Review

Charlotte Spencer Projects: Walking Stories (Dance Umbrella 2015)

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Saturday 11.00am, Greenwich 2015

You told me to make a mental list of things I didn’t want to forget. That list mostly began with things I thoroughly disliked about my experience so far, then memories I couldn’t help but remember co-mingled with the angry list.

Walking Stories zoomed me in on the corners of leaves and autumnal detritus, and sadly assumed that I needed my hand holding all the time in order to get to a satisfactorily attuned level of Paying Attention to details near, far, horizontal, vertical. I have spent many years being facilitated in and facilitating others in somatic movement classes, yoga and improvisation where deep body-mind connection is considered a worthy pursuit. I know the power of rhetorical questions, of open questions, and of systematically starting gently then working further in to more personal levels of self-awareness. It’s great. It’s about itself. It is a solo pursuit before it bridges to others in parallel exploration, where we then can all reflect upon our individual differences and universal commonality. Ahhhh the glowing warmth of feeling connected to the universe and yet in one’s own essence. I get it, it’s useful and interesting. ‘Now’ is valued, the elusive fleeting ‘now’ made to feel as relevant as ‘then’ and ‘what next’.

In these frames the use of voice need not be overly pushy or stress-inducing, though it’s certainly important to modulate between un-rushed and stimulating. You’re shaping something, but in a process that unfolds in multiple ways rather than pushing towards a particular goal, other than the goal of staying as present as you can to that process. The group is there residually, and somehow make the stakes higher. You are with people who also might enjoy feeling the significance of what they are doing, reinforced by your parallel commitment to your own significance.

So far, so evident in Walking Stories. Yet the sound choices aim towards a particular emotional frequency that undermined the even-toned voice in my ears who, significantly, encouraged my intuition. Music as backdrop cannot be a backdrop in such processes. Music is manipulative, we know this. Apparently it wants me to feel epic strong things. After instructions to do stuff, each section of the sound-score is so busy and interfering it requires my active energy to ignore it. Probably unintended by the piece, an interesting dose of anger appeared. And anyway, the voice at the beginning told me that it was likely that I would make mistakes, so already my called-for intuition is set against an external ideal of the piece. I trusted the makers to have created a piece in which following the instructions would facilitate me in an interesting process, and was willing to give it a try. But that statement at the beginning didn’t tell me why I had to follow them, just that I should and that even if I did, I would be probably I’d mess up. I can imagine the conversation around that choice: that some people are anxious about getting it right, so why not pre-empt it by reassuring them that it’s fine if they make other choices, mis-hear, become distracted from obeying. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for as long as I could bare and kept following diligently along. How easy to just follow along. My mind now wanders to the inculcation of obedience and silence so prevalent in my early dance training.

 

Waystation Area10, Peckham 2008

In making this kind of audio work collaboratively across artistic disciplines years ago, we decided that should our audience-participants not follow precisely, it wasn’t the end of the world. We chose to rarely, if at all, assume that they might be anxious or confused and pre-empt it with too much additional verbiage. Telling people what they may or may not be feeling is alienating. We had participants listening through English as a second or third language, and when interviewing our audiences afterwards we discovered that comprehension was indeed frequently the cause of new courses of action, small chaos and confusion, but still the piece remained theirs. Art is for your audience as much, if not more, than it is for you. We hoped our experiments would work, but to assume already that people want to be perfect, and then to make the anxiety-assuaging instruction that ‘it’s okay you’ll make mistakes’ sets up an art experience as a test. I never want people to feel like that about art, that not ‘getting it’ or ‘doing it right’ casts the baleful glow of failure over audience-makers. And yes, an audience makes itself.

 

11.40am, Greenwich 2015

There are too many anomalies in Walking Stories. Tell me to listen to the environment and yet continue to pump out sound? I slid one earphone off my ear to actually hear the wind instead. You’re a temporary community – are we really? Not when the piece ends in such a solo manner. The transition to return the headset and mp3 player is treated functionally, rather than with the careful attempt to reiterate any of the desired values in the work once the recording finishes. That transaction of objects is still part of the work as far as I am concerned, and my interaction with anyone connected to it at any time contributes to my experience of the whole. Every single thing you do on stage counts – even if the stage has now expanded its topography, the divide between audiences and non-audiences are still there. The event is durational, pretty much an hour long, and though I gripe about how tame it feels, it is carefully designed knowing that we do not always switch mode of perception immediately. So why not make a coda to the experience that holds it together with a little more definition? End the phrase, if you really want to live up to the claim that the work comes alive when audiences do it. Rather than holding my hand too much for too long, the final shift to the non-headphone-based world would be the moment to re-hold it, shake it and say thanks.

If the emphasis was on community and being there for each other, then this way of ending not only contradicted the values set up at the beginning, but actively negated them. Am I to concur then, that actually I’m a fool to obey the instructions, if the repercussions are nonexistent? If I break the shape of the perfect circle, what does it matter? The piece built to a slightly more complex set of pace options and circular pathways, but I realise I had hoped for something more challenging choreographically and qualitatively, and – crucially – that I wasn’t going to be treated as a solipsistic entity.

I also wish to take issue with being documented in this process. I was striving for participation and immersion, so I’d bought my ticket in order to step into that realm, not to be observed doing it, other than by my fellow players, or by accidental audiences in the park itself. Having someone with a lens poised in my peripheral vision, or running to get the next best spot to shoot from, irritated me. These were not accidental audiences co-sharing the public space of the park. This is a different kind of audience and a different kind of agenda. When dealing with live subjects, the use of a camera, a machine of filtering experience and time, is no mere after thought. Let me be as present as possible? Not when I am the cat for Schrödinger.

(For Nick, Sarah and Joe, RIP FPT)

 

wish to continue

Charlotte Spencer Projects: Walking Stories
CREDITS:
Concept and direction: Charlotte Spencer
Music and sound design: Tristan Shorr, Tom Spencer
Text, dramaturgy: Charlotte Spencer, Jennifer-Lynn Crawford, Bruno Humberto
Narration: Tristan Shorr
Additional artists: Rohanna Eade, Anne-Gaelle Thiriot, Janine Harrington, Simon Pascoe, David McCormick, Alex Moran

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