Now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all.
‘If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait of Picasso’, Gertrude Stein
Repetition is a peculiar thing. It can be used as shorthand for madness or obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it’s also how we learn, how we become better at languages and musical instruments and sports. Repetition is also intrinsic to theatre. The role of the actor demands a repetition which seems unrehearsed, a need to preserve what Stanislavsky famously called ‘the illusion of the first time’.
Physical performance artist Ramesh Meyyappan draws on the multiple meanings of repetition in his new work, Off-Kilter, which premiered at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow last year as part of Mayfesto.
Joe Kilter has a daily routine. It’s admittedly more exacting and soundless than most (this is a non-verbal performance), but it’s a daily routine nevertheless. A routine which is precisely timed and rigorously choreographed, from waking up to morning exercises to getting dressed to leaving for the office. Everything is rehearsed, repeated. Everything is just as it should be.
Until, as is so often the way, one morning it isn’t. A life-changing letter drops literally from the sky. The routine is destabilised. The repetition edges from tightly-controlled order to something a little closer to madness.
Off-Kilter is premised on a compelling set of ideas, but could have benefitted from a tighter edit—the second half starts to slow just as the suspense should build. And although Meyyappan is an immensely skilled and emotive performer, his Joe Kilter wants for more expressive bodily movement, particularly in the second half as the situation spirals out of control. Throughout, Meyyappan can occasionally allow his facial expressions to do most of the work.
Yet, Meyyappan has striking presence and visually Off-Kilter is very well developed and directed. On a relatively spare stage, a wall clock suspended in mid-air runs fast and then slow, its black dial by turns speeding up and standing still. But it’s the solar eclipse of a shadow cast by the clock on the black curtain behind that elegiacally references the binary nature of repetition. The repetition of day-to-day life, our little rituals and habits, is a satisfying state of being. Until one day, perhaps, it simply isn’t.
Off-Kilter is on until 26 August 2018 at Dance Base. Click here for more details.