one of the objects instead of moving it. To move ourselves as if they were one of the objects. We noticed types of characters emerge for a moment. My moods shifted from throwing myself about in joy and drunkenness, to being manipulated by some outside force shaking the living daylights out of me. There seemed to be a range of ways to relate, each one measured by its timing and weight shifting in space but also how we want to ‘become’ what we have chosen… Then taking this back to how we could affect our witness by affecting ourselves.