Slow and consistent footsteps towards a static body, a ribcage moving up and down. An end to footsteps. A start to knees dipping and legs extending with toes at a stretch. Arms raised, open, embracing. An encounter. Torsos collide and chins nestle into collarbones. Hands rest upon an upper back. Relax. At an end. Breathe. At a start. Tense. At an end. At a start and break away to slow and consistent footsteps. A departure. A static body wrapped around an absence, cosied up towards loss, with ribcage moving up and down. More footsteps. More encounters. More absences. Repeated and repeated. Another end/start, another start/end, and again and again and again and again.
The End, directed and choreographed by Tramway’s associate artist Jack Webb, is a work that aims to confront and explore the dramatic notion of end points, the moments of climax, rupture and effect that characterise “modernity.” Webb makes reference to a modernity that cuts across social and geographic boundaries, to a cycle of aspiration, satisfaction and decimation felt by each and every body on the planet. Every end gives way to a start, there’s never a moment to exhale, nor to inhale. Watching The End is slow, fast, still, moving. Watching The End is exhausting, it wears you down. It’s uncomfortable, at times boring, and deeply effecting.
I spend the opening thinking about my daily trawl through the opportunities page on Creative Scotland, and a little too about Tinder or Snapchat. Nine bodies drift about the stage as we enter and take our seats, embracing one another for short moments before moving on, leaving behind a trace of their presence but never looking back. The continual connect and disconnect of bodies resonates with my continual search for the new, a new job, a new image, a new opportunity. I’m struck by the banality of my searching, the repeated embraces slowly secrete their intimacy, fizzling out into a growing absence. This start continues for what feels like an age, never building towards an end. I grow more and more impatient yet I don’t even notice the house lights fading, both entirely transfixed and numbed, connected and disconnected by this blur on stage. The End has already started.
Six of the nine take their seats amongst the audience. These are the participant dancers, who have worked with the company at Tramway over the last two days. On stage Martyn Garside, Rachael O’Neill and Keren Smail continue to connect, disconnect, depart and arrive. Then it happens gradually, a choreography that creeps on slowly, leaving both them and us exhausted. Limbs, appendages and tongues surge forth from their bodies as if to escape them. A surge, an arrest, a retreat. Half-formed movements, embodied GIFs, a stuttering juddering disrupted mess. These bodies are in flux, in paradox, in perpetual disarray. It is a wholly identifiable and familiar mess. This modernity cuts across my moving/unmoving renewing/eroding body. I feel The End in my toes.
Throughout The End I am waiting for change, growing tired, bored and frustrated. The stage empties and we sit under a purple tinted darkness swarmed by the buzzing of flies for minutes that feel like hours. Webb makes us wait. Forcing an encounter with our motionlessness, challenging our needs to be always seeing, moving and doing. I want to glance at my watch, to get out of the space, to do something, to do anything. The lights fade to black and applause positively erupts. A shockwave of catharsis. I’m not sure who it’s for as we’re still sitting in darkness, but I’m happy to be clapping, happy to be making a racket.
Jack Webb’s The End carefully draws out the banality of how I experience the world, embodying these daily processes and fixing my gaze upon the traces, erosions and absences I leave. It’s profoundly uncomfortable. It isn’t easy to watch, or to like. It isn’t very accessible. In The End something definitely actually happens, and I have no idea when it started, nor what it really is. Something definitely actually happened to me, for one half-formed and stuttering moment, whatever it was. An end and a start. Something happens. Something changes.
The End was on at Tramway in Glasgow. For more of their programme, click here.