Talking Thinking – Rough Notes

22 December 2009

[Quite sketchy this… grasping for something].

Thinking about the recent Forced Entertainment rehearsals (which I just blogged about over at The Guardian). Perhaps because there were some new-comers to the rehearsal process, and perhaps because we were working quickly – trying to stay quite a lot on our feet – I was super aware of the general procedure for the start-of-the-day – how to get things started, where to begin – which at this point always seems to involve a kind of rolling talking session, generally beginning with a monologue from me (apologies for that), but increasingly an informal and meandering discussion, quite spiky and concerted in its own drifting way. The start point for this talking always seems to be an attempt to recall the progress of the work undertaken the day before (literally – “So, what did we do yesterday?”) and to roughly map any conclusions that we might have drawn from it. I know that usually I’ve not attempted to think through the rehearsal material much before we start work in the morning, so the talk is pretty much ‘thinking aloud’ – indeed mostly we start from a very hazy or clumsy anecdotal account of what we actually did or tried.

[Sidenote. The material from day before has been circulating/digesting of course…. just that none of us have grappled with it much on a conscious level. The morning-talking is wake up time too… getting us all back into what we’re up against, and a kind of limbering up I guess, flexing, starting to move in (mental) space.]

To some extent this ‘start of the day talking’ works like panning the water, or sifting residues too.. an attempt simply to figure what has remained from the day before, however apparently arbitrary or disorganised that remainder might be. Complex events took place but by now, a good 18 hours later, these events are ready to be condensed into a story, into a version, into an idea… I guess there’s some simple trust that ‘what remains’ will be useful, and a trust that the process by which some things might be remembered and others forgotten (even temporarily) might be a useful one.

Trusting this kind of osmosis or self-selection in the material I hardly ever take notes at this stage of the rehearsals, and rarely write anything down from the days work. In this way I rely absolutely on the fact that we’re video-recording everything – every improvisation, every run through – so that if or when any of us might need it there are really super-detailed ‘notes’ on what has taken place. In any case, the important thing is that I’m not bothering myself with keeping track of everything – I know it’s all on the tapes. Instead I’m more thinking about the shapes of the work, the smell or texture of it, following my nose through the material. Also, what I can say (going back to the Kleist) is that usually when we start talking in the morning I have no idea what we should  do for the day, little or no idea of an agenda, not even much idea of what to ‘say’. I’m not planning rehearsals – most days I don’t even start thinking till I’m in the room. And yet somehow through the morning talking this kind of agenda does become clear. Some priorities emerge. And a way of addressing (or approaching!) these priorities also becomes clear or clear enough.

What’s interesting is that once you step your thoughts out into spoken language they are solidifying, taking form one word at a time, in some unretractable way. Like the quantum notion of a reality that is constantly condensing/collapsing many-possibilities into one, where the reality we are in is understood to be produced moment by moment by narrowing infinite possibility into singular actuality, and then again and then again and then again, always narrowing, fixing, a moment at a time. I guess this kind of process operates literally in language too, at the level of sentences and word choices and somehow especially in speech (a temporal act, the process of which is real-time and relatively exposed – as opposed to writing for example where you can always edit, add and erase from the record invisibly). And what’s interesting to me is that when speaking you’re constantly building a road – in words and through time – a road which already hints at a direction – the future is already contained a little bit by what’s been said already, and by the rules of comprehensible speech. The more you’ve said the more structure and apparatus is determining (opening and closing) possibilities for what’s next) and there’s something about this tightening of the present, via the squeezing of thought into language, that really ups the pressure and (perhaps) brings you to things you cannot come to in silent thinking. It’s a version of the talking cure of course – it already had me thinking of psychoanalysis, the idea that you can talk your way to something that is otherwise unavailable. By the way, I’m not implying that as soon as you start talking and step into the flow of language it’s all a done deal – you can of course always change direction, contradict and so on.. but even something like contradiction is a negotiation or manoeuvre that’s only possible because of earlier choices..

Trying to talk something through. Trying to define questions. Trying to map possible approaches.
The possibility in these discussions also to try to pause the flow of the talking and re-start it in another place. (Never innocent, and not strictly possible of course.. but sometimes worth a go).

Trying to hold steady on a thought that’s coming, or a direction that’s forming, even when other people are pulling you onto something else.
(For balance – letting go of what you were fixing on in favour of an idea or a question that someone else is pitching into the discussion)
(Entertaining options. Staying loose. Not letting anything solidify too quickly).

Not taking too long on all this. 45 mins max then we should be moving.


I notice that I’m very often checking out in the discussions during the last fifteen minutes or so. In this period it’s maybe too complicated to follow – more opinions. But I’m also looking for a way to make what we’re talking about concrete. I’m not looking for a very complicated intellectual synthesis of the whole discussion (impossible) or for an ‘answer’ to the questions (also impossible) – in fact I’m just looking for a small thing –  a single improvisational starting point that I can propose and which I hope somehow might kick us towards the goal. Often the sense is, to be clear, that this starting point might be woefully simple, just a hook that other things might come to hang on, an occasion that people might find to drag in what we’ve been talking about. What’s also true I think, and again to be clear, is that the discussion can be very clear and very abstract at the same time and the proposal for what we do next will have to be entirely concrete. Often there’s a sense, in proposing some improv, or a return to some combination of material we worked on yesterday, that I have to say “well, that’s all very well..” (meaning the discussion) or “we are all very clever” (again, nodding back to the discussion) *but*… and the but is, of course, that no matter how great or impoverished our theoretical grasp on what we’re doing might be, we still (in the end) simply have to do something in the room. And this doing something of course involves a shift to another kind of energy, another kind of thinking – through doing in fact.


Map Dream

18 December 2009

Transform 2


Someone, I don’t know who, is drawing on a map of the world to show the different areas conquered by particular armies and leaders at different times in history. With the pen he/she makes strange shapes – bubble and rectangle outlines that span countries and even continents, sometimes naming some nation, leader or dictator – Hitler, Alexander The Great, The British Empire – to indicate whose territory has been ringed.  In the dream the maps don’t make much sense to me. The shapes are too similar, and in any case the basic map/projection of the earth this person is drawing onto is not a familiar one – very long/wide and stretched, no doubt realistic but somehow hard to navigate or orientate on with the eye.

World Funniest Video

16 December 2009

One funny video is the one where cats are chasing after a reflection of sunlight that is moving around from a mirror. The cat is going crazy chasing that little piece of reflectioned light, trying to trap it with his paw and the cat is looking very confused with the light mainly because of how it will not hold still under his paw and later he is sitting still just staring at the wall in fronts of him, staring at it like a freak like he has got a big problem with it (the light on the wall) cos the light is moving around there just above him and sometimes he is raising his tabby coloured right paw (he is a tabby cat) and he is raising his right paw a bit like he might just strike at the light but the most funniest part of all is where the reflection light is making circles around the cat and the cat is doing crazy circles on the carpet by the coffee table thing like chasing his tail around and around he goes you think he will spin himself into a whirlwind or tie his godamn legs in a knot he is going so fast that is what is so funny. Another funny video is of Kelvin, or Kevin and he is running into the garden to play baseball and his brother  – I guess, you cannot really tell if it is his brother or not but I think it must be his brother that is there already and he (the brother) says 'Kelvin! (or Kevin you cannot hear it properly) and whacks the ball towards the Kevin that unfortunately catches him right in the testicals and he goes down on the ground like a sack of potatoes or however they say it, like a tree that has been felled over onto the patio there, like a dead man with a expression of excruciating absolute agony on his face. Another funny video is of a dog that has landed on a blue trampoline in a yard. You cannot tell how he got into the trampoline. Did he jump on there all by himself? I kind of doubt it. Did someone throw him on there just to make the video? He is not really a big dog, only black and white and small so it would be possible to throw him, but the way he goes upwards like a rocket is totally laugh out loud funny and that strange expression on his face and the big eyes, that dog for sure looks surprise. He goes down falling to the trampoline at the start of the video then he goes up, bouncing, he goes high up with that expression like a rocket he goes up, then he goes down again but it stops (the video) before he hits the trampoline again you do not see what happens next the video is only nine seconds long or maybe 11 seconds. It is hard to tell if that can really be the world funniest video if it is only so short. Maybe there should be a different categories for short funniest video and longer funniest video but I just want to figure out which is the funniest video on the whole world without using any categories like the funniest hip hop dance video or the funniest animal video or the funniest video of a ski accident – that is not the funniest video in the whole world. Anyway the contest is still going. I will keep looking. Someone linked me a video of a guy that cannot stand up. I think he has not got damaged legs or a serious brain impediment he has been drinking that is all but probably he has been drinking a lot. It is a totally funny video because you can see he is confused like he thinks the world is tilting or something, he thinks the world is the problem but really it is him that is the problem. Loser is holding onto a tree or a lamp post or whatsoever he can find to cling onto to stop him from sliding off the edge of the world then he gets up and walks some steps along the street, I have seen a hamster walk better than that (in another video that is not so funny) but this guy can hardly stand up, he is swaying then he takes a step. What is so funny? I guess you are just waiting for the guy to fall over again. Some funny video can be full of surprises but another funny video is sometimes just exactly what you expect, you know what will happen it comes as no surprise at all but still you are laughing.

Quick Steps

7 December 2009

The following text I wrote for the new publication What I Think About When I Think About Dancing published by Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, Australia. Curators: Lisa Havilah, Emma Saunders, Susan Gibb.

Quick Steps
(what I think about when I think about dance)

Movements that seem ordinary – the stretching of fingers, the lifting of a glass, or a knife, the low-key meander of a walk to the shop on a Sunday morning, the sudden start of a rapid jog down the stairs to catch someone at the door, the run for the bus and the shoulder barge to the subway doors, the reach for the TV remote, the hand raised in a wave from the back of the car, the throwing back of the head and the closing of the eyes, the slump and collapse into a seat. The negotiation of a crowded bar whilst carrying drinks (glasses pressed together with tension between hands, or balanced on a tray). The pause and slight bend to listen at the door of a neighbour’s apartment when you pass it late night and hear voices from within. The unbuttoning of buttons, unzipping of zips, the thumb-dance of SMS texting. The sidestepping back and forth of polite pedestrians eager to avoid a collision. The silent and strangely punctuated dance in a hotel doorway as a visitor leaves at night. The almost frantic dance of hands and stooped body when searching for a mobile phone that’s ringing somewhere, but deep in a pocket, which pocket? or concealed in which zip-compartment of a bag? The arm thrown back for the hurling of a stone. The looser arm bent back for the throwing of a stick. The sideways tilt of the body, torqued to skim a stone across water. The soft lean back against the wall of an elevator. The movement of palms against a surface – brick, polished concrete or carpet. The movement of fingers, turning the pages of a book. The rotation of feet and ankles, stretching of calves and knees whilst seated, cramped, on a plane. The gestures of stop, come forwards, wait, go back. The gestures of yes or maybe, the gestures of now, then, yesterday, today, here, there and never. The dance of fingers on a tabletop. The dance of hands and arms explaining the route that someone must take to reach a building somewhere in the neighbourhood. The dance of hands and arms that seek to describe the architecture of a courtyard on the other side of the world, the turn from the crowded main street, the sudden and unexpected opening out of the interior space, the six trees within, the brilliant rectangle of sky. The dance of arms and hands describing a fight between sisters, or a fight in a taxi rank late night. The semaphore pantomime of hands making gestures as part of a bellowed conversation that traverses traffic in the street. The dance of lips talking. The dance of eyes reading. The dance of hands demonstrating a touch that once a departing lover made, with his hand, or her hand, on yours – not a caress and not a handshake, not a blow, not an assertion and yet neither a question. Flicking crumbs from your lap, brushing dandruff from your shoulders. Scratching the arse. Precise movements made with a key in an awkward lock, the various twists and lifts, pulls and pushes (with hands and shoulders, even knees) needed to open up the door. Scratching the back of the left calf with the upper side of the right foot. Itching the nose just by moving it – a wriggle. More scratches, itches, tics, gasps, sighs, yawns turning to small shivers, minor shakes. Blinks, twitches, hesitant gestures to no particular end. Movements that seem pretty much unplaceable – hardly a part of discourse, scarcely part of any kind of behaviour, system or code. Vague gestures. Amorphous shifts, shivers, shrugs, glitches. Undulating forms, flows, tensions and extensions. Dances of musculatures, tendons, and interlocking bones. Movements that are scarcely, in some sense, recognisable as human. Or movements that are on the edge of what you might think of as human. Body as invertebrate, as canine, as aquatic, as simian, as reptilian, body as machine, as robot, android, cyborg, body as ghost, as spectre, as wraith, as demon, as flesh in the grip of possession. Body taut and stretched in orgasm. Body open. Leaping running jumping stretching. As if a kind of temporary war on gravity has been declared. Body closed – folded in on itself. Body knotted. Body fighting itself. Bodies in configurations that you only see in pictures from the killing fields. Bodies impossibly twisted, dislocated. Knotted, piled, stacked, hung, thrown, crumpled like so many rags. Scarecrows. Broken forms. Slides. Glides. Quick steps. Dazzling feet. Electrified. Pure joy. Delight. Surprise. Sweat. Joy again. The crush of bodies in a mosh pit. The movement of eyes around an unfamiliar space. The movement of eyes around the body of a sleeping lover. The movement of eyes across the screen of a laptop. Taste of blueberries. Stumbles. Trips. Misses. Shapes written on the ground – lines, circles, spirals, zigzags. Fingers on skin. Walks with purpose and intention. Crawls. Runs. Drags. Meanders. Feet or hands moving vaguely with indecision and uncertainty. Movements that feels more like sketching, or searching for something. Movements that feel like incomplete memories. Movements as attempts to peel back some layer of the present to get to the past. Butterflies. Movements that feel like they are attempts to be something. Attempts at something. Versions of something. Provisional. Small steps. Small gestures. Moves that make you think of other dancers and other dances. The way this one holds her head, the way this one moves his leg, the long back of this one, the grace of the other one, the energy of that move, all of these things pointing you elsewhere – into your own past, into the many times you sat somewhere or stood somewhere and watched others move. Sounds. Breathing. Occasional exclamations of breath, slight and unintended sounds of exertion, effort, stress and strain. The sound of feet moving on the floor, pounding, squeaking and always the breathing. Ballroom dancing. Tango. Waltzes. Line dances. Disco dances. Ballet dances. Mosh pit again. Solos. Duets. Enormous and complex sequences of perfect unison. Meg morphing. Wendy ghosting, fighting. Fumiyo shimmering and cutting and melting. Kate tangled in Las Vegas sequins and knots. Vlatka’s hands on a table top, turning and shifting – there and then gone and then there again. Jerome’s lines. Jonathan’s arms. Seth’s feet. The big guy from Pina Bausch. Raimund Hoghe. Bez. Prince. Ian Curtis. A class of school kids dance the sea – appearing not only as the sea creatures themselves, but as the floating seaweeds, the plankton, the bubbles of air. Another group of school kids dance the stars and the planets, the meteors and comets, all of them with tinsel tied to their wrists. A dance of skeletons. A dance of sparkling jewels look, Aladdin’s cave. Drug dances. Drunk dances. Fight dances. Weeping dances. Dawn dances. Pavement dances. Burning dances. Trembling. Penetrating. Order. Disorder. Order again. Lost shoes and kicked-off shoes. An ex-lover dances in her apartment, there amongst the kitchen things, the furniture, the coffee cups and strewn clothes, she dances, showing the moves she must dance on a stage in some weeks time, marking and naming the moves one by one as she marks them: ‘the fall’, ‘the wave goodnight’, ‘the kiss the air’, ‘the swivel hips’, ‘the not now’, ‘the cripple bend’, ‘the wave goodnight’.

Tim Etchells at 23.01 on 21 October 2009, Sheffield.