Paul Williams, who shot the 16mm film of extermination came into watch the dress run and pre-show warm-up run of hell and shot a fridge-full of high-speed 35mm photographs of us acting like mental patients. The results are sometimes unprintable and will stay within our select little group to avoid being jailed as some kind of debauched internet porn ring. The remainder, in which we all look seriously fucking beautiful I’ll slap up here over the next couple of days.
Two days of hell. I can’t really say a lot about it right now, it was insane, mental, fucking terrifying sometimes, a riot of fun and mayhem, sweaty, dirty bodies everywhere… The tyrannical pirate Paul Williams took photos, and there is a couple of videos floating around, waiting to get dumped to computer and bled out into the internet very soon. In the meantime though here’s some photos from after the warm-up run and before the real thing on Saturday, and onto the (execrable nanny-state bug-up-the-arse “we’ve decided not to serve your table”) Vodka Bar and the cheese frenzy at chez Paul that lasted all night, especially fueled by vodka/cranberry/lime/pink grapefruit soda, and lasted all very lazy Sunday. So, hell is over for now, and it’s been a blast and something of a reunion for us who haven’t been all together in the same room or even country or hemisphere for about six years. But if I could ever imagine dream company of dancers and assorted delinquents, this is it.
Dance Works is nice and cool inside even when outside was something disgusting, so there was no way I was going to leave for anything as stupid as a break. Sleeping on the floor, Emile shifting stuff around, Bonnie and Gala reading lots of nothing for everyone as we got all the junk together that makes rehearsals a show. Or something.
And Luke was rehearsing at Chunky Move during the day, so we didn’t really start anything until about 7pm, when even sitting around stretching induced great slathers of sweat and muck. This rehearsal was it, whatever we had and however we strung it together, that would be the showing on Friday (unless I get some strange idea in the interim). Costumes, and I use the word extremely loosely, are very manky, old white grandma underwear that got soaked and dirty by the time we’d kneeled down to start. It’s all very un-dance.
I changed some of the music in the “lesbian pinching flesh orgy” scene to the black mass church organ metal of Italian ‘prog-rockers’ Jacula’s track Magister Dixit off their sublime In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum. Creepiness and over-sexed meat-puppets all round. That and some clean-up stuff, and ‘avoid the monitors while stage-diving’ routines got us ready for the first real run of the beast.
Lily smacked me a great head-butt in the mush about 1 minute in, while Gala and I were busy strangling her naked “I don’t wanna die!!!” body, all immersed in the combination of wet-dog heat, instant shower quantities of sweat and a weird mix of everything alternating randomly between slippery and sticky. About 10 minutes in, I had a thought, “crap we forgot to turn the video camera on”, but Luke had me a puppetified corpse, so I was busy groping Gab. Who was later busy groping Bonnie, while we strung up Lily in a hostage scene and dispatched yet another grocery sack of viscera.
It gets all serious when Bonnie, in complete darkness describes how she died, but in the blackout no-one can see what Luke is up to in preparation for the next scene, the demonic butoh/Canton Opera Raccon Prince number, in which Gab usually ends by climbing up Luke, but this time just slid off. Haha!!! feel the invincibility of my sweat!!! And then on to Botticelli, one of those bits that goess between fun and terrifying to do and then we get to the end and it’s all round stunned silence. Followed by a plane crash.
Well I didn’t mean to give a track listing of the piece, but there it is. 43 minutes of HELL. On tonight.
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.
新年快乐！ 恭喜发财 红包拿来！
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.
Anyway, screw art, it’s time for dinner.
… but were afraid to ask Jean Baudrillard.
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
The Goethe-Institut‘s mailing list has an excellent article on the state of dance and performance in Germany, looking at a bunch of names from Xavier Le Roy to the Forsythe Company and describing concisely how the these artists, various production centres, such as PACT Zollverein and state companies fit togehter to make the dance scene.
Whenever our senses were to be honed, dance was the definitive form of art in the past decades. The body was its seismographic instrument, with which our altered sensitivities in a changing society could be traced far more exactly and articulated more vividly than in the interpersonal dialogue of the theatre. It is probably part of the success story of the dance theatre in the 1980s and 1990s that its associative dramaturgy, its emotional visual power and physical intensity have meanwhile flowed back into other forms of art such as the theatre of the spoken word.
For those of us who like our media theory to have poetic and dramatic flair, the online journal CTheory provides regular satisfaction. In case you missed some of the recent (or older) essays, or just want them all together in a more complete context, the editorial team of Arthur and Marilouise Kroker have brought together a collection of forty-five CTheory texts into one volume. Titled ‘Life in the Wires,’ the reader explores music, politics, urban space, gender, art and other aspects of contemporary, technologically saturated life. ‘Life in the Wires’ supplies a range of critically ambivalent feelings about our electrified and networked condition, from Paul Miller’s (DJ Spooky) reflections on ‘the cinematic image’ to a conversation with (media theorist) Manuel De Landa on ‘1000 years of war.’ And like any media theory book worth its weight in wires, the CTheory Reader has a companion website with supplementary materials and a series of streamed d events and seminars with many of the journal’s regular contributors and editors.