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And the Space Will Be Transformed: Erin Search-Wells on Faye Driscoll

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Erin Search-Wells of SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye […]

Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Photo: Photo: Maria Baranova

Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Photo: Photo: Maria Baranova

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Erin Search-Wells of SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

These are the good times, when your body can do that.  This is what it’s like to go out and know a few people, and kind of arrive deep and known and felt.  This is what it feels like to recognize someone as who they really are.

I think I always look like that at a party, stop-motion video laughing maniacally.  I think the camera would probably catch my multiple chins though; I might not look as glamorous in the outfit I have put together.  I might feel like a real dork in this gold shower cap.  After the party I’ll notice that the shower cap left an indent on my forehead.

Everybody might expect me to join in and dance.

It is nice when you don’t realize a transition is happening.  It is nice to feel like something has gone on for a long time so it probably will start to morph soon, but then it goes on a little longer and you look back and realize it has changed.  It is nice to realize you missed the change again.  This level of transformation between sections takes meticulous crafting.  I was reminded that this type of crafting is not only about saying “no, not that,” but also “yes, yes, yes YES.”  It is nice to see something played long because it is simply so satisfying to watch.

I think I have seen another show recently where I was invited to join in the party at the end.  It was the last BodyCartography show.  And they both circled the space like a folk-dance, and dimmed the lights, and got a little bacchanal.  And I think I’ve been welcomed to a show with a song recently.  And the way clothing came off and naked parts of bodies writhed I was reminded of luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO.  All of these associations are not being recalled for nothing.  In fact is it performance zeitgeist? Is it our job to take the temperature of the audience and provide something that they can’t get from other art forms?  Why does contemporary performance, or dance-theater, still feel like the most necessary form to me?  Well we have to make a list of what it can do that other things cannot do.  Film can certainly create the most realistic bear fight.  So that’s done.  In fact we should probably stop trying to stage naturalistic dinner parties because none of the stage china will make the right sound when it’s broken.  But I digress.  What does this form have?  It has a live, relatively game audience.   It has willing, flexible, multi-disciplinary, practiced performers.  It has lights, props, costume, moveable seats.  It has musical capabilities ranging from acoustic, to voice, to reverberating beats.  It has microphones.  We should use these things but what is the hole in peoples’ lives that we will try to fill?  Communal experience.  Acceptance of personhood, yes.  Recognition of difference, yes.  But definitely communal ritual. Is this why we are seeing these things happen in contemporary performance?  I think mostly artists have their form and their interests and they are whittling away at it.  But it’s not like other forms where you go in a room above a garage and practice strokes.  It is completely in touch with the world.  And that is why I think there is a bigger reason we start to notice patterns in what we are seeing on stage.

The last thing I will say about this piece is that the performers are truly amazing.  I was just plain impressed by how many layers of their experience they were transmitting simultaneously.  Faye’s directions were clearly very specific, and the scores have been drilled rigorously, deeply, shaping their lived experiences so that their presences balanced delicately between alert and comfortable, tense and soft, large and small.  I was reminded of the unearthed possibilities our faces, our bodies, hold within us and right on our surfaces.

Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance  continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday-Saturday, February 18-20, 2016 at 8pm, and Sunday, February 21 at 7pm.

Invented Horizons: Mary Halvorson in the Walker Galleries

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Mark Mahoney, host of Sound Grammar on Radio K, shares his perspective on Mary Halvorson’s […]

Photo: Mark Mahoney

Photo: Mark Mahoney

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Mark Mahoney, host of Sound Grammar on Radio K, shares his perspective on Mary Halvorson’s Sound Horizon performance on Thursday night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Guitarist Mary Halvorson presented a series of riveting solo explorations in the Walker’s Burnet Gallery (within the Andrea Büttner exhibition, as part of the 2016 Sound Horizon series) on Thursday night. On display were all the things Halvorson’s fans have come to expect from her—hairpin rhythmic turns, oblique harmonies, and crystalline melodies punctuated by occasional bouts of lacerating distortion—alongside unexpected twists and unfamiliar repertoire.

In anticipation of the show, I had revisited an essay written by Halvorson entitled “The Invented Horizon Is Free” (published in the 2012 book Arcana VI: musicians on music, edited by John Zorn).  In the essay, Halvorson describes how she arrived at this title using a gradual iterative process, one that loosely parallels her process for finding new musical material:

I started with a saying from a fortune cookie that read, ‘You are free to invent your life.’ I then tinkered with the fortune cookie text a couple words at a time until finally settling upon a modified proverb, ‘The invented horizon is free.’

Initially, I had hoped that I might be able to employ this same process to arrive at some clever amalgamation of “The Invented Horizon Is Free” and “Sound Horizon,” the name of the series of which Halvorson’s Thursday performance was a part. My attempt didn’t produce any particularly interesting results, but Halvorson’s title nevertheless remained turning in my mind. It seemed to succinctly encapsulate some of the most striking constants in her otherwise radically diverse and far-reaching output: her all-pervading commitment to artistic invention and expressive freedom.

It seemed fitting, then, that Halvorson began the night with a tribute to the jazz great Ornette Coleman, identified perhaps more than any other jazz figure with the pursuit of complete creative freedom. Halvorson’s rendition of Coleman’s “Sadness” (a poignant choice, given the saxophonist’s passing last year) managed to translate the spirit of Coleman’s keening, blues-drenched sound to the guitar by employing a range of unorthodox techniques, including the use of a steel guitar slide and the progressive detuning and re-tuning of her guitar to mimic the weeping arco bass of the original.

The sound of Halvorson’s guitar attracted a growing audience. The crowd gradually filled in the chairs and meditation cushions provided until only standing room remained. Halvorson, seated with pedals under her feet as though she were driving a car, seemed unconcerned with the intermittent hubbub, focused only on coaxing an ever-expanding array of sounds and textures from her guitar.

Highlights from the first two sets included a spare, meditative take on Carla Bley’s “Ida Lupino,” and an arresting, tremolo-heavy rendition of French guitarist Noël Akchoté’s “Cheshire Hotel.” It is worth noting that, in a performance consisting entirely of covers, Halvorson drew her repertoire exclusively from tunes written by composers within the jazz tradition.

That’s not to say Halvorson’s song choices were conventional. Alongside luminaries like Duke Ellington and McCoy Tyner, she inserted the music of contemporaries like Tomas Fujiwara and Chris Lightcap. Her mesmerizing treatment of Lightcap’s “Platform” culminated in cascading torrents of distorted sound that dissipated almost as quickly as they had arisen. And her fertile imagination and keen ears allowed her to tease out the latent quirks and idiosyncrasies within even the most classic tunes. Halvorson’s bracing, angular take on Oliver Nelson’s “Cascades,” for instance, managed to transform that hard-bop classic into something like a noise rock anthem.

Halvorson delivered a kind of disclaimer towards the end of her second set: “I don’t normally play this many sets solo, so I’m going to be playing some new stuff for the third set,” she said. A pause. “I’m not sure whether I’m telling you to leave or stay.” Luckily for those who stayed, the third set offered some of the evening’s gems, among them a haunting Paul Motian tune and a shapeshifting version of Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.”

As I returned home after the performance, the phrase “the invented horizon is free” continued to echo in my mind. What did “invented horizon” mean?

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously observed, “It is the eye which makes the horizon.” In other words, the horizon, fixed though it may seem, is a human creation: an invention. It seems that Mary Halvorson has brought this line of thought to bear on her approach to the jazz tradition. As her choice of songs makes evident, she is not so much interested in rebelling against the jazz tradition as she is in engaging with it in contemporary and highly personal ways. As the crowd witnessed Halvorson continually invent and re-invent the horizons of her own artistry, it became clear to everyone present: the invented horizon is free.

Talk Dance: Faye Driscoll on Thank You For Coming: Attendance

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the […]

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the podcast on the Walker Channel 

Right at the start of our conversation, Faye Driscoll refers to Thank You For Coming: Attendance (TYFC:Attendance)  as “quite a live beast.” TYFC: Attendance is the first in a series of three works by Driscoll that, according to her website, “extends the sphere of influence of performance to create a communal space where the co-emergent social moment is questioned, heightened, and palpable.”  Or, as she said it more plainly to me on the phone, “I mean, I hate audience participation, so it was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna make a work that somehow does this … sneakily’.”

TYFC: Attendance has had a rich touring schedule this past year, including stops in major US cities, Croatia, and Argentina, and I was curious to hear about how the feeling between the performers and the audience shifts from location to location.  As a dancer who has toured a bit, I know each audience (even in the same city) feels a bit different, but I wondered if this particular piece revealed anything particular about the places in which it was being performed.  Driscoll responded “I think because we’re dealing with the sensation of co-creation with the audience so directly […] there is a very palpable difference in each community that we go to.  Like when we were in Zagreb […] they went from cold … to not cold maybe?  But there was a movement in every audience we’ve gone to. […] In Argentina it was like from warm to boiling hot. Like it was almost like they were just gonna start kissing the dancers as soon as they rolled into their laps.”

Like her past work, TYFC: Attendance is a demanding, multidisciplinary work.  Watching a video of the performance in preparation for our conversation, I was astounded by the performers virtuosic abilities – not just dancing, but singing, acting, remembering.  What they do seemed to me extremely rigorous, and somehow new.  I was reminded of something Phillip Glass said talking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air; Gross plays a clip of one of Glass’ early works and then admits that she can’t even imagine what it would be like to perform one of Glass’ demanding compositions.  Glass coolly responds that in order to perform his music he had to develop a new performance practice and then goes on to say “if you think about it, for any music to be really new, there probably has to be a different performance practice to go with it otherwise it wouldn’t be new.  What makes it new is that you have to find a new way to play.”

In TYFC: Attendance, Driscoll is seeking out new performance practices.  She elaborates, “I feel like I’m carving out and discovering new forms through the making of the thing and the more that I make things I feel that I bring lots of practices into the room.”  One of the practices we talked about was what Driscoll referred to as “state work”; I thought her definition of “state work” was particularly revealing to what the incredible performers are attempting in TYFC: Attendance: “I think of it like shifting presence in the body […]  it could be emotional, it could be purely the feeling of the body itself, kind of textural and tonal.  It could be working with image.  It could be more psychological.  But it’s become a huge part of my practice because its about […] shifting the shape and changing the alchemy of the body and almost imagining we can shift the composition of our form.”  In watching documentation of TYFC: Attendance, I found the performers’ adroit ability to shift and transform their performative presence fascinating. and I think it speaks directly to what Driscoll says she’s addressing in her work: “the very performativity of being and the sociality of being and how […] who we are is made by all these little interactions and all of these […] movements of self.”

If, like Driscoll, you’re skittish about audience participation, don’t fretDriscoll assures that the piece and the performers “create an environment where we’re at once commanding and extremely gentle and extremely direct. Where there’s options at every stage and there is this sense of, even if you’ve sat there with your arms crossed the entire time, we’ve sort of wrapped you a little bit in our world.” Thank You for Coming: Attendance will be on the Walker stage, Feb. 17-21, 2016.  And, lucky for us, the Walker will present parts two and three of the Thank you for Coming series over the next few years.

Listening Mix: Mary Halvorson

Last year, Mary Halvorson was credited as an instrumentalist on eight releases. Two years prior, she was on eleven; the year before that, eighteen. Ever the versatile guitarist, each collaboration sees her slipping into any number of roles stylistically. Her 2015 solo release Meltframe, however, finds her unaccompanied for the first time, and channeling the sounds of an entire band through a […]

Photo: Peter Gannushkin

Photo: Peter Gannushkin

Last year, Mary Halvorson was credited as an instrumentalist on eight releases. Two years prior, she was on eleven; the year before that, eighteen. Ever the versatile guitarist, each collaboration sees her slipping into any number of roles stylistically. Her 2015 solo release Meltframe, however, finds her unaccompanied for the first time, and channeling the sounds of an entire band through a singular guitar. In anticipation of her solo performances on February 11, as the inaugural artist for this year’s Sound Horizon series, it seemed appropriate to make a listening mix to showcase the many aspects of Halvorson’s craft.

1. Mary Halvorson Quintet – “Hemorrhaging Smiles” (2012)
Halvorson’s ensembles began with her 2008 trio of bassist John Herbert and drummer Ches Smith. As she’s expanded to a quintet and, more recently, a septet, the precision of this talented rhythm section continues to drive her compositions, taking center stage near this piece’s 17 minute mark in respite from the easygoing brass harmonies at its start.

2. Anthony Braxton – “Composition No 350 – Part 5” (2007)
Studies at Wesleyan with prolific composer Anthony Braxton lead Halvorson to become a valued member of Braxton’s ensembles, including the 12+1tet whose 2006 performance at the Iridium club he referred to as “the point of definition in my work thus far.” Halvorson’s arpeggiated duet with vibraphone that begins this excerpt is just one highlight in the sprawling, nine-hour performance.

3. Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson, and Ches Smith – Live at Medienkulturhaus (Wels, Austria) (2005)
While the trio has never recorded together, one can’t help but wish for more from Halvorson, her Trio/Quintet drummer Smith, and Wilco guitarist/Walker favorite Cline. The group has an amazing energy that adds a strength and tension to this inconspicuously ambient, Dirty Three-esque improvisation.

4. Kristo Rodzevski – “Kadife” (2015)
New York-based composer Kristo Rodzevski enlisted the help of several free improvisers in creating Batania, his melancholic yet breezy jazz-pop debut. Halvorson’s electric guitar takes a backseat to bouncy strings and brushed cymbals, which allows her solo (beginning at 2:45) to aptly punctuate Rodzevski’s Macedonian-sung verses and a trumpet solo by frequent collaborator Kirk Knuffke.

5. People – “The Lyrics Are Simultaneously About How The Song Starts And What The Lyrics Are About” (2014)
People, which Halvorson formed as a duo with drummer Kevin Shea in 2005, gives jazz prowess a backseat to plainly chaotic Melt-Banana style noise rock; but their third record saw the addition of both Crystal Stilts bassist Kyle Forester and a sense of humor. This particular track is the peak of its self-referential irreverence, both lyrically and in the time signature arithmetic lesson at its center.

6. Mary Halvorson – “Ida Lupino” (2015)
Meltframe is Halvorson’s first truly solo outing, with ten reinterpretations of tunes by both icons and contemporaries. As Marvin Lin observes, “Halvorson’s guitar-voice opens the conversation, gesturing toward the mirror while displacing itself historically”. This reverent solitude, new for both piece and performer, reshapes styles as disparate as Oliver Nelson’s frenzied hard bop and Annette Peacock’s synthesized soul. A rare sense of tenderness, too, is revealed in her rendition of Carla Bley’s “Ida Lupino“, only further confirming the multitudes embodied by one woman and her guitar. 

Mary Halvorson will perform as part of Sound Horizon 2016, the Walker’s series of free in-gallery music performances, on February 11, 2016, at 6, 7, and 8 pm.

Read more:
An Eruption of Communal Voice: Marvin Lin on Guitarist Mary Halvorson

An Eruption of Communal Voice: Marvin Lin on Guitarist Mary Halvorson

For Sound Horizon 2016, our series of free in-gallery music performances, we’ve invited critic and Tiny Mix Tapes editor Marvin Lin to share his perspective on each installment of this three-part program: Mary Halvorson (February 11), Vicky Chow and Tristan Perich (March 24), and C. Spencer Yeh (April 28). How does an artist find her […]

Mary Halvorson. Photo: Brian Cohen

Mary Halvorson. Photo: Brian Cohen

For Sound Horizon 2016, our series of free in-gallery music performances, we’ve invited critic and Tiny Mix Tapes editor Marvin Lin to share his perspective on each installment of this three-part program: Mary Halvorson (February 11), Vicky Chow and Tristan Perich (March 24), and C. Spencer Yeh (April 28).

How does an artist find her voice?

Experts say to live life. Experts say to practice. Experts say to explore, deconstruct, appropriate, hybridize, internalize. Experts say to add your own inflection, your own cadence, your own twist. But even if an artist somehow finds her voice, what exactly is she voicing?

For musicians like Mary Halvorson, a long fixture in New York improv and experimental circles, her voice is ostensibly the guitar’s voice. Or, rather, the guitar becomes a proxy for her supposed “internal” voice. An extension, a stand-in. A substitute. But is her voice really about who she is? Is the voice ever really about who a person is?

Maybe. But when I hear Halvorson fumbling haphazardly into a chord and articulating its dissonance through arpeggios, I hear her voicing tension. When she filters the guitar through delay, splaying sound molecules on the walls, I hear her voicing the room. When she’s violently scraping the strings, I hear her voicing the guitar’s materiality. When she’s scaling the fretboard in impossibly quick, complex movements, I hear her voicing the limits of human physicality. Halvorson’s guitar is not a reflection of her voice, but an eruption of a communal voice: she gives voice, we romanticize it.

The beauty found in Halvorson’s music isn’t necessarily about her finding a voice, but about the act of voicing itself. Nowhere was this clearer for me than on 2015’s Meltframe, her first solo album after a career marked most significantly (and prolifically) as a leader or member of jazz groups of various shapes and styles (she is also a former student of Anthony Braxton, an avant-rock musician in People, and a chamber-jazz artist with violist Jessica Pavone, among others). On this album, Halvorson finds herself both alone and among friends, darting through coarse, meandering moments of solitude while appropriating lovingly from her favorites (Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, Carla Bley). Rather than bracketing herself off, Halvorson’s guitar-voice opens the conversation, gesturing toward the mirror while displacing itself historically, affixing itself on a continuum of an avant-garde that’s still avant-garde against many odds.

When critics say that Halvorson is the “future” of jazz guitar (a sentiment pervasive in much writing about her), they’re really saying that her guitar playing is a future for jazz guitar, one that their very proclamations are aiming to preserve and make room for. But Halvorson’s guitar work has always created its own space, its own justification for emergence beyond genre and history. Originality is everything, but originality is also bullshit—both beautiful and disgusting, an aspiration and a dead-end. The myth of originality wants us to frame our experiences in terms of uniqueness—at best to find ruptures and breaking points and the limits of “good taste”/convention, at worst to whip us into a fog of individuality and lubricate the movement of products, the latter playing like capitalism’s own poetic cadence.

But music has an ability to not only reflect, but to also embody capitalism’s most despicable outgrowths, resisting it at the same time that it critiques it. Halvorson’s politics need not be known to hear the protest in her music, even if it has nothing to do with the free market. Because the voicing itself can be heard as a protest—against silence, against assent, against coherence, against convention, against acceptance—wrought by the destructive quality in her virtuosity, the immediacy in her attacks, the subversiveness in her melodies. It’s a protest, however, that seeks commonalities and communal modes of operation, as in line with Brandon Seabrook and Marc Ribot as Mick Barr and Annette Peacock, making her no more the future of jazz guitar than the future of whatever.

This is one way for a voice to function in capitalism. Because, aesthetically, music can serve to dissolve identity, to erode borders, to wriggle free from ideological baggage in order to tap into shared experiences or feelings that don’t need language for meaning. Because, aesthetically, music can be about an ambiguous, completely irrational expansion, without having to be determined through the narrowed lens of dogma or rhetoric or a reified future.

Halvorson’s voice is not her own voice. It’s a voice that we’ve been hearing throughout history. It’s a voice that she found already entrenched in its own peculiar contexts, willfully obscured and faintly heard in the gutters. It’s a voice chirping away anachronistically on the soggy frontiers, lost and found, yet perpetually made anew. It’s actually our voice, and it continues to say something important.

“Don’t we need goggles?” Gender Tender responds to Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort’s Germinal

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Germinal […]

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Photo: Alain Rico

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Photo: Alain Rico

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

WILL: Does starting from scratch mean you don’t know anything? Well, they knew who they were…

SYNIVA: …they knew each other’s proper names. They were going by their real names.

W: They knew what a guitar was but they didn’t know what a computer was. No one mentioned their sex or gender.

S: They did all appear to be white….that’s my assumption.

W: This was a really unusual play. It was interesting how the performers had control of the technological aspects.

S: Did they? I thought there was a sense of another somebody or some bodies behind the curtain, or under the floor, following cues about when to do certain things. This was in the program info a quote from the artists in an article by Kate Bredesen:

…we decided to start from scratch. And this itself became the starting point for what would become Germinal. This would be a piece that would build itself.

S: The performance makers identify primarily as visual artists and in conversations about the concepts behind art making we can’t escape discussing creation…making and presenting art means knowing we will always be influenced by and compared with the art, histories and ideas that came before, the art of the now and what is yet to come. I felt an installation artist’s approach at play in a traditional theater space. They were embracing the cheesy nature and limitations of common elements found in black box theaters and the materials afforded artists in these spaces as though they were visual art materials (text, voice, song, movement, technology, props, effects). The black box was approached as a new kind of white gallery cube. I felt the influence of the cataloguing, titling and research tactics of the museum at play in the content of this work as well.

W: I’ve never seen somebody chop a hole in the stage with a pick axe before.

S: That’s true, I haven’t seen that before. What did you think of it?

W: It seemed really dangerous to me…

S: For who?

W: I felt like it was a dangerous thing to do. What if a wood splinter flies off? I’m sure they thought about these things. It seemed dangerous for us all. I was like “Don’t we need goggles? Doesn’t everyone need goggles?” Ondine was like a danger Gallagher. I found it very satisfying to watch.

S: Why?

W: I guess because it was really happening. Something was being destroyed for real. It wasn’t acting like you’re making a hole in the floor it was just the act of making a hole.

S: Isn’t performing just doing, talking, walking, kissing… aren’t we really doing stuff?

W: Yeah!

S: So why was this different?

W: I guess I’ve seen shows where people are miming digging a hole and they just aren’t. I’ve never seen an actual demolition of a built stage before.

S: It was weird…so meta. A demolition of a carefully wrought installation that was a fake stage over a real stage. When it first started and it was all light and space investigations I thought this might just be an installation on a stage run the same way as it would be in a gallery, or in the natural environment, that it might not have a narrative trajectory. That feeling wore away and it became clear this was carefully scripted, more like a magic show with a musical ending. And wow, audience members were laughing so hard through a lot of this. It was awesome to be around people that were entertained and enjoying themselves. I felt a bit awkward because I wasn’t finding it funny.

W: I thought it was genial but I didn’t find it to be hilarious.

S: People around me were REALLY laughing hard. I felt like Grumpy Cat.

W: So did they build a world? From scratch?

S:  I don’t know. They made a play. My point of view as a queer black artist influences my take on this hardcore. Aren’t people always making their own worlds? Directly or indirectly, abstractly or literally, in fantasy or reality. When people exist outside the normative, the safe, the accepted, we have to create worlds for ourselves to move and make in, we have to fight for space for our histories to exist in.

W: Always. I read in the program the title comes from the title of a French book about people on strike wanting a better world by Emile Zola. Something about the desire to make a better world where none exists….

S: The tone of this in the show made me uneasy. It seemed like colonialist ideas about discovery were at play but it didn’t read as tongue in cheek for me…what’s underneath….yikes, such a heavy metaphor with that floor: the literal floor that they bust through to discover what is there they can use onstage like drilling for oil on stolen land.  Human made resources underneath a built structure that has to be destroyed to access them. I kept thinking about burial grounds and decimated cities with new corporate developments being built on top of the survivors, their culture, their knowledge…

W: The underlying thing, the unspoken truth…the dark…

S: Yeah so, maybe it was a conceptual sign of our times. Knowing but not knowing…caring but not caring…

W: …funny but not funny.

S: We know there is always someone behind the curtain. Holograms exist…we know we are usually being deluded. We know people have made some terrifying stuff in the name of investigating what is technologically possible…we know people can make a black hole, a bomb that leaves no survivors.

W: It’s a TED talk…

S: …with a fake hot tub center stage instead of a red dot.

W:(laughs)…in a fake swamp.

S: Right, a TED talk! Germinal was part PowerPoint lecture…categories, groupings, labels, diagrams. Even though it was absurd the performers were soon experts at everything they investigated or presented even when it made no sense. Maybe this is French and Belgian humor lost on me in translation.

W: Was it supposed to be funny? It was presented with a lightness that was surprising but I had a sense from the visual elements that I’d be experiencing a super abstract and serious performance.I thought the performers were excellent, it was really good…but I didn’t think it was laugh out loud funny.

S: I found it melancholy…and everybody around me was laughing their asses off.

Germinal continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 29) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 30) at 8 pm. Halory Goerger will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 30 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

Starting from Scratch: Germinal’s Recipe for the Universe

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once stated, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” French artists Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort seem to have taken this to heart in making Germinal, a show that completely reconstructs existence itself (on an 8x10m scale).  The show begins its three performance run at […]

Photo: Alain Rico

Photo: Alain Rico

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once stated, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” French artists Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort seem to have taken this to heart in making Germinal, a show that completely reconstructs existence itself (on an 8x10m scale).  The show begins its three performance run at the McGuire Theater this Thursday as the final piece of Out There 2016. The duo’s webpage for Germinal contains a section titled, “WHAT CAN BE MORE INFORMATIVE THAN AN EXCERPT OF OUR INTERNET RESEARCH HISTORY”, and the subsequent hyperlinks would provide a unique glimpse into the foundational elements of this performance, were they not half-defunct and primarily in French. With a little detective work, however, I was able to reconstruct the search results that helped bring this piece to fruition.

AIG337347

In any form of construction, tools are required, and the directors note their perusal of French industrial equipment supplier Manutan in acquiring a “single pouch leather tool belt” (now unavailable) and “baseball diamond hardhat” (an updated iteration of which, pictured above, is now for sale). Research was also put into the acquisition of laminate flooring from French DIY and home improvement store Brico Dépôt. This was presumably used to build the two-ton stage setting in which Germinal’s world begins; Kate Bresedon’s preview piece notes that the performance “follows the discoveries of stage layers and objects, all of which are considered, then used or rejected in this construction of something from nothing.”

c3c_middleages

The performance also gives a nod to Civilization V, the latest installment of Sid Meier’s 1991 strategy computer game series. The game’s goal of guiding an ancient civilization into the future is strongly at the center of Germinal. Another link references the “Abre des technologies” (or “technology tree“), the visual representation of hierarchical resource upgrades present in games such as this. The abre des technologies originated, ironically, in a 1980 board game named Civilization, bearing no direct relation to Sid Meier’s. It’s no wonder that Civilization was one of Germinal‘s working titles.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of the range of material from which Goerger and Defoort drew is the list’s inclusion of both the French wiki page for solipsism and the professional services section of French Craigslist-counterpart Le Bon Coin. Building a society demands both abstract thought and practical skill, and Germinal has these in spades, using them to create a truly inventive performance. The final defunct link, to the lyrics of the Lou Reed ballad “Perfect Day” (on which David Bowie contributed keyboards), may be best left to christen the final product: a world in which joy can be found in the simplest experiences, provided one is willing to create them.

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday – Saturday, January 28-30, 2016 at 8pm. Join director Halory Goerger for a discussion about his past and present projects at Inside Out There, January 30 at 11am.

Press Play, Repeat: Gender Tender responds to Rabih Mroué’s Riding on a Cloud

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Riding […]

Yasser Mroué in Riding on a Cloud. Photo: Joe Namy

Yasser Mroué in Riding on a Cloud. Photo: Joe Namy

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Riding on a Cloud by Rabih Mroué. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

WILL: My brain is doing flips about this performance. Is this a play? Is all of it true? Is all of it fiction? When I saw the stage set up with the table and chair off to the side, stacks of cassette tapes and DVDs and electronic devices on it and the big white movie screen set up I thought it was going to feel really choppy. When Yasser came out and began to play the films and tapes, to sing, to watch himself on screen, it became immersive. I loved the way these presented excerpts became a singular experience. The convergence of all these possibly un-mixable techniques became one thing. Was this style an attempt to create a performance about what it felt like for Yasser when he woke up in the hospital after he was shot, after he was in a coma?

SYNIVA: Was his brother Rabih there in the hospital?

Yasser (from the program notes and projected introductory performance text): This is my real story yet these are not my thoughts. These thoughts are mine, yet this is not my real story.

WILL & SYNIVA: Is the director intentionally using this mix of devices used to remember things (stories, songs, photographs, recordings) to create an atmosphere of remembering? We keep thinking about the things we are told Yasser did to come to grips with what pretending means.

WILL: Oh, like when he was talking about going to see plays and saying if somebody died on stage he would shake and cry and be sure that they really died and then be really confused when that dead person came out for their bow at the end of the play. I wondered if that was a true story.

SYNIVA: Wasn’t this written and directed by his brother Rabih? Did any of these stories even happen? Yasser also talks about hanging out with Lenin and Tchaikovsky and that’s impossible. He also mentioned letting his brother the director pick out some videos from many he’d made during his recovery. He talked about using a camera to document things to help himself understand the difference between knowing what a thing is in real life (for example, he had no problem with knowing what a knife was when the knife was there with him but when he saw an image of a knife in a photograph he wouldn’t know what it was).

WILL: Am I going to cry?

SYNIVA: You’re discussing this performance like it’s a documentary. I don’t think it was, I definitely think Yasser and his brother are sharing art inspired by life with us but I doubt this is anything but poetic. I can’t tell if the details are real or imagined…like losing his virginity to a nurse in the hospital while he was recovering. The films throughout were beautiful, surreal…weird. I couldn’t tell if these were really from the supposed collection of videos Yasser made while relearning representation or if these were films his brother made for this performance. There was the film that showed images of a location we are told is the actual building where the sniper that shot Yasser was hiding. A film of Yasser putting his injured hand on a torturous looking wooden board from an impossible angle. Watery images of people walking down city streets, wavering, blurring, images of static, images of television test patterns. These were not pieces of story they were pieces of art.

Rabih Mroué: (from an interview on the Walker website): For me, how I understand art, art cannot heal any person or people or group. On the contrary, art is like a tool to make things more complex. It’s trying to understand, but at the same time by seeking understanding you bring up more things. It’s exactly like when you ask a question and then you try to answer this question.

WILL: I keep thinking about Yasser saying he couldn’t tell what was real or not after the brain injury.

SYNIVA: Could he tell what was real or not before the injury?

WILL: Was he saying his brain re-learned what is real? Or did he just learn to tell himself…”ok, let’s say that’s real”?

SYNIVA: Like an actor does. They are aware of doing it. They are aware they are part of the created story. They are aware they are fictional.

WILL: Does he look around at everyone and read their faces like a script and wonder…is everyone else freaking out? No? Ok, I guess what I’m seeing isn’t a thing to freak out about.

Rabih Mroué (from the interview, again): Actually it [art], has no aim. It’s just the pleasure of thinking, of being a human being. It’s thinking and being a human being. It’s the celebration of the human.

WILL: I was in a weird in between sort of magical place with Riding on a Cloud. It was a movie and it was a play, Yasser was playing himself but Rabih directed it, Yasser was acting like himself but he was also really himself. Fiction and reality. This is a fake real story…or a real fake story. This was present in the structure. There were so many…

SYNIVA:…fragments. How can we, the spectators, construct anything except poetry from bits and pieces?

WILL: It reminded me of the structure of memories. Slivers that you can piece together. Fragments that everybody watching might piece together differently.

Milan Kundera (via poem hunter on the internet): ‘I think, therefore I am’ is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches.

SYNIVA: Wisps, shreds. I loved this performance.

WILL: Sometimes things would overlap that didn’t have anything to do with each. Other. Things. Non-sequential.

SYNIVA: Yasser’s physicality was controlled, methodical. He’d take a tape out, put it in the player, speak, record his voice, play it back, put a DVD in, press play. Talk. Sing. Eject, get the next one ready, press play, eject, press play.

WILL: The way the brain jumps from thing to thing, like, oh! That song makes me think of this.

SYNIVA: That Kundera poem makes me think of that.

Hamlet and Yasser Mroué and Shakespeare: The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;/To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

SYNIVA: History is like this, too. We think we remember but we are really retelling stories we’ve heard, describing images we’ve seen but not experienced. We end up putting the pieces together. We rely on the memories of others. We rely on the face looking back at us in the mirror to know we are getting older. But we can’t see ourselves getting older.

WILL: This performance was like being inside the images inside of someone’s thoughts. Like being able to watch somebody think. I keep thinking about watching Yasser watch himself projected on screen…did he cease to be a performer at that point?

SYNIVA: Could he even recognize his own face?

***

Riding on a Cloud continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 22) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 23) at 8 pm. Rabih Mroué will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 23 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

Watching Them Listen: Gender Tender Responds to Daniel Fish

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoingRe:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Daniel […]

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoingRe:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Daniel Fish. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

The stage was filled with bright yellowish green tennis balls. As we entered the theater the multitude of orbs were ordered in a grid-like manner across the entire stage; tennis balls created a weird modular snow drift upstage. A loud machine to the far left served even more tennis balls that continuously ricocheted off of a poster taped haphazardly against the exposed back wall of the theater. This was the first image of a person present. Not an image of Wallace himself but of a white blond tennis player I didn’t recognize caught in the midst of returning a ball, hair flying out behind them, racket in hand ready to go. As the performers entered the machine was turned off and we lost it’s rhythmic puffing. They entered casually as though arriving for a weekly tennis lesson. Two people were mixing the audio recordings of Wallace’s voice right there out in the open as well. They faced center and were seated on black meditation cushions at a small sound board table to the far right.

The ghost of the author’s voice was present. In the beginning we could hear a bit of what I assumed to be Wallace’s voice (noticeable but not understandable) coming out of the ear pieces from the mound of headphones lying on the floor center stage. As the performers put them on his voice left the space and we were suddenly in the loud silence of watching them listen. They began to give this simple act of listening a presence and then a voice. They began to speak aloud interpretations of the words of a literary artist I’ve just discovered decided to commit suicide after a lifetime of struggling with depression. A meandering anxiety ensued in layered voices and singular voices, voices dropping in and out, voices occasionally repeating text over and over again, sometimes in unison, sometimes monologuing excerpts from his writing with the feeling of a deadpan Shakespearean aside in a casually choreographed, possibly improvised, muffled and ridiculous shifting field of felted rubber balls. Simple lighting changes cued reconfigurations of people, action and text. At a halfway point in the action the performers took a generous amount of time rounding up the pool of balls that had been taking up most of the stage using their shoveling arms, throwing hands, an actual broom and a lot of picking up and sending them all to the back wall. The result was the creation of an even more menacing drift of accumulated mass produced fluorescence. This simple, wave-like action transformed the space gently, anxiously and without fanfare, without voice.

We rushed home buzzing after Thursday night’s performance of Daniel Fish’s A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace. Inspired by what we saw Will and I traded a few questions we came up with in reaction to the work. This is our exercise in giving each other a bit of our voice, our style…a bit of textual material for another body to interpret. Instead of redelivering the text as the performers did we will respond to the other person’s questions. We will then chose one word (THE WORD IN ALL CAPS) from our response and share only that word with the original question writer who will then write a poetic and non-traditionally formatted footnote in response to the singular word. Extensive and tangential footnotes were a trademark of Wallace’s. We admit we’ve never read any of his books.

-Syniva

WILL: Where was the physicality of the performers movement coming from?

SYNIVA: Sometimes I felt like the movements were devices they’d come up with to remember the structure of certain pieces they’d heard many times before. Similar to the way a spoken word artist uses their arm movements and vocal pauses to create rhythmic interest for the listener and to memorize poetry. I also thought the movements could be the unthinking result of only focusing on speaking the text rapidly and fidgeting with the considerable pressure to get it right and make it clear.

W: FIDGETING: Can also be referred to as shuffling, twitching or jiggling. May lead to such physical activities as “bouncy knee”, “slide foot”, “air grabs” and excessive blinking.

S: How can something be expanded and condensed at the same time?

W: Signals are required. The pressure must be increased. Flattening occurs. Stuff spreads out. It’s bigger on the inside.

S: STUFF: See The Story of Stuff, a documentary film I’ve been told is great but have never taken the time to view. You might want to. Consider sitting in the middle of your living room and taking a mental survey of all of your stuff. Start with with the things you can’t see, like the stuff under your bed or the contents of the junk drawer in your kitchen. Begin to italicize in your mind the stuff you’d be sad to lose in a fire. Also consider things and junk.

W: Is that Steffi Graf?

S: No I think it’s Tracy Austin, the tennis player from a Wallace text we heard delivered in the performance. I take it from all the tennis talk and from the set design David Foster Wallace was a big tennis fan. I’ve never heard of her (Austin) but I loved the quip that Wallace thought tennis was more abstract than boxing…that it was combat at a huge, geometrically pleasing distance.

W: ABSTRACT: A bunch of different colored cubes. Or it could be a bird. Or feelings.

W: Will someone get hit with a tennis ball?

S: Yes and no.The possibility of tripping and falling hung over the action as the performers rushed across stage, sat on tennis balls, and generally seemed to be dealing with the objects under their feet and their unknowable rolly-ness. At one point a performer did about a thousand jumping jacks while delivering Wallace’s text about all the privileged people in a men’s restroom and lists of possible bathroom related bodily functions. I was afraid  they’d trip over the headphone connector box center stage and sprain their ankle.

W: JUMPING JACKS: There are over 47 varieties of Jumping Jack. Do you want all of the dates? The record for consecutive jumping jacks in a row is 27,000 (citation needed).

S: When does the story become the character?

W: The exact moment the eyes blur and look up. And in. I’m looking right at you but I’m also at the pool, in the bathroom or at the game. The stage ripples. An optical illusion made by a grid of soft round shapes.

S: BLUR: Blur is an English rock band, formed 1988, London. Blur is a band I thought I liked when I thought Jell-O shots were a good idea. The feeling of failing at focusing.

A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace by Daniel Fish continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Friday – Saturday, January 15-16, 2016 at 8pm.

The Walker will also present a free film screening of Daniel Fish’s Eternal on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm in the Walker Cinema.

Backstage Haiku

A recipe for four thousand happy puppies? Or Daniel Fish prep?   Crew chief Christian shoots a quick pic of four thousand tennis balls from the catwalk as the crew loads in for our upcoming performances of Daniel Fish in the McGuire Theater!  To answer your burning question:  justusedtennisballs.com

A recipe for

four thousand happy puppies?

Or Daniel Fish prep?

 

Crew chief Christian shoots a quick pic of four thousand tennis balls from the catwalk as the crew loads in for our upcoming performances of Daniel Fish in the McGuire Theater!  To answer your burning question:  justusedtennisballs.com

Answering that burning question:  what does four thousand tennis balls look like?

Tracey Austin would be proud…

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