An extract from a performance work titled “Live”
By Tania Vossgatter
Jump forward, jump backwards, jump from side to side, jump up while drawing your knees into your chest, jump while constantly changing your direction, keep your upper body relaxed as you jump, jump lightly, make the jumps look effortless, jump…
“Live” was a dance work commissioned for the Sibikwa Arts Centre’s Thunye Lerole Young Female Choreographers in Action Festival which took place on the 5th August 2017 in Benoni, Johannesburg. It was presented amongst commissioned works from 5 other young female choreographers from across the country. The programme covered a broad spectrum of styles from dance theatre, to performance art, to storytelling, to postmodern deconstruction.
Live, performed by two incredibly talented Cape Town-based dancers, Julia de Rosenwerth and Adriana Jamisse, is a two-part work with an improvised first half and a semi-set second half. The first half consisted of seven improvised segments and then presented a “neatly packaged” duet in the second half, using the movement material that the body remembered from the explorations of the first half.
Two basic philosophies that governed this work, and seem to be a key signature in a lot of my works, is a minimalist aesthetic and the encouragement of engagement/ movement from/of the audience. In all my works I like to break through the fourth wall and primarily engage the audience physically as well as visually and, possibly, even emotionally. With the philosophies of minimalism I like to avoid narratives and instead either work with a montage of stories, or just focus on the physical, kinaesthetic form and experience of the body. I like to explore how the body moves within set parameters and tasks: what movement is birthed from the body throughout the process of creating the work and how can one undo or forget habitual body patterns?
Like the name of the work suggests, the basic concept of the work was to have the audience choreograph the first half of the dance, live/ in the moment. The process was as follows.
There first half of the work began with an overhead projector set up on the stage and as the audience were seated, transparencies with action and dynamic words written on them (e.g. ‘JUMP LIGHT’, ‘BEND SHARP’). These were handed out to the audience at random. The preset of the work is in darkness. A metronome starts to tick at 110 beats per minute. The projector light comes on and we see Julia and Adriana positioned on either side of the stage, outside the pool of light coming from the projector. They await their first movement cue as they stand on the outskirts of the stage.
The first transparency with the action imperative ‘TURN LOOSE’ written in black koki is placed on the overhead projector. As if almost immediately, like a light switch turning on, the dancers respond physically by interpreting the action instruction in their bodies. It is important to note that although the dancers’ responses to the action imperatives were completely improvised, there were a clear set of principles/tasks that guided them for each set of actions in order to focus their improvisations. For example, in the action ‘GATHER RESISTANT’, the main idea being explored was gathering joints towards one another while imagining squeezing the body through play dough in order to complete the joint-to-joint action.
The first transparency was set by myself, in order to demonstrate how the audience can choose to engage in the performance with their transparencies. Surprisingly, not long after the first transparency had been presented a member from the audience came down and presented the next transparency with the set of actions…‘ROLL FLUID’…and so it went… ‘BALANCE SHAKY’, ‘JUMP LIGHT’, ‘CLAP HEAVY’, ‘GATHER RESISTANT’ and ‘BEND SHARP’. I was surprised at how quickly the audience responded to this call to action; jumping out of their seats to present the next set of actions to the dancers – empowered to instruct.
The second half of the work was about allowing the body to remember: specifically, the instructions/cues given in the first half of the performance. This time the dancers were in close proximity to one another to perform the duet. Initially this duet was going to be completely improvised, but in the end I decided that some of the beautiful moments during the rehearsal process just had to be carved into the work.
Throughout the duet, the projector remained on, but with no instructions projected on the screen. The light from the projector cast shadows of the dancing bodies onto the large white projector screen hanging in the background; echoes of the duet filling the space.
The music for the work, titled Plural, was composed by the gifted and handsome (I can say that because he’s my husband) Richard Vossgatter. In contrast to my very conceptual approach to this work, Richard worked on capturing an emotional landscape that he sensed after our first discussion regarding the concepts and ideas of the work. Very warm, lush chords echo throughout the composition with a dominant, melodic guitar line. There is an intensity, a heavy vibration, to the base of the composition, but within that there are moments of extreme delicacy.
The costumes tie into the concept of minimalism which is the key aesthetic for this work. Thanks to one discussion with a costume-designer and friend of mine, Christy Morcos, I was able to pinpoint exactly how I wanted to express this aesthetic through the costumes: to allow for as much movement as possible, both in the body and the clothes.
Live became a multifaceted performance which can’t be contained within and described as one form of movement. Both Julia and Adriana are extremely talented and versatile performers and have their own, inherent way of moving which is made up of so many layers and styles. Due to this versatility we had to have a few conversations with ourselves and ask things like “well, what jump do we want? A specifically styled jump? A jump off one foot? What’s the difference between a hop and a jump? Do we jump in the rhythm or out of the rhythm of the metronome?”… and so it went. In the end, we defined what a jump was for ourselves and tried to stick to these principles
two feet leaving the ground and two feet landing back on the ground.
Jumping: forward, jumping backwards, jumping from side to side, jumping up while drawing your knees into your chest, jumping while constantly changing your direction, keeping your upper body relaxed as you jump, jumping lightly, making the jumps look effortless… JUMPING…
Photographs taken by Herman Verwey