october 1st 2008, on OHNE WORTE (PRATICABLE)
Hello Isabelle, I would like to ask you some questions around your new solo project 'Ohne Worte (Praticable)'.
I would like to start at the very beginning: What was the starting point for this project and how did it develop then?
It all started around 2 years ago with the exploration sessions on different body systems that we did in the frame of Praticable* and with my desire to find out more about one of the systems: the endocrine system. At the time, it was the body system I knew the less about. I was very curious: what it does to me, how it affects my body, my movements, sensations, feelings etc.
As I'm not familiar with Body-Mind-Centering**, which is the practice you are talking about - as you told me before - I would like you to explain me more about the endocrine system.
Ok, I will try.... The endocrine system is dealing with our energetic centers - the glands - and the hormon regulation. It concerns intuition, feeling and touches into who we are and how we perceive and express ourselves. The glands have a profound effect on both physiological functionning and feeling states - sometimes extreme states. They form an energetically connected network that lies interior of the spine and relate closely to the chakras. They are a link between the subtle, invisible energy body and our manifest physical body. Each gland corresponds to a specific expression in posture, movement, states of feeling and perception. Observing my movements, postures and ways of being that emerged in this process, I often got reminded of alienated, monstruous and comical bodies (amongst others).
You are mentioning many things at a time. I would like to go through what you said step by step, so I m sure I understand what you mean. When you talk about extreme states what exactly do you mean? Can you describe it in a more detailed way?
Maybe I can explain it through the commonly experienced example of a long jogging. When you are running, the adrenal glands are sending out adrenalin. This hormon spreads in the body and keeps you in movement. After a while the action is becoming more tiring, and you have to pass a certain threshold of exhaustion until the movement becomes easy again. The adrenalin helps you to keep 'up for it' and to reduce the sensation of effort. It helps you reach a point where the running even gets effortless and you can stay in movement longer... After a while there are also endorphines sent into the blood, and this produces pleasurable sensations. You may experience that you feel like flying and staying in that state forever... The sensation you experience has a lot to do with desire. Desire of moving, of reaching one's own limits, going beyond them, of feeling free somehow. I was very keen on researching how I could share the experience of pleasure in physicality, through dancing with and for the spectator. I wanted to explore ways for the performer to generously share his/ her sensations with the one who is watching.
OK. But what does it have to do with comical bodies or alienated ones?
Good that you ask. I just described how one can reach a certain state that is relatively easy to sustain in movement - in a state where one is able to produce a lot of movement, while experiencing pleasurable sensations. I was also mentioning the possibility of kinesthetic transference, so that the viewer is able to participate in the desire and pleasure of the dancer. Furthermore, I am playing with different states as one mean to trigger extreme, excessive or overwhelming situations. The potential that within these states, different kind of bodies could emerge from my own body - while performing - was exciting to me. During the work on certain glands the appearance of very theatrical figures was surprising me. They related to clowning tradition, fairy tales, ghost-like apparitions or to the expressionist faces of early movies. I got interested in those theatrical figures and comical bodies that appeared in and through me. It thus became my theme in the work to deal with the comical body - traditionally associated to a somehow alienated body - through the means I have mentioned: the feeling states, movements, postures and figures appearing.
Did you get interested in those different bodies that emerged in the sense that you wanted to talk about politics of the body and body representations?
Yes. In a way these bodies represent my personal other body. Or let's rather say my personal other bodies, as there are several hidden within one. The figure that is on stage in 'Ohne Worte', which wears blue make-up and a bi-colored costume, this figure is somehow a character, but transforms into many different bodies, other characters, and develops many different ways of moving, many different attempts to try to entertain... and fails many times. Other emotions and faces appear through the surface of the make-up. It is interesting for me that this piece, based on the issue of the comical body, reveals certain tragic aspects along the way. However, I didn't want to speak explicitely about myself and my own 'other' bodies in this work, rather about 'other' bodies in general. About what it means to stick out, to be different - with a focus on the comical aspect of such situations. Actually, if you see for instance a Jacques Tati movie, and then you go out on the streets and observe what's going on, there is not such a big difference between this fiction and that reality. There is already so much instant choreographies and highly comical situations happening in our daily life. We just don't 'see' that any more, as we got used to this daily spectacle. We don't walk around in the streets with such a specific awareness that we actually focus consciously on what is 'being choreographed' around us... Did I get lost again by trying to explain many things in the same time?
Well... I think I understand you when you talk about a certain awareness that generates a generous and humorous way of observing our daily life. How did you want to transfer these notions in your piece?
I think I m always interested in working on creating a certain 'space' in my performances - a space that allows for the spectators to connect to their own experiences, sensations, emotions, life stories, their own observations, discoveries - and in this case also to their own comical body or 'the little idiot' inside themselves. I m working on the production of that kind of space of exchange since years in a certain sense. And I have always been working by travelling back and forth between body practice and the articulation of an idea. Some time ago, I have been strongly influenced by the Moshé Feldenkrais body practice that did deeply interest me. Several projects became quite minimalistic and the movement of the performers very slow, extremely focused on details and on the transformation of body and space in time. Duration became a very important tool, time was stretched and distorted to allow the viewers to immerse themselves into a different time frame allowing perception shifts. I worked on giving that 'space' through an extreme reduction of the exteriorized movements of the performer.
Wait a minute, what do you mean by 'reducing the exteriorized movements' ?
What I mean is, that I have been focusing a lot on internal movements, movement inside the body. I've been working with slow weight shifts, with the articulatory system, the reduction of effort, concentrating on inner journeys between attention and intention, putting importance to every detail in the body in motion... I wanted to produce certain body situations that would affect the perception of space and time, that would create a certain presence, atmosphere or texture. It doesn't necessarily mean to propose a still body, as there is a lot of physical work and fine-articulated movement going on, but often it didn't bring the body into dance movement in and through space as I didn't find the motivation to do so in my body. The work was rather related to transforming situations with a strong focus on image and visual aspects and the desire to alter our usual habits of perceiving time and space as well as the body. When I started to practice BMC, the big discovery for me was, that I found a motivation for why to move again, and from where, in which rhythm etc in the body itself. Being able to link physiological and psychological aspects, interior and exterior travels, relation between myself and others / the environment was just like opening a door for endless possible discoveries. And a direct access to the dancing body as well. In 'Ohne Worte' I m working on certain types of ongoing movement, accumulations, states that are influenced and transformed depending on where in my body I initiate the movement. But after all, what is more important is what I produce with the dance, with those movements: what kind of texture, what kind of body, what happens to the space, how can this be received by an observer, where does it eventually bring the observer? What kind of emotion does it produce, to what kind of inner journey does it invite the spectators? I don't need the observer to find out or know what I m doing with my body or where I initiate movement, but I m interested in what the movements and the dance produce. I m dealing again with duration, but, in this work, time is 'filled up' with movement. In a way I'm interested in what happens to their unconscious while I m trying to drag the spectators into a journey. And if I m interested in producing a certain... something that triggers unconscious travels for/in the observer, I need to be working on my own unconscious as well. I experienced in the BMC - work that it brought me towards discovering and understanding better certain aspects of my own inner complexity: relationships between body, body memories, psychological aspects, unconscious memory, the connections I have to my environment, to reality, to how i relate to other people. It is again about this essential question: What is it that I would like to share with other people watching my work? In how far can the complexity of life be adressed in a piece of work? Is it possible at all? In how far can we touch our most inner selves, the fragments of experiences that stay in our memory, the early experiences that seem to be forgotten but that are deeply inscribed in us?
You were speaking a lot about what you desire to produce for a spectator. Let me now go back a little bit: I would be curious to know more about the work on the comical body and this theatrical aspects you have been mentioning.
First important thing: I haven't been starting from the reference or representation point of view, but from the physicality. I could have - from the beginning - watched Buster Keaton, Charly Chaplin, Peter Sellers or Jacques Tati to find a coherent transference to my dance project. I chose to start from another point: the body practice. In this practice, body types, figures or known references have been emerging. In a second phase of work it has been important for me to study them: What they (the mentioned actors or artists) have been doing and how they did it. Meaning: the timing, the decision making, the precision work, the absolute virtuosity involved in order to be at the level of being funny or entertaining. I've been considering the failure of the entertainer as a sort of leitmotif and I've been linking this pattern to certain aspects of the theater - a space of representation and, as a matter of fact, a space where people get entertained to a certain extent.
J.Tati has become a really important reference to me. I like to quote him with this sentence : 'Comedians are always protest people'. I find his work strongly critical towards society and very political. I think it is relevant that he is recurrently presenting the 'idiot' - a humble figure - impersonated by himself. The guy that doesn't fit into his surrounding, that does everything wrong - according to a certain society, but still, gains the empathy of the audience - and a paradoxal power - as he fails, as he shows the essence of very human mistakes, that one can recognize and relate to... thus he gains the sympathy of the viewer. I also find Tati's sound work amazing. There is an inside - outside relationship all the time... how to be with a person or with the space.... I have been working around that inside - outside relationship as well in 'Ohne Worte'.
How did you work on that, as you don't have the means of cinema, where you can quickly change perspective, go into the head of a character - subjective point of view, and then again switch back into the space in general...
One point is that in the body practice I have been working a lot with my voice to stimulate the endocrine glands. And by doing that, I discovered the possibilities I had with the range of my own voice. When, as a young girl, people told me to sing just a bit higher I haven't been able to do it, as I didn't have a tool to know where to place the sound inside my body. Well, I didn't even think about placing sounds inside my body... I just felt pressure in my throat when I wanted to find a higher pitch. I felt totally untalented in singing and I wasn't very ambitious in trying to change that. Even though my whole childhood I was in love with music and adored dancing to music. But ok back to now... Finally with the BMC practice I found out that the voice work was totally similar to the body work and I happily discovered a whole new field that I could explore. I mean, I was simply happy about discovering the pleasure of singing freely and without effort. And also about all the other weird, animal or monstruous sounds that came out of myself. In Ohne Worte then, I'm working on producing sounds in such a way that the spectator doesn't directly associate them with my body. I got curious to explore the separation between the visual and audible perception: one may not really bring the two together even though it is quite clear that the sounds come from the stage. Sometimes I'm overlapping my own sounds with organic sounds pre-recorded during rehearsals. I'm either trying to catch up and be in tune with them or they are melting together with my 'live' voice to form a soundscape - e.g. a breathing that produces wind.
Yes, wind sounds. I wanted to produce my own sound environment that could open imaginary spaces. In the same time it brings me into a situation. Meaning: I produce my own storm while bodily working on axis, balancing, equilibrium. Weird heroïc figures appear in this wind, absurd images are fading into each other. I like the fact that this production of sound is organic and comes from my physical activity while evoking artificial or dreamlike spaces.
Could you tell me more about the inside - outside relation you are dealing with?
In general I have been trying to think the theatre space in the same sense than my body. Like another body with an inside and an outside life. So - in theory - the space inside my body gets transfered to the space of the theatre. Maybe I could compare it as well with the image of pre-natal life inside the uterus and the perception of the whole outside environment from the inside of the mother's belly. Really, I'm quite excited by the idea of bringing the spectators' kinesthesy to somehow perceive the inner sensations of the performer. I think that the dramaturgy of 'Ohne Worte' is alternatively proposing this kinesthetic transference and cutting back to a more normal perspective from the outside. This proposal of constantly changing points of view is an attempt to work on our collective unconscious memory. Maybe it's more clear when I describe a section of the piece in which I am working physically on this inside - outside relationship: I call it the mechanical trousers. In a way it is very banal. I imagine that the trousers I'm wearing are moving alone and that they do things by themselves that I cannot control. They bring me into the more absurd situations and into a way of dancing that is... let's say rather embarrassing. The dance is invading the whole stage, the trousers bring me so far as to nearly climb up the walls of the theater at high velocity. This mostly physical and imaginative game is discretely supported by technical interventions. There are environmental microphones in the space that capture and emplify the sounds of the stepping, dancing plus my own breathing. All that creates a soundscape to my crazy dancing. At one point I suddenly turn around and step on the spot, reducing the movement little by little, almost like falling asleep, and at once reducing all organic sounds to silence: I keep on moving but the sounds (both organic and amplified) stop, the light focuses from general to spot and this combination of events brings the viewer to some other, unexpected place. An illusion created by the combination of the physicality, the sound and the lights. I try there to treat the theatre space as another body, a second character.
Can you tell me more about the use of the lights? How do you deal with the lights in relation to : theatre becoming another body ?
Bruno Pocheron, a close collaborator in my work, has been working together with me on that issue. He chose to use one moving light, treated as a second character, on top of a more conventional theatrical lightplot. This 'second character' is highlighting the theatre as a space. It is not or almost never following me, but having rather its independent life. We are playing with expectations: I'm sometimes trying to be in the fleeing spotlight, sometimes the follow spot exposes crudely the mechanics and practical installations of the theatre space (emergency exits, the cables of the projectors, the speakers in front of the backdrop), sometimes the spot is totally independent, splitting the attention of the viewer and sometimes it helps creating perfectly theatrical images. In short, we try to use this device in a humorous sense, as well as another mean to activate and comment on the theater as spectacular space.
I understand. I m wondering now about the title. How did it come to you to call the performance 'Ohne Worte' ?
The title came to my mind in the beginning of the process. I was thinking of laughter, comical aspects and imagery... 'Ohne Worte' is used as a title in German culture for short stories, comics, images - or one image - for which you do not need texts. They are self-explanatory. The story is understandable through the images, and then the title 'Ohne Worte' is put next to it. I liked it. I was not sure in the beginning, if I will use any language or words, and if that has any meaning for me in relation to using that title. I kept it open. Even if I would have used some words, I wanted the piece to be self-explanatory as well, that it does not need words to explain it - and now look how much we talk about it :). I do not necessarily want the audience to read a program text in advance neither. I want them to experience it first. The piece should in a way stand for itself. 'Ohne Worte' is the title that is usually used for comical images. That relates directly to the comical aspect of that work and fits very well to my intention. Some spectators were mentioning the fact that it refers to a practice common in the fine arts, related to the idea of product: it is usual to give to several products the same title (Untitled, or Ohne Titel are very common titles in visual arts and music). I liked that Ohne Worte is between the genre of images that doesn't have to be explained and the serial aspect of some art works. Maybe I will do other Ohne Worte, giving subtitles to it in relation to a certain aspect, but let's see...
I think it is a nice idea to give subtitles to Ohne Worte. Thank you very much for the conversation and for giving me an inview into your current research. I wish you a good continuation with your work!
- (an ongoing project by Alice Chauchat, Frédéric de Carlo, Frédéric Gies, Isabelle Schad, Odile Seitz. Based on the sharing of physical practices, praticable brings together research, learning processes, creation, production and distribution, multiplying circulations between them.)
- © Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen