On Friday 27th of February I was in the studio with Inés Alonso. On Friday 6th of March I was in the studio with Eve Stainton. My proposition for both days was to explore the concept of atmosphere(s) within the setting of the OPENLAB sessions.
Obviously, the concept of atmosphere within art and performance isn’t new. In fact, my dictionary gives a 2nd definition of atmosphere as “the pervading tone or mood of a place, situation, or creative work,” and atmosphere is a term many dance artists use.
I have to say that I was twice unoriginal, because the notion of using atmospheres re-appeared in my practice after preparing with Robert Vesty an experimental piece, titled A Piece for Two (lovers), which we performed at the Dancing Economies conference at Royal Holloway, University of London, a few weeks ago.
Our piece was based on a question I asked Rob and which I set for him and myself as a choreographic challenge:
How could we, possibly, make a piece for two lovers; being one of them myself, and the other one my beloved partner…
A piece which is real, rather than a performative mannerism…
A piece which, therefore, has never been performed before…
A piece that doesn’t need to be rehearsed and that in fact takes both lovers by surprise, without being an improvised piece…
A piece that has a set choreography, yet at the same time it is different each time it is performed…
A piece that shows the full trust a lover has in his beloved and in the intentions behind his actions…
And, of course, a piece which isn’t longer than 15 min?
The idea behind (or before) this question was that we could secretly make scores for each other. Each score would be passed on to the other person in the form of a soundtrack to be listened to with headphones. Only this person would listen to the score made for her. This person having to be the interpreter of the score and doing so for the very first time at the same moment of the first performance of the piece.
I don’t want to go into great detail about A Piece for Two, but let’s simply say that the idea of making pieces that aren’t rehearsed but happen for the first time in front of an audience, and are not improvised at the same time, is one which lately entertains me. Making a soundtrack as a score is one of the possible methodologies to work around this concept and I can see the potential to make all kinds of unrehearsed choreographies following this method.
However, how can I make soundtracks which are both efficient and effective in the enabling of such pieces? The fact is that they need to be efficient and effective as these pieces are unrehearsed. These soundtracks as scores need to give as much information as possible in the minimum amount of time and, at the same time, they need to (more or less) successfully enable the execution of the actions that they direct.
So, coming back to the theme of the last two OPENLAB sessions; after performing A Piece for Two (lovers), Rob and I discussed how we had approached the challenge of making a score for the other. Both Rob and I used at different points music as background for the instructions we were giving to each other. Rob said that what he was trying to do by using sound was to create different kinds of atmospheres that affected laterally, i.e. tacitly or even unconsciously, my performance.
I am now considering how to make other soundtracks as choreographic scores and I’m wondering about how to maybe prepare a group performers to respond to atmospheric instructions, and what kind of instructions (maybe using sound/music is just one possibility) can be employed to create one atmosphere or another.
The last two OPENLAB sessions were, therefore, influenced by this. I proposed my interest with the idea of using atmospheres by trying to perceive them first.
My approach of exploring atmospheres was by bringing together the figurative meaning of the word atmosphere with its literal meaning.
Atmosphere comes from the Greek words atmos, meaning vapour, and sphaira, meaning ball or globe.
Atmosphere is principally the name given to the envelope of gases surrounding the Earth or other celestial objects; not just of planets but also of asteroids, comets and even stars.
Within a much more “domestic” setting, atmosphere refers to the air (a kind of air) in any particular place.
This applies very well for the environment which we as humans inhabit. We, humans, live on the surface of the Earth, wrapped by its atmosphere. Still grounded because of gravity but erected with our crowns pointing directly upwards. We are creatures of ground, longing for lightness, and so we make ourselves believe that we exist in space, occupying different empty places.
We occupy rooms, landscapes, regions, fields, countries, moments… always in relation to the different spaces created by their boundaries, physical boundaries or perceived boundaries. Even ourselves, occupying a place in space, are spacious. Our own body as counter-space or as inner spaces. We can relate therefore to all those spaces and perceived them as empty. Inner space, intimate space, kinesphere, indoor space, outdoor space, spaces in which we are and spaces beyond the limits of the space in which we are…
All those spaces empty but not… because they are filled with atmosphere.
Atmosphere is therefore a metaphor for what is there but is invisible. Can we then smell it? Can we taste it in the air like when you enter to a mouldy room?
How can we tune with the ethereal… can we miss it? Can we smell the things that don’t smell? Or it is simply as obvious as gravity… always so present that we don’t even realise it exists unless we think about it.
Maybe that’s why also sound can create atmospheres… it has to do with the air and what isn’t seen (or obviously perceived).
Is it deceiving? Is it subjective? Would we agree? Would you need to be extra sensitive?
When I think about art works defined as atmospheric I always imagine quite, tranquil and time-taking kind of works, but what about the busy, noisy and fast-paced works? They must have their own atmosphere, right? Maybe atmospheres, as thin as they are, are very delicate and need of all our undivided attention to be perceived.
Go there, go, and feel the new atmosphere in which you are by changing your place in space.