If You Decide To Stay was an individual performance by artist Sylvia Rimat. Her artwork confronted the question of personal agency and choice face on, through a frank personal story of the artist’s own conflicted relationship with decision making. The piece was far more than that, and reached into concepts of time, identity, and nomenclature – defining one’s choices in the world as defining oneself. Rimat’s use of multimedia fitted her exploration into chance, time, inevitability and memory, reflecting what she called the ‘meadow in her head’.
The friction between personal agency and chance was played out in the actions of the piece itself, as we were asked to answer various questions, but with only a torch to indicate yes or no, our answers and therefore interaction was decidedly limited and controlled by the artist herself. The tug between handing over creative control to the audience, and collaborating with an open-endedness was evident as with the previous two pieces. We contributed, but we didn’t let loose. These tensions – although not experienced as that within the piece due to Rimat’s humour, generosity and endearing spirit – did in fact serve the artwork, as the audience’s choices reflected the make-up of one individual, subject to elusive amounts of agency within their own lives. The audience artist relationship also acted as a reflection of an interaction with the world that Rimat seemed to be questioning; the relationship was in parallel to the artwork’s question, creating a multi-layered dynamic and a space that fed the piece and corollated directly with it. Therefore whilst we seemingly engaged as a conventional theatre audience, the relationship reflected the content in a way that took us outside of place, and set us deep within the space of the performance itself.
In contrast, Night Tripper was a wordless excursion into Leigh Woods, a woodland across the Avon Gorge in Bristol, devised by choreographer Ingri Midgard Fiksdal, composer Ingvild Langgård and scenographer Signe Becker. The piece arguably started on the bus journey there, something resembling a school trip, and unfortunately devoid of magic for a piece so out to enchant or evoke the uncanny. The journey from the bus deep into the woods was peppered by roots and trunks that had been dressed in clothes; these signposts felt like a slightly unnecessary marking out that this was a liminal territory. However, passing them on the way to the performance space, I did feel they brought me into a place of possibility, expectation, and a slight nervousness that fed my engagement with my surroundings. The performance itself blended exquisite music with movement: two dancers continuously in contact, performing pendulum-like moves whilst rotating around a small area. The movement seemed to have its own momentum, hypnotising and distancing to the same extent; the music had an exquisite spaciousness that echoed the stillness of our surroundings; the choir that echoed from deep within the forest almost half-way through the piece was spine-tingling, yet I felt strangely detached from the whole experience. It could have been the cold, but the awareness this brought to the body was, I felt, in tune with the embodiment taking place within the piece itself.
The piece seemed to interact more with its place than with the audience. I began to sense my detachment derived from my consciousness of us, as an audience, in the place of the forest, rather than in dialogue with it or the artists. As I walked back to the bus, I looked at the dressed logs, and they suddenly appeared to me as humans imposing themselves on the animate world of the forest, a symbol of our arrival at this place as an audience, and our leaving it, without having engaged or acknowledged it properly. Whilst the piece appeared to be in dialogue with its environment, there was also an imagined conception of the surroundings, a romanticisation of the forest, which could have separated the audience from its environment, acting in a way to portray the place rather than let the place itself speak. There was an unfulfilled mediating between place and audience on the part of the artists that perhaps blocked a dialogue between audience and place, or indeed audience and artists. Of all the pieces, this one brought into most clarity the presence of three bodies: not just artist and audience, but place also. What this third entity is, might change and shift with different pieces; for Night Tripper, it was a very tangible environment and what came with that was the responsibility to mediate between all three that wasn’t quite fulfilled. However, to see a piece not afraid of stillness and spaciousness was refreshing and enchanting.
Finishing my weekend of IBT, was Nic Green with her performance Fatherland. Bringing the piece to mind gives me goosebumps almost as much as the actual performance did; Green reminded me what performance can do. A piece about her relationship or lack thereof with her absent Scottish father, Green spoke, danced, undressed, drank and sang her way through a ritual of longing, belonging, identifying and searching, with an emotional register to match. From curious enquiry, to need, to anger, to passion, to love, to acceptance, to opening – every audience member no doubt identified a variation of this journey, but what was certain was that Green was one hundred percent present and living the experience in a way that I rarely see performers do. The effect was an authenticity that was closer to ritual than performance, at the most potent end of ‘happenings’ that art can bring.
Green too was concerned with space and place; the in-between space of relationships, space that is defined by the beings or objects within it and the gap it bridges between them. Part of the poignancy of the piece was the dialogue Green established from the outset with the audience. Fathers in the audience were encouraged to read text projected onto the back wall; the effect created a remarkable intimacy between a large group of people. It also answered the question that Green herself challenged us with; how can you have a relationship when the thing you want to be in dialogue with, is not present? It felt as though a lot of personal experience therefore went back from the audience into the performance space also; audience or artist substituting ‘the absent’ for the other, and vice versa, feeding the performance and perhaps Green as well. The spoken dialogue extended to the whole audience, and created a relationship between us and Green that was unspoken by the end of the piece, as we silently drank our whiskeys as Green drank.
Alongside the conceptual purpose of space, came a very tangible place: Scotland. What it means to belong, and have a heritage, whether lived or sensed, and how that relates to cultural and individual identity were some of the vast issues so articulately expressed through actions, speech and Green’s extraordinary ability to hold a space with being and becoming, openness rather than surety. As she herself said, ‘we both know we don’t need to prove our Scottishness’, the piece was so powerfully about personal relationships between place and ancestry, that the Scotland Green had accessed was so authentic to her, and therefore to us. In a similar way, Green was beyond gender; dressed in quite masculine or at least androgynous clothes that she subtly shed, Green held the space with what I perceived as a particularly feminine strength, at the same time dancing through a father-line. Green was not man nor woman, but a vessel for evoking herself, her father, her father’s land, something primitive and present all at once.
There was an unspoken working through that felt as though it answered all of my earlier questions about creating a space where reality is shifted. Neither a fictional space that resembled external reality, nor a space that provided an opportunity to play, nor a space that was firmly rooted in its present place, Green’s performance was first and foremost a space for ritual. Within that, a powerful evocation of physical and emotional place occurred, was mediated and passed through to the audience. Green is an astounding performer, doing extremely important things. Her work shed light on the earlier performances, and the possibilities of place and space that each performance explored.