Evangelia’s on a white, foot-high platform. She’s a figure on a plinth, a female figure on a plinth in Lace Market Gallery. I think about how I’ve been invited to look at other female figures presented in galleries: the obvious difference, in this situation, is that she’s got a microphone, on a tall stand. This figure can speak.
But instead of choosing speech, she sings out and growls phonetics. It’s more lyrical and irregular that beatboxing. And while she utters these noises, she moves – gestural sweeps and pushes of her hands, twists in the upper body, contortions of her face. Rather than suggesting some kind of pre-linguistic truth, these feel like speculative and playful relationships between gesture and sound. She constructs, and moves between, suggestive and temporary logics. Different combinations are mined for different durations: perhaps some are more promising than others, or are just more entertaining.
Participation is clearly encouraged, with friendly invigilators quickly ‘explaining’ the work to me as I enter. Stools fill the space, facing toward the plinth. A number of microphones are passed around, and a small note is placed before each seat inviting the viewer to “follow the instructions on the cards and feel free to co-create with the other participants.” The audience are keen to join in, to ‘mmm’ and ‘ah’ and ‘tk tk tk ‘ along, working from either the cards in question (which bear grids of letters and sounds) or just by following their impulses. People seem to be having a good time – even the videographer has a go.
Evangelia’s on a plinth, and the blinds are drawn down the windows. In addition to the gallery’s lighting, there are a number of stage lights pointing at her. Three large speakers frame the space, and wires trail across the floor. Although it feels repeatedly stressed, I have no urge to join in. I find the invitation heavy handed, too forceful, and I prefer to exercise my agency through presence and attention. There’s no space in the room to wander or reorient myself though. In this environment dense with instruction and suggestion, I notice my desire to rebel: I sit at the back on the floor, against the wall; I look at the others rather than Evangelia; I take out my notebook and write. When it’s too awkward to resist the smiling offer once again, I jangle my keys into the microphone and rub it on textured surfaces around me. I’m desperate to create options for myself as the show places a demand on my attendance, in such a particular way.
While an auditorium has been constructed in this space, the work resists the temporal dynamics of traditional theatre – there’s no sense of an arc, or progression, in the work. There’s no evident formal rule to her improvisation either, and I wonder – does this need to be ‘good’? What might ‘good’ mean here? Or if ‘good’ isn’t helpful; how does this work propose we understand and value it? Clearly there’s an emphasis on interaction, and Evangelia is very skilled in developing relations with those who wish to directly participate. There’s a virtuosity to her practice; she undertakes her sound/movement with a deftness and nuance – knowing how to develop, sustain and (perhaps more importantly) depart from her propositions with confidence.
However, it doesn’t feel useful to understand what she’s doing through comparison to experimental vocalists working in a music context. Although all interdisciplinary work invites this questioning, I think part of my confusion here is tied to the dense environment that the work sits within: both its spacial arrangements, its participatory demands, and even the frequency of the propositions made by Evangelia herself. I yearn for moments where there’s simply less going on, in which I can focus on the intelligence and particularity of what’s happening.
I find glimpses of this when there’s seemingly nothing happening, no audience with a mic, and she’s forced to find a response to an empty space. Or rather, she reveals to us the fullness of this space, as she forms a dialogue with the architecture, and the weight and rhythms of our watching. There’s a real beauty to these (non)exchanges, working with a clear uncertainty that contrasts the successes of her temporary collaborations. What’s revealed is the delicate unpredictability of the plinth, as Evangelia experiments with the rich and precarious situation she’s constructed.
To find out more about Code Bend Time at Nottdance 2017, click here.