by Alice Chauchat on COLLECTIVE SENSATIONS (praticable) January 31st 2007
Can you explain me this project you're working on at the moment?
Well, it's still a bit blurry I have to admit, but maybe i can try and lay out its different entries, the starting points, desires or questions that bring me to do this: what can an audience get from watching a group of people on stage? can people share sensations? can people share imagination?
When you say "people share", which people are you talking about? And what do you mean by sharing?
By sharing, I mean to invest in a common question, and to experience this investment as togetherness. That brings us to the 1st question. In the last years I've been working a lot on the relation between audience and performers, but always in small formats (solo, duet, or one-on-one relation). I've always wanted to make space for complicity, in the sense that we (audience and performers) would all know what was at stake and how this was being dealt with, to open the door for the spectators to engage in the performance as active members of a collective event. This doesn't necessarily mean to have the same role, but it means that roles are acknowledged and that their investment forms the event, together with all relations at work during it. In a solo it is clear that the only human relation going on (at least for the performer) is that with the audience. In the duets I did, we focused on our relation with the audience, not on the couple story happening on stage.
... so the shows are about the theatre situation of people watching other people do something the latter have prepared.
yes, in a way, very much so. Now when you look at group performances, the complicity between the author and the audience can still be there, but complicity between performers and audience runs the risk of being replaced by that between performers, where the audience becomes excluded from the action and can only witness or experience the stage activity by proxy.
but what is it that you want instead?
I want the presence of the audience to be a constitutive element of the performance, I want the performance to need the audience in order to make sense. That's what I mean when I say performance making is the organisation of the conditions for an experience, an experience for the audience. If the piece can happen on its own I don't need to ask people to look at it.
mmh, maybe you should read Brecht to be a bit more articulated on that point.
yes, probably. But from what i know, I'm probably looking for alienation and transe in the same time: to provoke a trance state that is not a result of identification.
Now, I checked the french translation for complicity and the word seems to have a slightly other meaning in both languages. In french complicité points to a positive sense of togetherness supported by the notion that the people involved understand something in the same way and enjoy this shared understanding. In english complicity has a negative connotation of shared crime.
Well, thank you for the clarification. I will go on using complicity as if it was complicité. So, I started to wonder how this complicity between performers could be mediated in a way that would allow the audience to join in. Not to dissolve this togetherness but to open it up to another type of togetherness that would include all the people present in the room.
I see. Now, to involve together in something you need something. What is this something in your project?
It is the relation between movement, sensation and imagination. If we reject the body / mind split we have to consider these 3 as bodily activities, that connect without being the same. Each can activate the others, for example imagination can motivate movement, movement induces sensation, and sensation can feed imagination. I find sensation and imagination very interesting for a group work because they are so extremely intimate. And they give urgency to the question of what can be shared, both on stage and in the whole room. They also make individuality explicit: we might be as much a group as we can, still experience will not be shared. And this is interesting, because if we can't share experience, still, for me, performance making is very much about laying out the conditions for an experience. I think these are contradictions that can push me to look at things from another angle. For example, when watching someone move, sensation is shared through kinesthesia. In this project I want to reverse the relation between movement and sensation: instead of movement producing sensations as by-products, to use movement in order to produce a pre-defined sensation. Then instead of a performance producing imagination, I want imagination to be the motor of the performance. In both cases, individual sensation and imagination precede movement. The idea being that the resulting movement can in turn nourish more sensation and imagination for the other performers, and for the audience.
You mentioned mediating the complicity between the performers. Can you explain?
For the group activity to be the sharing of individual activities, and for this sharing to exist in itself, this sharing needs a mode of communication which remains separated from that of the activity itself. If we use verbal language, the audience can receive the same information as the performers and the performers can appropriate it in an individual way. The point here is to maintain a distinction and thus a friction between individual and group, to make their relations perceivable. I also think that the openness of this exchange can give space for the spectators to develop their own relation to the spoken words, in the same time as they can watch the effects of these words on the performers.
what kind of words? fragmentary descriptions of one's own activity
Are you interested in the individual? In psychology?
I'm not so interested in psychology, but very much in human relations, in the politics of performance and the politics of collaboration. To think about relations and group you need to consider the individual as unique, to honor alterity. By this I mean to consider that the other is different from oneself, and that one doesn’t know where these differences lay. Individuality is what makes someone not the same as someone else. In this case the differences interest me less than the acknowledgement of these differences. If I consider you to be the same as me, there can be no movement between us, no change, no effort towards understanding.
yes, it's true that I often don't understand you very well, like now for example: you say you want to underline alterity but not its specific appearance; how can you do this?
well, I'm not sure. Maybe it's more a question of degree than of exclusion. What i want to show is a group as a heterogeneous ensemble of radically different persons that is fed by each of them and by the relations between all of them. And then I also want to set up a situation in which the audience's position is affirmed as different from that of the performers, where it is clear that audience and performers don't perceive the situation in a similar or even mirrored way; where the spectator understands what is going on onstage but can't follow the exact steps of its unfolding. The stage activity, with its own motivations and resorts, should induce an experience that exists for itself and not by proxy.
Well, it seems that the interest here is to bring forth alterity in its various degrees and figure out communication possibilities based on it instead of despite it. But I'm getting a bit lost... How about a concrete description, so I can have an idea of what we're talking about?
For now I started developing a group practice, at first for the sake of practice in the frame of praticable, and then further on as a potential base for a performance, which is what I'm working on now. It has many variations but all function on the same model. My favorite goes like this: each participant invents an imaginary body for herself, with as many details as possible, and will move in order to produce the sensation of this imaginary body in one's own actual body. Then one by one the participants name a detail about their own body (ex: "5 giant tongues are coming out of the back of my head"), and the others integrate this feature to their own body, so that change happens in the same time for all but not in the same way. The performers don't copy each other but infect each other through language. The activity of imagining and moving in order to make real an imaginary sensation produces very intense concentration and body presence. The movements don't look like forms so much as textures, in contrast to the descriptive quality of the words spoken.
Your example with the tongues is rather unexpected I must say. Are you into science fiction?
You know, this is something I've always loved about dance classes, that the teacher would say things like "feel the roots grow under you foot", or "your body is suspended by the top of your ears", "bring the space with you as you run" and we would understand exactly what they meant even though they obviously didn't expect us to turn into trees or defy gravity laws. They used these images to help us produce a sensation, and the production of this sensation would be the desire movement. I've been thinking more and more about this mind-as-body idea, and came to this: if we consider imagination to be a physical activity that is rooted in sensation, i.e. in a super personal experience, what could be a practice of collective imagination? Performances are also a place where we can experiment with our perception of the body. Maybe the wish here is to produce a body that invents itself, and that is transformed by the other's imagination. And to address the spectators’ bodies in the same way, where they can be touched kinesthetically by the bodies onstage as well as suggestively by the words.
Is it important to you that imagination produces new, are you into invention, like, creating from scratch, or if not, what role does culture play in this practice?
Bodies carry stories, histories, memories, and with this complex of knowledge they can imagine. It is interesting to leave a bit the idea of cultural repetition aside, and embrace its appearance, because it cannot not appear. This leaves space to focus on the activity itself, to invent together and to immerse in it, and possibly to hallucinate the implicit of this shared imagination.
Well, thanks… I’m curious what this will be like.
Yes, me too. Thanks.