It was just a process of running scenes today, some that hadn’t been let out of their boxes for at least a week, and others that needed a quick finishing. Bonnie lying on the floor monologuing on her death has become the calm, black, void of nothingness the piece needs and reminds me of Beckett’s piece where the curtain comes up on a dark stage, someone sighs off-stage, curtain drops, finish. Botticelli is finished and getting run, and still has some timing problems (mostly mine) and is a rough elbow-meet-nose bit of dance. But it’s dance. It’s all just a procedural series of connecting everything now, making sure everything fits, we all know what happens when… and most importantly in my stuff we don’t all get carried away and start going all fast and maniacal. I need to eat, and get all self-referential. in the meantime, more important things are happening in the Celestial Kingdom (that I’m reading about in Neal Stephenson’s so-far genius piece of near-future sci-fi The Diamond Age). It’s Chinese New Year starting on January 29.
I had this suspicion all along when I was using these etchings of Dante’s Inferno that they weren’t the ones by Botticelli, but I was a bit too lazy to check and anyway, having to a) remember some new dead artist’s name, and b) having to change the name of that section in hell to his name ensuring confusion all round meant it was easier to play dumb. I mean it all looks the same to me anyway. Art, that is.
But when it comes to programme notes, accuracy, truth, and genuineness are all that matters. So, all along when I’ve been talking about Botticelli’s etching for Dante’s Inferno, I actually meant Gustav Doré, from The Divine Comedy. Oops. So, now we have that all cleared up, back to hell.
We pretty much finished it today, beside a lot of populating of various scenes with hailstorms of detail, the occasional transition and blah-de-blah, wherever we got to today is what will be seen in the showings on the weekend. Botticelli (harhar) got finished today, 3 3/4 minutes of banging around on the floor, about as un-dance as I’ve ever got while still remaining excruciatingly choreographed. I think I should move onto brawl scenes in Hong Kong action flicks now. Now I just have to learn my bits in it myself, otherwise I’ve managed to choreograph myself out.
The big thing for me was the void scene, that was always so bloody intransigent and so absolutely crucial to the piece. Mostly this scene came from Joe Simpson’s narration of his “Bloody hell… I’m gonna die to Boney M” catastrophe Touching the Void, and the bit in Baudrillard in which the Suisse Doctor tried to get her patients to talk about their impending deaths, and has mostly been not working in that, “ooohhh… this is gonna be embarrassing” way. Today it got reduced to a blackout, with nothing more than Bonnie, lying on the floor, talking about her death. Very euro-trash.
In all seriousness, this scene is the one that the work is in orbit around. Much of the rest of the work is sufficiently grotesque, disturbing, strange, or just plain evil that it’s possible to look at it with something approaching detachment. Not that I make work with irony in it, but it could all be seen as a black, b-grade comedy. Bonnie lying there, unmoving, just talking is the bloody nose that makes all the fun stop. It unequivocally forces the rest of the piece to be seen through this really quite bleak and awful monologue. Or again it could just be the “ooohhh… this is gonna be embarrassing” bit. I don’t think so, but it’s always more interesting for me to make stuff that slides along precipice of cringe.
One of my enduringly favourite books, that I have somehow permanently connected as the instigator of high theory meets popular culture, was Slavoj Zizek’s, “Everything you always wanted to know about Lacan … but were afraid to ask Hitchcock”, full of cinematic trippery and loopy psychoanalysis, and along with Gilles Deleuze’ two books on cinema, “The Movement Image’, and “The Time Image’, is largely responsible for my obsession with film. That, and 6 kuai pirate DVDs in Guangzhou.
I took some time off dancing a few years ago after a ballet school did my head in and convinced me all dancers and teachers were psychopaths who could be gassed with no adverse effects on the history of art and culture, and spent my time more productively gate-crashing post-graduate Ethics lectures and watching half the oeuvre of Hitchcock and Kurosawa in a month-long session of three films a day, interspersed with reading Zizek and Deleuze. The point of all this blabbering is that when I choreograph, I start with, and rely heavily on critical theory and film. Film is in part an intermediary between theory that sometimes cannot be translated into the real world, and the making of and analysing of the performance
Not that I want to get all post-Marxist about theory needing to be applicable to the real world, but it used to annoy me that a lot of the ‘Big-Gun’ theorists, like Habermas, their only practical application was as kindling for a bonfire. Their premeditated obtuseness and linguistic ego-mania often is a trope hiding a yawning chasm of nothing, as well, they’re just boring old farts, and through their willful incomprehensibility and tenure-track jargon they open themselves up to exactly the kind of concerted attacks on philosophy they should have, by virtue of their work already annihilated. Or to quote “The Untouchables” which I watched last night, they “bring a knife to a gun-fight”. I suspected the ones who were genuinely profound thinkers were the ones wholly immersed in the world, and if their writing didn’t immediately draw correspondences to a tangible reality, it was possible to thread your way back and forth and in the process germinate new ways of thinking about and living in the world.
The point of all this is that for hell, Jean Baudrillard’s book “Symbolic Exchange and Death”, and in particular the chapter, “Political Economy and Death” is absolutely the foundation of the piece, and the more I read it and re-read it, the more I think firstly I’m barely scratching at the surface of a phenomenal text, and secondly, I’d really like another two months of rehearsal and, say, $30,000 in production budget to do something useful. I spent the weekend reading the section on “Death in Bataille”, and besides solving the thematic in-coherency between death and sex in hell, I thought, “Jeez, I could make the whole work from just one paragraph of this”, and then I thought, “Crap, I’m going to be spending the rest of my life just making art from this stinking book…”
This book is really the philosophical equivalent of hardcore pornography and any sensible government would have banned it a long time ago, and possibly torched a few bookshops in the process. The fact it was written thirty years ago and translated into English thirteen does nothing to diminish its importance.
“What does physical eroticism signify if not a violation of the very being of its practitioners …? The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained character of the participants as they are in their normal lives
If the union of two lovers comes about through love, it involves the idea of death, murder or suicide … [a] continuous violation of discontinuous individuality … the orifices, gulfs and abysses whereby beings are absorbed into continuity, somehow assimilates it to death” – Georges Bataille
As much as I’ve wanted to write something every day about hell, wanted in some sense has become an obligation, and hell has proved a very difficult work to conceptually keep up with. That, or I’m out of practice with making dance. No, this week has been one of finishing rehearsals, pausing for a beer, then sticking my head upside-down into the cess-pool I’ve created and holding my breath until morning. At some stage during the last weekend, I had to become a bit more deliberate in what I’m doing, and not rely so much on the opium haze of dreams to do the work for me.
So I’m experiencing a bit of sensory deprivation combined with overload. It’s all a bit unbalanced. Just like me. And looking at a piece that is coming closer to being finished in this form, and I’m both quite pleased with what it’s turned into, and a little sad. There’s always a sadness as possibility and potential narrows down into actuality, as through the inexorable motion of the rehearsal process the work becomes itself. Whatever I imagine or subconsciously am trying to make, always over this hovers the question of, “Is this enough? Have I done what I said I was trying to do?”
Well, really it’s a bit early to ask those kind of questions. The questions of the day are, “But is it dance?”, “Do you know what you’re doing?”, and a little less easy to quantify into a smart-arse one-liner, “What’s all this sex stuff about?”.
What’s all this sex stuff about? I don’t think I’m a pervert, but certainly I enjoy a lot of moral relativity, something like a Nietzschean Beyond Good and Evil, and also I wouldn’t say that in any way my performances are a suggestion for an alternate moral foundation, though if things get any more conservative around here, I fully expect to be asked to leave my passport at the border on the way out. Actually the stuff we were doing today that has the asinine title, “lesbian sex pinching orgy” does generate many uncomfortable questions. The most prominent being, “Am I exploiting the dancers I work with?”, and what that question leads to.
The conceptual basis of hell was on one side, Dante’s Inferno, and on the other, Jean Baudrillard’s essay on death, in Symbolic Exchange and Death. The past tense signifies a shift in which Dante became fairly minor, though Botticelli’s etchings of the Inferno feature prominently. Something about the Inferno left me cold, it seemed a fairly pathetic imagination of the damned afterlife, populated by a very literal poetic justice, and something that illuminates the mediocrity and meanness of western religion. Far more fun are the rampaging hoards of the pantheon of Chinese and Asian demonology, who seem far more real, and more importantly do not delineate between life and death in the way western religions do.
From there to Japanese sexploitation movies like Samurai Yakuza. And from these back into what was supposed to be an exegesis on death, and most importantly being able to critically justify what I am doing, particularly in reference to Baudrillard’s text. So, death death death death etc. I’m spending the weekend reading Baudrillard, and working out what the fuck is going on in the middle section, in the midst of all these (apparantly) juvenile demonic incubi and semi-undead rapaciously horny meat puppets. When in doubt: Baudrillard.
We have only one week to go on the Melbourne development of hell. I think I’ve made something fairly depraved and not-very-nice. So as I usually recommend people fly all over the place to see other people’s shows, I’m going to do the same for mine. Except it’s not a show. It’s a ‘development showing’. That’s what you call something when you want to say, “I know it’s crap, but it’s not finished yet. It’s In Development.” Anyway, it’s crap like Jesus Franco’s films are crap. You either like them or you want to watch Neighbours. In the unlikely even you’re in Melbourne, and you get wet Jesus Franco, bad Japanese sexploitation movies, and the various worlds of metal of Khanate, SunnO))), and Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and are partial to a bit of Jean Baudrillard with your coffee, then, … hell
Frances would like to invite you to the Melbourne development showings of hell, a death metal trip to the after-life.
Straight from a residency at Tanzhaus Wasserwerk in Zürich, Switzerland, hell has been developed at Dance Works Studios with dancers Bonnie Paskas, Gabrielle Nankivell, Gala Moody, Lilly Paskas, and Luke George, along with media artist Emile Zile, lighting designer John Dutton, and costume designer Danielle Harrison.
Two nights of Jean Baudrillard, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, SunnO))), and the best of satanic sexploitation movies from Europe and Asia.
“The closer you are to life, the more you realise you’re dead”.
Dance Works Studios
29 Macquarie St,
After getting all teary-eyed watching Joe slip into exhaustion-induced halluncinations with a Boney M soundtrack in Touching the Void, it was time to turn the fruits of my sleeping-induced choreography into reality. I spent some of the weekend watching the documentary of Nobuyoshi Araki filled with Geisha rope-bondage suspension porn, and lots of shunga art, and thought all of that could slip together in a thumping of pelvises to the 12 song, 59 second masterwork, “Twelve Days of Sodom”, courtesy my favourite band, Agoraphobic Nosebleed.
Yes, it worked, a delirious porn-director infused afternoon of getting Luke and Lily’s bits to fit in the right anatomical place based on a dozen illustrations by such luminaries of Samurai Geisha porn as Yanagawa Shigenobu, most of which was dependent on the kind of bodies and flexibility usually found in Manga.
At the finish of the day, we had a 59 second monster of tits, assholes, cock and pussy, accompanied by Gala, Bonnie, and Gab throwing the other two around in four second frenzies to grindcore shaking the floor, and I haven’t been able to stop laughing thinking that Arts Victoria have funded me to make porn and have me sing, “Eve grows huge dick and fucks snake”, and “Sodomite warms the ass of cooked lamb”. I love art.
Actually most of my choreographing comes from when I am either insensate while falling asleep or trying to avoid waking up, or in the moments when I have a slight short-circuit and gaze off at fuzzy nothing for long periods. Then something goes k-ching! and I think, “oohhh! that’s a well fucking wicked idea”, write it down, and inflict it on my dancers the following rehearsal. This especially happens when the rehearsals are about half-way through and I need to seriously evaluate what the fuck I am doing, and know if I continue on the way I’m going it’ll all amount to not very much.
Knowing all this, when I decide that 15 seconds is too long for a piece of music to dance to, and thinking the next new perfect length for a dance piece is under 5 seconds, and I bump into Emile in the city just when I’m about to message him, it all falls into place at Missing Link Records, where I buy the small slice of genius that is Agoraphobic Nosebleed‘s Altered States of America. One hundred songs, twenty minutes, all on a 3 inch CD. Perfect for the section that takes us from strangling the crap out of each other to the zombie vampire lesbian sex orgy.
Or to be really accurate, the song cycle worthy of a Wagner opera, Twelve Days of Sodom is. Twelve songs, 59 seconds. Lyrics that make me wonder what on earth Arts Victoria are doing funding me, then laugh alot and fall over because they are.
And somehow this all gets combined with a post-mortem monologue on how I died, and the frost-bitten, hallucinating, dehydrated, broken-legged eternal falling through a scree-field below a glacier in Touching the Void. The tagline for that disturbing movie of deeply unsuccessful mountaineering and Boney M songs is, “The closer you are to death. The more you realize you are alive”. I think hell is more like, “The closer you are to life. The more you realize you are dead”
ow. pain. bruise. bits of missing skin. Let’s glamourise the frailty of our bodies when the hit the floor. Digging a ditch today as we learnt each other’s movement based off Botticelli’s etchings of Dante’s Inferno, after a two hour master class with new Dance North director and former Ultima Vez dancer Gavin Webber (more greeting the floor at speed), and deep thick wet suffocating blanket heat, this was the hard stuff. The fun stuff is the playing and making and experimenting, the work is threading the needle with it, making something of it. This is why I don’t have showings, or explain any lack in my work with, “oh, we’re still developing it, this is a work-in-progress”. Whatever is seen is within itself finished. For me that’s what making art and choreographing is about; the technical process of making sense of all the disparate ideas and coalescing this into a finite temporal and spatial intensity which is the performance.
So what am I doing messing around with Cantonese Opera, and all the chinggg-chinggg-chinggg stuff and satanic face-paint, long feather antennae, and over-active eyebrows and teeth? For almost four years I’ve been hanging out in Guangzhou on a semi-regular basis, and spent last autumn and winter in Taipei. Two completely different cities, with completely different histories and cultures. Both Chinese in the same way that Quebec and France are French, or France and Poland are European.
One of the very first visual designs of hell was the pairs of menacing 门神 Door Gods, and this idea that I wanted to make contemporary art/performance that displayed the evidence of my daily life in these cities. I’ve seen too much bad cross-cultural fusion of mediocre and antiquated contemporary dance with taiqi/calligraphy/bamboo/other clichéd articles of Chinese/generic Asian culture all of which has about as much to do with contemporary Asian life as Opera does with people hanging out in Rome. But for some reason, probably in part the “exotic other” of Asia, this can get passed off as ‘contemporary’ when it shuffles on the festival/tour circuit around the western world.
My experience of China does not exist. I have never been to China. China is an artificial and disingenuous fabrication. Though I have been to Guangzhou and the food is sublime, and I can say the same about Taiwan. Does this also apply to Zürich contra Switzerland, or Melbourne and Australia? Let’s say, “yes”.
Can I reduce my experience to something other than a pre-verbal milieu, in some way both extract it from an ocean of sensations, make it material, and also conceptualise it in spoken and written language? This was the crux of the rehearsal today, and I’m pretty sure, more broadly that of hell itself.
We’ve been working with the Cantonese Opera film, 貍貓換太子 – Racoon for a Prince, and I initially set Luke the task of imitating the fraudulent prince who gets smacked on the head with a long and heavy wooden pole after much procrastination and 哎呀-ing, but today brought Gab in as the punishing bearded General, and finally in a moment of taking artistic licence, Gala and myself dragging the corpses of Lilly and Bonnie in place of the dragon staffs the aides present to Luke. But for it to slip into campness, kitch, parody, or anything other than absolutely seriousness would make it no better than the prodigious fakery of the kind of art I despise.
So the question is what am I doing playing around with this whole China thing? Is it simply an attempt to put it into my work because I should, because I’ve lived there long enough I should work that angle and show the effect of Guangzhou and Taipei on my art (if in fact there is any)? I’ll assume it isn’t, or rather, I’ll assume in part it’s because I want to see this influence in my work, which has been part of my life for the previous four years. Beyond that, it gets tricky.
If it’s about the impact of these vast, contemporary urban cities on me, why am I looking to Canton Opera over some representation of Taipei’s Ximending suburb, a million ill-tuned street-racer scooters, or something else … coal miners … motorbike taxis … Liwan Hutong, Dongshankou, Jiangnan Dadao … Maybe it’s in part because the opera is on that singular obsession of China, the pirate DVD.
That, and Canton Opera is the death-metal of the orient.
In which after eight hours of throwing ourselves around and at the floor, groping each other, and watching the fake prince get busted in a Cantonese Opera moment of ching-ching-ching-CRASHCRASHCRASH-blangblangblangblangblang-chini-i-i-i-i-innnnggg, we all rolled heads and quietly spasmed in an hallucinogenic microscopic plane crash for all of 15 minutes to Sunn O)))‘s genius track of grinding sludgecore, Hell-O)))-Ween.
There was a bit of studiously avoiding Botticelli on my part today, the big money-shot dance-off section to Agoraphobic Nosebleed‘s album Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope and the choicest of its 15 second songs, especially because the humidity was like swimming in a vast pool of warm lubricant. But we did shake a leg with this, and tomorrow will be entering a world of pain as we enjoy the acres of fun and skinned knees that happens when we learn each others bits and try and make dance from the wreckage.
Mainly though, it was starting something new today, and more of the same in repeating what we’d already done, and the endless improvisations that entails. The heart of the work is was in Zürich was Vampiros Lesbos/Reanimator, a kind of satanic podmaster playing with the flesh of its meat puppets (a reference there to recently read space opera, Vernor Vinge‘s A Deepness in the Sky). I’ve since re-imagined this as very much a cluster of demons possessed of a short attention span who find equal fun in turning their victims into delirious puppets, staging impromptu orgies, and generally behaving in a vile manner that should see hell as the last thing I ever get funded to make in Australia.
So to that end, we are working on a lesbian vampire/samurai yakuza/sexploitation/necrophiliac scene where the action in its entirety is directed by the somewhat formal squadron of infernal deities who move the inanimate flesh through pinching the skin and dragging Bonnie and Gab around. A bit like Mr Vampire meets Beavis and Butthead. I’ve set Luke to learn a scene from a Cantonese Opera film 貍貓換太子 – Racoon for a Prince where indecision makes heads roll. And there’s plenty more DVD’s from Guangzhou to make a work with yet. Four weeks is definitely not enough for this kind of obscenity.
Maybe it’s not proper rehearsal form to spend most of the afternoon talking, but considering how much we have all seen of each other in the last few years, it’s difficult to avoid and really enjoyable. None-the-less, we still roared through a pile of stuff in quick time, something that I never used to be good at. Maybe it’s time to try and squash more into the rehearsal, or maybe we just need longer coffee breaks.
We started on the Vampiros Lesbos stuff today, that will probably be the centre of the work, and also watched more of Sex and Fury, and an old Cantonese Opera about an imporster prince or something who ends up getting the bad end of a bunch of demons and long-tongues soul-suckers. Emile thinks the music, a hurricane of cymbals and smashing percussion is Very Metal.
So far, this central scene revolves around a bunch of movies that occur as re-enacted scenes by the performers, cut-up video on televisions, and aural noise from the films in German, Japanese, Chinese, Italian. How to make that coherent and not sound like the multi-cultural bus-stop it is will be one of the major tasks in the next couple of weeks. Somehow I am personally not un-attracted to the cacophonous babel of de-contextualised scenes, and they could make sense as an hallucinogenic wash of memories of the vanquished in Hell, a de-focussed tide, ebbing as their memories depart and are forgotten, wisps out of an untuned radio. Or it could just sound like shit.
Back in the rehearsal studio of Dance Works though, bodies got reanimated, hands crawled, lips of the dead and eyes of the dead spoke and saw, and we did some very strange things. I’m still trying to separate what we did in Zürich from what we are doing now. Even though we all watched the video of the performance once, in beginning to work again on the ideas I think it’s really important to separate the idea itself from how it was developed. Things that happened in Zürich with Cornelia and Radovan are not necessarily what will happen here unless I say, “this is how we did it, these were the things we did, and this is why”, a kind of structural analysis of the process which would completely remove the possibility of discovering for ourselves what is latent within an idea.
At the same time, what we did in Zürich I am still very happy with, in that it corresponded to the atmosphere of hell I am trying to evoke, and there is always a slight, silent coercion on my part in directing the rehearsals over time to a particular expression of the various ideas in tandem with the complete freedom of playing with the ideas. From vagueness to coherence with the minimum of interference.
Again we finished with the plane crash stuff, watching the NASA Controlled Impact Demonstration for cabin action of scores of soon-to-be vaporised test mannequins, and went through another improvisation following each other’s head and torsos in our peripheral vision while sitting side-by-side, getting faster, more erratic and disturbing in our movements, and transfixing to watch. I decided I wanted to do this section as an installation in 2001: A Space Odyssey space suits, minus helmets, in a vast white gallery with rows and rows of seated bodies and the endless soundtrack of Sunn and Acid Mothers Temple.
Finish. Gala and I spent the night talking and went for a boulder at the new Lactic Factory indoor climbing gym in Collingwood, hence my tardiness in blogging.