Philipp Gehmacher is practising.
I observe my observation of him – stony, bearded, boy-man-very-good-dancer – and realise it’s absurd, I’m absurd.
As the piece unfolds- no, it doesn’t really unfold, it more just goes on- I slowly realise ‘Oh, this is Philipp Gehmacher’, both in the way that it dawns on me that I’d seen someone on YouTube a while back, and now here they are, holding their shaking fingers in front of my nose; and in a more existential way. Oh, this is Philipp Gehmacher. He’s shaking slightly.
We are steadily being given a kind of danced/talked map of his work over the years. ‘I’m like a medium. I’ve never said that before but there you go’. There’s something both thrilling and peaceful about these sudden escapes from the plan, if he really has one. It’s like the reverse of a plan, really, this dance; it’s like history dragged forward or something; this is what I was and I’ll be it again for you now. And yet he has the amazing ability to kind of wait for it- to not push it. I don’t feel lectured to.
He keeps his cool as he trips a little over the word ‘spacialisation’ and I also somehow want to be him, standing up there, doing his thing and talking his thing, going off into seemingly obscure worlds and then immediately afterwards letting us in. I have to admit, I was expecting the doing-talking to merge more or for there to be more probing of that bit in between saying something and doing something. But perhaps that’s not his concern. He seems to catch a couple of these moments by chance- maybe they really are that hard to come by- and breaks into a wild grin.
Philipp Gehmacher has a curious performance presence, one of a genius forensic scientist found in many a US crime squad drama; uncannily intelligent, roguish and overlooked until the last minute when their perception sees all the pieces fall into place. As Gehmacher enters the stage I am drawn to his calm sense of figuring things out and of being confidently perplexed by the performance event that lies before him. As his body traces itself and its kinesphere, I think of his skin encountering the space and narrow-in on how his feet spread on the floor. Later on, as his body rides the wave of delightful, falling twists and weighted knee folds that pack, unpack and repack his body, I see a performer richly investing in his perceptions and experiences.
Through moments of direct address, Gehmacher tells us that walk + talk is a “lecture and a demonstration”, a “talking and a doing”. I wonder what he will do to prevent a performance that is too lecture-y or too demonstration-y. He avoids a too-much-of-both scenario by musing with verbal and bodily languages in a performance that raises questions about my spectatorship, prompting me to engage with my own subjectivity.
He mentions being rendered an object and my first impulse is a silent scream of “NO!” because the intricacy of his movement and spoken text forbids that reduction. However, as if to provide me with personal insight, he states soon after that he feels penetrated with a gaze and this is exactly the set of performer-spectator relations I do not wish to partake in. However, in my (by now desperate) search to keep seeing Gehmacher as a subject, even though he professes to be rendered otherwise, I realise that I am guilty of piercing him with my gaze.
At times, the relationship between text and movement does become too demonstrative with Gehmacher’s gestures lying too close to verbal signifiers for my liking, but I can forgive him these because when talking about something as complex as an arm extending outwards being a link between him (being) and the world, there are bound to be mishaps and oversimplifications.
The act of building an understanding of his body’s (by which I mean self’s) encounters with the world and of subject-to-subject relations, will rightly be, in his own words, “slightly other, never quite”. This makes me question, but not need full answers to, the logic of his associations (ranging from phenomenology to Adele). I delight in the moments when his gestures and/or verbalisations become announcements but the textures or intonations that follow are unchanged from what came before.
Most tellingly, Gehmacher creates an environment in which the audience is so quiet that I am afraid to write notes lest my pen scratch too loudly on my pad. Ultimately, the edges of his choreography remain elusive but then again, so does the body.