Low Pieces stirs the waters.
Imagine the audience as a lake and the stage as a ship. Someone on the ship reaches a huge long wooden pole into the water and churns it around and around until the whole lake is loud and choppy. Somehow the ship stays still, calmly riding the storm. I feel like a tiny jumping wave.
God I love analogies.
Low Pieces begins with a conversation. The nine performers sit facing us at the front of the stage and Le Roy, sitting amongst them, proposes that we all, performers and audience, have a conversation. He tells us that there will be no microphones, so everyone needs to speak clearly and loudly. Ok, begin. My heart beat accelerates slightly… I can talk? Me? Now? A conversation about what? It’s an amazing moment. It feels fragile, important, desperate.
I’ve never been so occupied with an audience during a performance. I normally sit happily focused on the performers and am glad to forget about the people around me. Even after a performance I often intentionally avoid talking to fellow audience members too soon. I am protective of my experience. I want to keep it, and the memory of it, free of contamination. Only when it’s settled in me can I then happily listen to what someone else has to say about it. It’s still mine. Therefore, to listen and to take part in a conversation with other audience members whilst watching the piece and to be forced into an awareness of their very lively existence and points of view, sends blood charging around my body. And for this continuous live feed of other people’s thoughts (in other words this conversation) to be the performance itself… I’m a bit nervous.
A conversation emerges. It is a psychological mine field. I now wish I had a transcript of the whole thing to read over again. I struggle to grab everything. I try to keep it, to remember it, to own it, to make it mine. I am trying to label it as something precious – as performance. To make sense of the ticket in my pocket. But really, the reason that I am so switched on is because I have permission to speak. Everyone in the room is equal. Although we are not all in the same situation (the stage still marks a difference between performer and audience) we all have equal permission to talk. Permission never comes without responsibility and to feel responsibility as an audience member is slightly overwhelming. To be aware of so many individuals is also overwhelming. To speak, without a microphone, in a room with hundreds of other people tensely listening is very unusual. I think of politics, I think of family dinners, I think of student protests, I think of how annoying people are, I think of how clever people are, I think of my personal desperation to talk which, when I was seventeen, gave me a stammer for a year and which now makes me heckle inappropriately. It’s all very fascinating and personal. And intense.
The audience largely consists of artists and performers, who are buzzing with their own intentions and agendas, and also writers, curators and academics (whose lives revolve around art and performance), who are also brimming over with readiness to be heard. Of course most contemporary performance is watched by this sort of audience, and people are always filled with their own agenda, but rarely is it all made so visible and audible. The audience is pulled out of its comfort by the proposal of a conversation, but when it emerges it is armed and ready. Once the water has been churned, it never settles. So the cue for the conversation to end arrives (a blackout), but the chatter keeps going. The talking becomes less united, less confident and without purpose (other than to prove that it is possible for it to continue), but it is definitely there. And once a crowd gathers momentum it takes riot police or nudity to stop it.
Le Roy offers us nudity. And boy, do we shut up. The rest of the piece is beautiful. Scenes of naked bodies. Minimal, mathematical movement to sound we can’t hear, clumps of bodies moving like sea anemone, stillness, screeching cries and an amazing scene in which the dancers adopt the behaviour of a pack of dozy lions. Each scene comes as a surprise but seems to make perfect sense. In between each there is a blackout. Sometimes amongst the audience there is a hypnotised silence, sometimes there is a coughing and a shuffling and a readjusting, but always there is this potential resurgence of activity. Phone lights get flashed, people mutter and try to reclaim their role in the performance. The conversation has shaped the piece.
At the end the offer comes again. Xavier (in darkness) proposes a continuation of the conversation. This time we are calmer. People do not jump to defend themselves, they don’t immediately challenge the offer and the audiences’ inferiority complex (which has surfaced throughout) is less apparent. After all, we have just seen the performers (our ‘superiors’) naked and behaving like animals.
The piece is still running around my head. It’s complex. Much of the conversation was conversing about conversing and talking about microphones and the lack of. But it was also about hierarchy. The whole piece was about hierarchy. What seems most fascinating is the fact that, although hierarchy seemed to be completely broken by the fact that the audience had so much opportunity to change the piece and to say what the hell they liked, simultaneously Le Roy was in complete control. He had power because he had constructed the whole thing (we were acting under his command), but he also had power because his choreography was powerful. It surprised us, captivated us, transported us and transformed us. We were hungry pups, he was milky mother bitch.
‘Low Pieces’ by Xavier Le Roy, 28th November 2010, Southbank Centre