“the past is never dead. it’s not even past.” – William Faulkner
This writing is a clutch bag of ideas. I’m in the middle of a dense creative development period and predictably the things that seem important to me now reflect the questions and problems my collaborator – Colin Poole (www.colinsimonandi. com, don’t want to miss a chance to advertise) – and I are currently facing. I can imagine a terrible future in which the beautiful weight of work might not interfere, colour and crash into my understanding and experiences.
When first taught the Warrior pose in yoga, I was advised, “Not too far in the future, and not too far in the past”. I imagine the practice of performance and choreography to involve a similar balance between an understanding and awareness of the past (both recent and distant) and an occasional glance at the horizon. But this balance is skewed or complicated by a personal interest in research, and in this word is built a curiosity about the search (and re-search) for newness.
Here is a list of questions. They can be thought of as being for you the (future) reader, or for me, as I attempt to construct these thoughts now, on a grey London spring morning: How do our interests and ways of participating in the world contribute to contemporary culture? How do you respond as you become aware of trends in dance and performance? Do you embrace them or react by being other? What is your relationship with originality? What do you believe in? What do the edges of contemporary dance practice look and feel like? What about the middle?
I have two interests at the moment that seem relevant to what’s coming. The first is quite contemporary, and the other is more personal and perhaps is informed by the work I have seen in Europe these last 6 years.
Educator Dwayne Harapnuik has suggested that “the greatest challenge of our current, digital information age is assessing, not accessing information” (in Bruff, 2011). If I choose to turn and face the full stream of data and information that is assaulting us all, how am I to decide which of these data to hold on to? Or what if I imagine that I can escape this torrent of links, sharing, blogging, re-blogging, opinion, guff, and status updates?
Whether we like it or not, we are participating in an economy of information, and I believe that bringing an informed presence to how I participate (willfully or not) in our dizzying circulation of images, texts and videos is a vital aspect of how I make and present art.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s various criticisms of Western Buddhism – by which he vaguely means some concatenation of Eastern systems of thought – is that meditative practices enable us to “fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that [we] are not really in it” (Žižek, 2001). The temptation to withdraw is overwhelming; to “uncouple” and become indifferent to the “mad dance of accelerated process” (Žižek, 2001).
What are the implications of these socio-politics for us as artists and choreographers?
Žižek’s challenge is enormous to the point of impossible. How are we to question and find alternatives to the cynical spirit of our time whilst acknowledging that we are utterly responsible for creating and participating in an economy of (data) consumption (as I write this on an Apple Mac, using ‘free’ software, listening to illegally downloaded music on headphones bought using Arts Victoria funding for a project called Inert)?
Am I simply passing on experience or things that I stumble upon? How does my choreographic work intervene in these data streams? How do I frame these experiences and question what is being seen, heard, and felt? Can I participate in this economy knowingly whilst presenting work in which how audiences respond generates complex problems and rich imaginative spaces for both them and me?
These questions seem to represent a repackaging of Brecht’s epic theatre, but what is different is the (enormous) quantity and (shoddy) quality of how we are informed – and inform ourselves – as participants. But does this difference make any difference?
Mess, Flaws & Breakage
“Maybe there’s gonna be something with interfaces being actually broken in some way—broken to mimic real life, not broken because we’re bad at developing things.” – Marcin Wichary, Senior User Experience Designer at Google.
I’m interested in making choreographies that provoke and give space for the imaginations of audiences. In part, this is because I am not sure I have anything to ‘say’ as a maker, but also because I acknowledge the tremendous intelligence of audiences in contemporary performance. My biases as an artist push me towards developing work in which I have deeply considered the various permutations of dramaturgy, influence, and contemporaneity. This has resulted in work that tends to get described as “intelligent” or perhaps “beautifully intelligent” (if I’m lucky). More recently I’ve started wondering, what if I break how I make work? What about failure? What happens if I start to drop some of the balls of meaning or influence? Where are the flaws and what if they don’t need editing? What if I shut up? What does a mess look and feel like? What are the boundaries of formality in performance?
Coupled with this is my sense that I am becoming less interested in dictating the terms of experiences for both audiences and performers. How light might my touch be as a choreographer? How little is required in order for an audience to be involved in merely the smallest of transformations?
But is this what’s coming?
However, the decisions I will make, and the curiosities I will follow are never independent. I am not an independent artist. These decisions and curiosities are part of a complex set of interactions – between culture, individuals, politics and economics – that demand we test our ideas and practices outside the bubble of the art world; that we grapple with difficult questions of power and technology, and that we might risk providing the space to welcome the imaginations of those who watch performance.
Finally, I don’t quite know how to fit this in, but there is an article in Wired magazine (http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2012/04/ff_spotfuture_qas/all/1) that asks several “visionaries” how they spot the future. This is a selection of my favourites and least favourites:
Paul Saffo: “I look for: contradictions, inversions, oddities, and coincidences”.
Esther Dyson: “The first thing I do is go where other people aren’t”.
Juan Enriquez: “A clear view of the future is often obstructed by taking too much for granted”.
Tim O’Reilly: “I find the cool kids and then say, what are they doing?”
Chris Sacca: “I walk around Best Buy every three to four weeks and watch people.”
Joi Ito: “I believe in serendipity, and in the strength of weak ties”.
Peter Schwartz: “You look for technologies that are likely to create major inflection points—breaks in a trend, things that are going to accelerate”.