—4bid gallery – Critical Writing in Performance from the audience of Highs & Lows – Critical Writing in Performance at 4bid
Contrast and movement – 4 acts in the notions of duality
by Gábor Gyulai
Contrasts are exciting forms in general, especially when we find ourselves in an environment constructed by them. Visiting the 12th instalment of Highs and Lows organized by 4bid, the audience could experience the nature of duality through a series of performances, challenging our comfortable state of stability.
Unlike the other three acts, the first (interactive, as noted) performance was held in the gallery. While everyone was taking their seat in the smaller, perhaps friendlier room, Jacqueline van de Geer waited patiently and smiling in the corner, slowly reaching for her bag full of unknown objects. She created a work which can be considered to be open in many ways: like its end, the beginning of the performance remained vague, since she started her moves only when the noise of the audience decreased, reaching almost total silence. Without words, she introduced herself as a stranger, who — throughout the piece — appeared as both friendly and distant, warm and cold, giving and receiving. Her persona dealing with the very simple idea of constant dependence on one’s surroundings, we could see her giving us pieces of clothing, contacting each of us funnily, curiously, gruffly or neutrally. She also used classical gendered pieces of clothing (bras, skirts etc.), thus creating personal interactions with the members of the audience depending on the manner and the object of the communication.
Giving away everything, she went further: slowly she started to get rid of her own clothes. In case of this performance the experience of contrast hit the audience at that very moment. The once cheerful mood turned suddenly to dead silence and close attention. Grasping into our temporary gifts, we found ourselves with slight discomfort and the artist naked. Reaching the radical end of her performance, she finally articulated the emerging intentions of the audience: “dress me up”. Van de Geer also chose this phrase as the title of her performance, which the serves as a frame and topic sentence: while a person can play diverse roles as a woman and can give away pieces of her, she still needs attention, validation and contribution from her environment in order to live, to survive. The final act, where the audience dressed up the artist then stands as an impact which restores the balance of the artist’s life: however, a full equilibrium cannot be made, as we have seen the clothes not properly put on the artist, which can be seen as the ever-changing state of one’s self as a woman, who seems to be dominant on the surface but doomed to be submissive by the current set of society.
The following piece by Lisa Marie Henning-Olsen invited us to a bigger space. Her composition built up by several types of confliction, which altogether presented the pervasive tension of the piece. With the artist in the center, we could see her moving either in small circles or running through the entire space of the room, and we could hear music which was once silent, then loud. The piece also reflected on the contemporary notions of “convention”. Incorporating both harmony and disharmony in music, or performing bodily movements which both related to our idea of dance and non-dance, the viewer was confronted with the questions: what is dance, and what can be the limits of it? With presenting a framing structure for the piece and depicting duality in several elements of the performance (relation to the audience/camera; clothing, music etc.), Henning-Olsen put the focus of her work on its geometric mean: the greatest departure happened with the artist on the ground with her four limbs; without music, without motion, only with a slight ray of light. This short scene operated with the minimal elements of being with an almost disappearing artist, while having her still present. These moments, where our sense of time was also suspended, served as the climax for the work.
After a short break and rearrangement of the stage, the audience was invited for the third piece of the event. A brief introduction by the choreographer Eline van Ark explained, what to expect during the dance, which was intended to perceive blindfolded. However a short part of the dance could be seen in the beginnig and in the end, over the entire length of the piece the audience was indeed sitting in a circle, deprived of their ability to see.
This simple instruction and modification of the experience creates a different state of mind from the usual. With the absence of light it brings to mind the “day — night” opposition, and the motif of sleeping, since we were in a state of an active mind while not seeing anything. To be precise, I would say “not seeing anything physically”, because given the human being as an inventive and imaginative mind, it certainly looks for meaning and reason, and of course it also finds one. Thus we also found ourselves creating a narrative of what happened around us, based on the silent steps, running feet and intense breathes we heard while sitting tight on our chairs. Paying close attention to the piece one could also find interesting elements in the smells and the closeness of the dancer in front of or behind us, which also contributed to the experience of the piece. Not being sure of how much time has passed, we could certainly focus solely on the piece and on our creation of a narrative, which, following the metaphor mentioned above, evoked the theme of dreaming: a mind, conscious in the dark, creating images that cannot be shared but lived vividly.
The closing performance presented the duality of sweet and sour, bringing the tradition of tragicomedy into life. Andreas Hannes chose the main medium for his performance the setup of the stand-up comedy, thus his piece examined the confliction of two sides: the presupposed humorous external frame of the stand-up versus the given misery and sadness of the everyman. Accordingly, a series of topics we’re mentioned by Hannes’s character: relationships, work, finding accomodation, seeking happiness etc. Hannes stressed the contrast of the performance with spectacular elements, such as melodramatic singing or inarticulate screaming: these parts extended the piece to its extremes. Regarding the humour of the show, one can certainly argue about its overall impression: as someone who is not really into the genre of stand-up, I found it hard to both maintain (as a member of the audience) the opposition of the external / internal structure of the show and still enjoy it. However, I still saw moments where Hannes’s character stepped out of its purely bitter role, and worked actually as a stand-up comedian. At these parts, his jokes had a great impression, because he kept the topic of sadness only in his talk, but not in his attitude.
I would like to highly emphasize one part of his choice of set construction, which had otherwise remarkable elements (used tissue papers, pieces of garbage etc.). Through his entire piece, Hannes used a small golden-coloured totem statue at the edge of the stage, which depicted a poodle. The object was lit by a strong reflector, and clearly presented the genre of kitsch. Using this property as an omnipresent marker, the piece made clear for itself its contrasting nature: both being aware of its ridiculous existence and still claiming the right to be present. This totem explains why banal parts of life can and should be taken into account, thus creating a cohesion for Hannes’s whole piece.