Vlatka sent me a great clip from YouTube in which John Cage performs a composition called Water Walk on some 1950’s gameshow. As part of a very showbiz intro that Cage deals with really well, there’s a big joke from the presenter concerning the various items that Cage will use to make the music, including a bathtub, a duck call, five radios, a vase of flowers, a pitcher, a soda-syphon etc and a grand piano. He asks Cage if he minds that some people in the audience might laugh when they listen to the piece and Cage says ‘No, that’s OK, I think laughter is preferable to tears‘.
The music when it comes is great and his performance – deadpan, stopwatch in hand but somehow still relaxed – just amazing.
The UK Premiere of That Night Follows Day is this Friday and Saturday (18th and 19th May), in Birmingham as part of the Fierce Festival. I’m really looking forward to that. The piece is a collaboration between myself and the Flemish theatre company Victoria, and has a cast of seventeen children, between the ages of eight and fourteen. The set is by Richard Lowdon (Forced Entertainment) and the lights are designed by Nigel Edwards who has worked with me and my colleagues at Forced Ents for a very long time. The pictures here are by Phile Deprez.
Someone wrote a very nice blog entry following the first performances in Brussels the week before last. You can read it here.
You tell jokes to us.
You grade us. You tell us that we’ve worked hard, or that we have to work harder.
You save our drawings.
You say that Rome was not built in a day.
You say that silence is golden, that silence is important.
You sit by the bed.
You stand in the doorway.
You wait in the car.
You wait outside.
You teach us to swim.
You read to us about things that happened in a very far off, very distant galaxy.
You watch us when you think we aren’t looking.
You look at us with expressions that we can’t exactly read or properly recognise.
The whole tour list for 2007 is down below. There are already more dates planned for 2008, and I’ll try to add these here soon.
I’ve done a few very short stories now for this project by artist Barbara Campbell. It’s an on-going work in which she’s web-casting short text-based performances each night for 1001 consecutive nights. She’s reached number 693 at this point – nearly two years work.
Each nights performance is relayed as a live webcast to anyone who is logged on to her website at the appointed time – sunset where she happens to be. 100s of different writers and artists have contributed to her project – each writing a story (or stories) for her to perform.
The seed for each story in the project is a prompt word or phrase selected by Barbara from journalists’ reports covering events in the Middle East. She renders these prompts in watercolour and posts them on her website. Participants then write a story using that day’s prompt as inspiration. This is the one I did yesterday – a rather bleak tale, from the already bleak prompt line ‘generally unsmiling’ and these are the ones I did before, here, here and here. These other stories are also pretty bleak so you can see that I’m consistent.
There’s something quite exhilarating about the process of writing for the project – depending on how your time-zone synchs with the one Barbara happens to be in you get more or less time to write, and you get the prompt at different times of day/night. The previous one I did (from the prompt ‘wanted to get a good look’) I was in the UK while Barbara was in Australia. So I think I got the prompt at about 9pm and had to complete the writing before I went to bed. The other contributions I did were when I was in New York and Barbara (I think) was in Europe, so I was getting the prompt mid-afternoon and having to turn the writing around by midnight or so. For someone that travels so much it seems I get quickly confused by timezones.
I really like working against the clock as a writer and also on 1001 Nights Cast really enjoyed the fact of having to deal with some random stimulus. Barbara always lets you know where the quotes she chooses have come from but I never look at the larger news stories that she’s drawn on until after I’ve finished the writing. There’s something about the prompt – always a super-brief fragment – that’s very inspiring to work with, a level of incompletion that’s highly generative.
There are also some really great stories at 1001 Nights Cast from other people I know – from the writer/academic Adrian Heathfield, the director Peter Petralia, performer Cathy Naden (Forced Entertainment) and from the science fiction writer M. John Harrison – as well as loads more by people that I don’t know. My friend Sara Bailes just did a story there too. You can search for these other stories, and check out how to contribute to the project at http://1001.net.au
They’re showing That Night Follows Day in Rotterdam as part of De (Internationale) Keuze van de Rotterdamse Schouwburg in September and are busy working on a publication to go with the season. For the publication there are interviews but they’ve also set up a complicated email thing whereby different artists in the programme get to propose questions to each other. So, yesterday, this in email:
“The question that Pavol Liska and Kelly Cooper of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma ask you is: ‘How specifically do you subvert your habits? How do you trick yourself, on the most practical level, so your own work keeps changing and surprising you? How do you cultivate your creative longevity?'”
And my answer:
“I don’t have a strategy for this. I get tricked by accident – by being too tired, too busy, by being distracted, by getting fascinated with something that is happening, by becoming delirious (in a banal way, not thinking of hallucinogens), by making mistakes, generating accidents or by following a flow. I guess a ‘strategy’ could be putting yourself in a position where all that is more likely, however one would do that wether over a period of hours, days, weeks, months or years. As if creativity were a matter of making mistakes that you quite like and then trying (with all your best ‘craft’) to live and deal well with the consequences.”
I also proposed a question to Pavol and to Kelly, and to Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroué from Lebanon, and the other artists in the season including René Pollesch and Romeo Castellucci. Do they consider themslves to be optimists? I’ll post here if there are any responses.
Strange. With our own opening for That Night Follows Day coming up in the evening but the cast of kids all at school of course, we somehow have the whole day free. Seemingly (and sadly) unable to face a day in the Brussels sunshine or doing something other than work Richard and I find another dark room with no windows to sit in and go to watch a rehearsal for a new performance by Edit Kaldor, a piece called Point Blank.
Its going to be great I think. Her first solo piece Or Press Escape remains a real highlight performance for me from the last ten years, and this new one looks set to be a great follow-up to it – related in its formal structure and conceits, but pushing out in new directions too. In these pieces looking at how our lives and thought-processes can be approached through the model of the computer screen and software, and the computers’ structure of folders, communications and data storage, Edit’s doing something that I think very few other people (in performance at least) are approaching.
The funny thing about watching other people’s rehearsals (or visiting their studios) is that somehow things (issues, structures, problems) can often seem so much more visible to you than they are when you’re looking at your own work. At times this is very much a mirage, I know. But often it seems you can see the problems that other people are facing – including dilemmas and possible avenues for solution and escape – in ways that you can’t with your own material, which is always somehow too close and too overly invested-in to be seen clearly.
In Brussels already for the opening of That Night Follows Day. All looking good so far. The fact that we had to make decisions about text (and almost everything else) months ago so that the kids could have fair chance to learn it and feel confident, means that things for us have been pretty relaxed in this final period. The kids are doing an amazing job. Last night’s rehearsal was kind of weird though because throughout it the kids were dropping like flies with minor variations on the old ‘stomach bug’ and ‘it’s hot in here I am fainting’ routine. Started the run with 17 onstage (how it should be) but within twenty minutes we were down to 15 and ten minutes later down to 13. As the last of these left the stage clutching his stomach I think I let out an audible ‘Christ’ – fearing I guess that soon we’d be down to a mere handful of kids in the lines, all of them tottering on the edge of hysterical/sympathetic collapse.
Things picked up after a while though and by the end we were back to 15 onstage, the other two lain down in the dressing rooms. Post run-through there was a photo-shoot for which, by some magic, everyone managed to be well.
After rehearsals we head to the square outside Vooruit where in the last three days, Meg Stuart and her company Damaged Goods have been staging a series of four hour improvisations. In the theatre at least Anna Viebrock’s set for Meg’s Visitors Only (a piece that I contributed some text to) was always hugely imposing – a monolithic two storey house-structure – but here, placed outdoors between the library and some other public building it almost looks small – as though a dolls-house has been bisected by Gordon Matta-Clark and set up here beside the road in this small Belgian city.
Sat facing the house Paul Lemp and his musicians are playing a kind of endless not-changing and always-changing whirlpool of cello, bass and echo – a circular tide into which the dancers ‘on stage’ and those of us watching are drawn alike without a chance to escape. For this final day the dancers work four hours around a single section of the old Visitors performance – a task that involves them, like the music, forever spinning and rotating either solo or in constantly recombining groupings. Observed from the street the dance is people spinning alone, spinning together, circling, walking, twisting, knotting, freaking out, pacing softly, running, all in circles, clockwise, anticlockwise; ones view of anyone only ever partial, framed up and fractured by the architecture of the set – windows, doorways, cutaway walls.
I stand next to the group’s manager John Zwaenepoel and look in, soon very much wanting to climb into the house there and join them, and then realising that in a strange way, like all of those watching, I am in it already. Looking up at the eddies and flows of movement, sometimes the dancers at the top circling clockwise, those at bottom anticlockwise, sometimes both levels working in the same direction, its like the house is haunted by a desire or need to drive itself out of itself, to torque its way down into the earth, or wind its way into the sky. Watching the dancers they seem like loners on a mission, or like lost ravers at dawn, like caged animals, transcendentalists, kids, zombies, and delirious technicians of spin. It goes round and round. The music swells and falls, and from amongst the street drinkers sat to one side of the crowd on the library steps, from time to time someone gets to their feet and also surfs the movement and the moment, spinning, and dancing to their own tune, in their own time. Meg, Tonya, Vania, Davis and many others move in different rhythms, in different rooms. It’s pretty incredible. At a certain point I’m weeping for no particular reason – like the way I’ve cried at a certain point in Tarkovsky’s Mirror for no reason I can ever describe, each time I’ve seen it. Some combination of the music, the energy, the lack of words, the sheer ‘ongoing-ness’ of it all. There is a cop car going by. There are people chatting laughing. Its broad daylight. We’ve stood talking about this and that, making jokes, and now suddenly, tears. A joy that’s also a kind of sadness, or more like vice versa. I don’t know.
Much later, early hours of the morning, a few of us go back to the house, through the barricades and up the stairs. All pretty quiet outside, on the street down below. I’m chatting to Meg and to Vania who is laughing when she talks about her two long long bouts of walking strong determined circles in the top-right room of the house, as a pilgrimage in two parts. Pilgrimage One and Pilgrimage Two. Someone clambers out of the haunted house and heads off to a Night Shop, returning afterwards with beers and paprika chips. From the top storey of the structure our view is into what I think is the darkened library and in any case to a series of regional flags the shift around only a little in the still night air. Sometime around 2.30 I go home.