Sunday 15 July 2018

bad theatre

It rained on St Swithin’s day, and it’s still raining dammit. It feels interminable, this slate sky, these misted windows. And this is summer ... All it needs is for the odd cloud-borne fish to plop onto the sodden grass outside and writhe there, silver-scaled and shiney-eyed. Or a plummeting toad to bounce off the car bonnet, kerplonk, then hop off drunkenly into the undergrowth. Or a hail-stone the size of a basketball to crash through the gooseberries. Oh God. I cradle a cup of tea in both hands and my glasses steam up.

In the newspaper there’s a photograph of a small orange plane dumping water on forest fires in the outskirts of Athens. Great grey plumes of smoke behind the Akropolis. Much of the stone structure itself is propped up by scaffolding. I check the weather in Athens: 32 degrees and sunny. It’s 41 and sunny in Basra.

She left after breakfast in her waterproofs, with rucksack and flask, and that smile. ‘I’m going to walk the tidal line’, she said. ‘To get away from bad theatre. If you can, go out for a walk to the river. I’ll be downstream. Send me a message’. Then off into the rain, waving through the car window, her hand the same speed as the windscreen wipers. For a moment it looked like the whole car was waving.

The TV says: ‘But shaving cuts hairs so they grow back prickley’.

Where would we go if the rain just kept on and on, way past the 40 days and 40 nights, and the river burst its banks and the flood waters rose ever higher? Seeping in through the porch, the doors, then the windows. Eventually a pool of cold brown soup lapping through the living room and the kitchen, bearing DVD cases, books, shoes, clothes, photographs, TV, plastic bags, wooden spatulas, herb containers, plant pots, a frisbee. What would we take with us?

A sudden gust outside, the trees spasm and an unripe apple drops on to the car roof with a muffled ding. In a flash the image of a staring toad lurches into my mind, then it’s gone. But something of its malevolent gaze and clammy green remains. This weather is creeping into my psyche, leaving its moist fingerprints on every surface.

Sometimes I grow weary of the stories my cortex hums to me.

My mobile beeps. A text message sent up river, against the current: “There is no drama out here where sea and sky are equal – that is a human thing: out here it just is. Love, Ponytrekker”

I sit indoors in my raincoat and try to imagine her out there at the estuary, taking the ferry across the river, setting out upstream. What does she see? Tussocks of marram grass on the dunes. Perhaps the veined purple of the stinking iris. Ragwort. Knapweed. If she’s really lucky, she’ll spot the bleached pink of the pyramidal orchid. And then on the mud flats, who knows, a curlew, oystercatchers, maybe a lapwing or a ringed plover. But this won’t be a day for butterflies, that’s for sure: little chance of witnessing the flashing dance of the marbled whites, the blues, the browns, the painted ladies. The painted ladies ... Black and white tips, orange, red flashes, tiny brown furry body. I google ‘painted lady’, and up she pops. ‘Vanessa cardui’, from the family ‘Nymphalidae’, the brush-footed butterflies. I read that: “when an adult emerges from the split chrysalis, it hangs upside down and pumps blood into its four wings, inflating them. Then it waits for its delicate wings to dry’. With its 2 and a half inch wingspan, it can fly within a few hours. It can mate within a week. Its antennae can see a much wider range of colours than humans. It has taste sensors on its legs. It only lives for about two weeks.

The TV says: ‘Bear in mind with birds that lay lots of eggs, some don’t work’.

Two weeks…

Then another text message, which exposes the inadequacy of my imaginings, and the inaccuracy of my projections of ‘here’ onto ‘there’. She writes: ‘Horseflies and butterflies everywhere. Humid hot sun – I shed my coat. Field of ruined potatoes against red poppies. The river thick and full, I descend towards tidal road with sweaty mane. Love, Packhorse’.

She is riding off bad theatre. And this spurs me on to go to the river. Despite the rain. Because of the rain. I want to connect, somehow. To respond. But with a … different technology. If water is an effective conductor of sound, I say to myself, perhaps I could speak into the river. Or whisper. Or even sing. Maybe… Imagine. Crouched down at the river’s edge, face lowered just above the water. Breathe in, face down, breathe out, release. Let the sounds bounce their way around the topography of the riverbed to the sea. To her. Yes.

The TV says: ‘Relieves all kinds of itching – FAST’.

On the way to the river, rehearsing what I might say, I pass a few muffled souls, heads down and leaning into the wind. A small bright-eyed boy in a push chair outside the newsagent’s sing-speaks one word over and over again through his rain-streaked plastic screen: ’Waindoggies … waindoggies …’ I stop by the underpass to wipe my glasses, and just catch the blur of a passing train on the bridge overhead. In its wake, the wind in the trees sounds like the sea.

As if on cue, another text message. She writes: ‘Had to scramble through undergrowth, scratched fetlocks but full of spirit. Passed sublime wheatfield, soft horizon, soft heads. Passed soft cows, soft horse noses in distance. Love, Horsewhisperer’.

I choose a spot under the horse chestnuts at the water’s edge, check that no one else is around, then drop down to my knees. The water is a peaty gold and alive with light. It already carries infinite swarms of tiny shimmering flecks …

(‘Bad theatre’, invited story for Barbara Campbell’s online writing / durational performance project 1001 Nights Cast, 17 July 2007: performed live 21.10 GMT, archived online as no. 757, -
© David Williams

capturing birds

Here's the inimitable Tom Waits on writing songs -

'You have to have kind of an innocent bravery trying to get started looking for songs … Sometimes you scratch and scratch and you can’t find any seeds and a moment later there isn’t enough pots & pans to catch it in. The beauty of that is that it could be a very ordinary thing that you get an idea from. Something falls, a pigeon flies in, or you hear a siren' (280-1).

'Every song needs to be anatomically correct: You need weather, you need the name of the town, something to eat – every song needs certain ingredients to be balanced (303). … I go looking in other people’s songs for their towns … I don’t know, everybody has things that they gravitate towards. Some people put toy cars or clouds or cat crap. Everybody puts something different, and it’s entirely up to you what belongs and what doesn’t. They’re interesting little vessels of emotional information, and you carry them in your pocket like a bagel ...' (365)

'Children make up the best songs anyway. Better than grown-ups. Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don’t care if they lose it; they’ll just make another one … Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them. Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers …. Some songs don’t want to be recorded. You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll scare them off more. Other songs come easy, like digging potatoes out of the ground. Others are sticky and weird, like gum found under an old table. Clumsy and uncooperative songs may only be useful to cut up as bait, and use ‘em to catch other songs … The best songs of all are those that enter you like dreams taken through a straw. At such moments, all you can be is grateful' (346-7).

'Recording for me is like photographing ghosts ...' (317).

Extracts from interviews with Tom Waits in Mac Montandon (ed.), Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits – The Collected Interviews, London: Orion Books, 2006. Tom Waits photo by Anton Corbijn

Thursday 12 July 2018

a new fire (unknown fields)

'The sun. The desert. The sky. The silence. The flat stones. The insects. The wind and the clouds. The moon. The stars. The west and east. The song, the colour, the smell of the earth. Blast area. Fire area. Body-burn area'

(Don DeLillo, End Zone)

Am just back from a wonderfully provocative and engaging day-long symposium at the Architectural Association in Bedford Square, London: 'Unknown Fields: from the Atomic to the Cosmic' - an open forum prelude to an adventurous 'nomadic design studio' field trip for architecture students and others, taking them from the Chernobyl exclusion zone and Pripyat to the Baikonur Cosmodrome and on to the Aral Sea. The fourth in a series of annual expeditions organised by Liam Young & Kate Davies (as Unknown Fields), this year's journey marks the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned space flight and the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Earlier Unknown Fields 'trajectories' involved field trips to the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Galapagos Islands (2008), the Arctic Circle (2009), and the West Australian outback (2010).

The symposium, shoe-horned uncomfortably and bum-numbingly into the Architectural Association's tiny library, brought together an intriguing group of presenters - artists, writers, film makers - to discuss the legacies of technologies' past optimisms, cultural manifestations of the possibilities and fears around nuclear power and space travel, and some of the emerging scenarios in our collective environmental and political future(s) and imaginings.

Leading off in the 'Atomic' section of the symposium, the Oxford-based environmental anthropologist Peter Wynn-Kirby described Japan's evolving cultural relations with nuclear power - the continuing paradox of fear and need - with reference to Godzilla movies and other stagings of post-war nuclear trauma, performative workings-through of what Susan Sontag called 'imagination of disaster' (in a 1965 essay in which she explains fantasy functionally as a process of 'inurement'). Wynn-Kirby touched on the horrifying story of the Japanese tuna trawler the Lucky Dragon no. 5, unwittingly caught in a blizzard of radioactive ash in March 1954 after the vast 'Bravo' thermonuclear test by the American military in the Pacific near Bikini atoll in early 1954, and the radioactive trail they took back to port in their contaminated catch, boat and blistered bodies. He also provided invaluable contexts for contemporary reworkings of anxiety in the wake of the Tohoku/Fukushima disaster via accounts of the fear induced by radiation's uncanny invisibility, default governmental and industry denials and cover-ups, the discourse of nuclear power as 'clean and green', the problems of waste disposal (Zonabend's 'filth everlasting', Hall's 'ultimate litter') in the light of most people's 'forward time horizon' of approximately 100 years, rather than the thousands of generations that constitute a nuclear half-life. After tracking the volume and trajectories of trans-national flows of nuclear waste, he offered a terrifying listing of disposal and dispersal strategies for such waste adopted or proposed thus far, including sea dumping/ejection into space, dumping on the Antarctic ice sheet, insertion into tectonic plates, embedding in 'inert silt' at the bottom of the Pacific, and long-term 'containment' in repositories such as Yucca Mountain in the USA.

The poet Mario Petrucci, author of the brilliant act of re-membering Chernobyl, Heavy Water, presented an intellectually energised paper entitled 'Chernobyl and the stories of knowledge', touching on e.g. denial as a synergy of four factors or 'pests' - the 'destructive meme', 'radical inertia' (deeply ingrained resistance to change, adapted and modified from Ivan Illich), the 'framed question' (with an agenda, assuming only certain possible 'answers'), and 'unaccounted positive feedback' (the nuclear industry as an accelerant on resource requirements); art as transformation with the potential to dent radical inertia, shed light on unaccounted positive feedback, create 'meme-proof' experiences (irreducible to single meanings, thriving on ambiguity) - art as something that might help us 'bear it' and 're-boot consciousness'.

As well as a critique of short-termism and free-market economics, Petrucci was exploring how artists might 'understand' Chernobyl in all of its actively destructive psychic gravity; he posited a model of knowledge as qualitative, engaging intellect, imagination and a responsibility to bear witness (to re-member, so that those who have been 'exposed to the invisible should never become so'). If both art and science contain 'alertness nutrients' and 'psychic nutrients', he suggested, we might approach them with the quality of attention Levertov demanded: 'poets must give us imagination of peace to oust imagination of disaster'. He quoted the Australian poet Les Murray: 'Only poetry recognises and maintains the centrality of absolutely everywhere'. Petrucci's final words were a request to us to expand skepticism to include skepticism towards our own doubts, and a loop back to a quote from David Bohm he had cited earlier: 'Studying the distractions is part of the process'.

Next up was the film maker Michael Madsen, whose recent documentary Into Eternity focuses on the Onkolo Nuclear Waste Repository in Finland. Madsen provided contexts for his remarkable film about Onkolo (which means 'hiding place'): as a self-monitoring construction design to contain some of Finland's nuclear waste, intended to last for up to 100,000 years, and thus 'possibly the first post-human structure' (a quotation from a critic's review of his film); the finite life-span of our own civilisation, and the impossibility of imagining that far into the future (and therefore of acting wholly responsibly). Madsen went on to offer a swift history of radiation since the 1880s, with 'knowledge' at every point assumed to be 'complete' before new unforeseen elements were discovered to destabilise the parameters of the known. Before showing the trailer to his film, with its bewildering account of this peculiar subterranean 'afterworld', he talked of nuclear waste as 'a new kind of fire', the first humans have encountered in our species' history that is inextinguishable (quoting the nuclear physicist Dr Hans Bethe?); and of the emergence of a 'nuclear priesthood', 'protectors' who 'know' and act on our behalf.

Will Wiles, author of Care for Wooden Floors and a forthcoming book Toxic Tourism, explored our culture's fascination with such places as Chernobyl, Pripyat, Baikonur and the Aral Sea, referencing Christopher Woodward's In Ruins and Brian Dillon's notion of 'ruin lust', from the Romantics' sublime apocalyptism to a post-industrial return to the monumentality of ruins in the work of, for example, Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark - Spiral Jetty as a 'dialectical ruin' projected into the future in deep geological time. Wiles alluded to Virilio's Bunker Archaeology (with its analysis of 'aberrant monuments' reflecting a loss of faith in modernism), the Mir Space Station ('ruins of the future', the discarded waste products of civilisations and ideologies), the work of Jane & Louise Wilson, and the wave of urban explorers and art photographers (e.g. Christopher Payne's abandoned asylums). Discarded systems and technologies, and a sense of loss at their passing, with an attendant appraisal of current systems: the rust belt, old mental health infrastructures, and the grander ruin of Soviet civilisation (with its grand project of 'taming nature' - and class), with Pripyat as 'the Vatican of ruins'. If (Soviet) modernism's sense of control - its huge-scale interventions 'to make the world a better place' - was now lost, then an outline of the post-human seems to inhabit the devastated ruins of control.

After a short and frankly borderline bonkers presentation by Oliver Goodhall ('Nuclear is good'), an anomalous pro-nuclear presence in this company who looked so far out of his depth that for much of his presentation I, and others, took it to be a not-very-good parody by a rabbit caught in the headlights (was this an adventurous, dialogic choice in terms of the event's curation, or a ludicrous misfire? hard to tell, although Oliver wasn't really up to the task of a genuinely provocative counter-discursive intervention in the context), it was on to the extraordinary Swiss scientific illustrator and activist artist Cornelia Hesse-Honneger, one of the core reasons (along with Petrucci, Madsen and Louise K. Wilson) for my presence at the symposium on this first day of my annual leave.

For many years, Hesse-Honneger has been making detailed taxonomic drawings and paintings of mutated insects, their deformities the result of exposure to mutogenic chemicals, in particular low-level radiation. As well as detailing the ways in which true bugs (her 'favorite' bio-indicators) and other insects have been 'disturbed' - deformed feelers, wings, eyes etc. - she mapped the evolution of her own work before and after Chernobyl, and in particular her systematic projects around nuclear power stations in Sweden, the Swiss Alps, France, the Ukraine, the UK etc. These ongoing studies focus on the gathering of quantitative data and the production of qualitative material in her exquisite paintings of insects and plants in those areas where the weather trajectories down-wind of nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants overlap.

In 1990, she spent just 10 minutes in Pripyat, in a silence without birds, with only the music from loudspeakers.

Hesse-Honneger was at pains to differentiate between the toxicity of low doses of 'artificial' (man-made) radiation and 'natural' radiation (e.g. in the granite-rich geologies of South-West England or the Alps), and to point out the degree to which the 300,000 + publications by independent scientists about the harmful effects of low-level radiation from Chernobyl have been systematically devalued and ignored by state- and industry-sanctioned scientists, and the funding of those researchers rendered 'difficult'. Ultimately she brought her presentation to a close with a series of wholly alarming images of facial deformities in Iraqi children, the victims of the obscenity of depleted uranium weaponry, and a forceful account of the degree of such contamination (and resultant deformities) in Afghanistan and areas of the former Yugoslavia, as well as in uranium mining communities in Africa, Australia and the USA. Nuclear waste, she suggested, was now dispersed and located within human beings, to calamitous effect.

The 'Cosmic' section of the symposium felt significantly curtailed, an after-thought in the shape and weight of the day; a number of advertised speakers weren't able to attend (artist Alicia Framis, designer Regina Pledszus, 'experience designer' Nelly Ben Hayoun), and the looser-than-loose managing and chairing of earlier sessions meant that the day was hours behind schedule, time was running out on the room, the energies of those attending were flagging, etc. The critical mass and gravity of the 'Atomic' presentations created a kind of imbalance overall, and we never really made it off the ground in this second part.

Nonetheless there were three engaging contributions, beginning with a short and quietly enthusiastic presentation by comic illustrator and animator Paul Duffield, reflecting on the impact of Carl Sagan's series Cosmos and continuing SETI research on his approach to visual storytelling, in particular in his visual poem Signal. Then on to Mark Pilkington, 'UFO folklorist', curator, editor of Strange Attractor, occasional contributor to the Fortean Times, and musician, who sprinted through some of the core ground of his stimulating and often hilarious road trip book Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs. From the development of covert military technologies during the Cold War, via Kenneth Arnold's sightings of UFOs in 1947, and an increasing number of flying saucer stories and films (including The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951), to a perceived intelligence and security problem, the classified RAND document of 1950 entitled 'The exploitation of superstitions for the purposes of psychological warfare', the CIA's increasing involvement, and the planting of stories in the media triggered by the RAND proposals (e.g. the April 1952 issue of Life magazine with its cover shot of Marilyn Monroe and the title 'There is a case for interplanetary saucers'). A heady and hugely entertaining cocktail of institutional paranoia and psy-ops disinformation strategies, 'black' military technologies research, conspiracy theories, ufologists and popular culture forms. One sensed he could have gone on for days.

Finally, the British artist Louise K. Wilson offered a brief introduction to aspects of her own work; sensitive to the fatigued overload of her audience, Louise cut her presentation short while still managing to cover a lot of ground and articulate a number of generative ideas. The notion of an artist's 'passport of admission' to sites, many of them contested or largely inaccessible; Kim Sawchuck's notion of 'bio-tourism', trajectories into internal spaces through e.g. MR scans and dream registers; Virilio's 'museum of accidents', and the body's own flaws and faultlines; Steve Goodman's 'sonic warfare' and 'the politics of frequency'; 'auralisation', as a sonic equivalent to visualisation; the stimulus provided by Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard's Four Rooms CD (2006), recorded in abandoned social spaces in and around Pripyat - a swimming pool, a church, a theatre auditorium, a gymnasium - using a version of Alvin Lucier's mirroring acoustic techniques to explore these spaces' psycho-acoustic qualities, the spectral traces of inaudible and invisible dangers.

Louise described her approach to locations via something akin to auscultation: an attentive and patient listening in to an architectural body, a documenting of the specific acoustic signatures of ruins, a gathering of reverberant 'impulse responses' often from derelict Cold War sites: a decommissioned Cumbrian missile site, Orford Ness and the National Trust's 'continued ruination' policy, Woomera and Nurrungar in South Australia, Aldermaston.

As we left, almost 3 hours after the scheduled ending of the symposium, Louise was setting up a contact microphone workshop for the Unknown Fields trajectory travelers, who were leaving the following morning; she played some recordings of limpets moving in hyper slo-mo on a rock, liquid and percussive sounds like the accelerated machinic groans and cracks of icebergs - them limpits are sure as hell busy. Cornelia Hesse-Honneger stood up to formally warn the travelers that Chernobyl still posed very real risks to health, and that they should take every precaution - air filter masks, clothes and shoes to be abandoned on emerging from the site, etc.: 'Don't touch anything'. Liam Young and Kate Davies smiled, said it's fine, every person will have full kit, a protective body suit, a face mask, gloves, we're on top of it, it's all fine. On my way out, in the doorway one of the students was asking Hesse-Honneger for some final advice: 'So do you think it's possible to take samples from the Chernobyl site? I'd very much like to'.

Text written in July 2011

Tuesday 10 July 2018

life forces

Over the past decade or so, in her solo and collaborative work in live performance and film, Jane Mason has explored ways in which the movements of bodies and objects can create ‘image worlds’ of great affective resonance and tenderness. These dynamic architectures of memory, loss, and longing combine dance, text, song and music in patterns of images that slowly align and unfold to suggest passage ways through felt times and spaces of a rhythmed intimacy and intensity. Usually triggered by some aspect of her own lived experience, these ‘worlds’ invite a quiet attention to detail, and an active slowing down into present process. Over the years, many of Jane’s images have lingered with me and etched themselves into my imagination – for in their exquisite precision and mystery, paradoxically they seem to invite and activate something of the life forces within our own memories and associational fields.

With its initial trigger in some boxes of photographic slides taken by her father some years ago, Life Forces develops this work of mining, uncovering, transposing and inviting, and opens up new landscapes of be/longing. Developed in close collaboration with a film maker, a writer-performer, a visual artist and a dramaturg, Life Forces offers a meditation on memory’s place in the face of uncertain futures, on place and home and their resilient fragilities, on the utopian impulse to ‘build’ together and to let (it) go, on the arcing electricity of connection and the drift of dispersal, and on transformation and change as the core ground of being, the ‘life force’ that links everything and everyone.

Short text written in the wake of various collaborations in recent years with the wonderful Jane Mason, and in response to her new performance piece Life Forces, prior to a showing of work-in-progress at Siobhan Davies Studios, London, in early July. With Jane Mason (choreographer/performer/writer), Phil Smith (performer/writer), Magali Charrier (film maker/animator), Sophia Clist (sculptor/designer), and David Williams (dramaturg). Tour from autumn 2014

Monday 2 July 2018

games to chase away fear

Some of the questions, invitational triggers, and 'games' devised by Pina Bausch for her performers to explore while devising the performance Valse (1982):

- Set a trap for someone
- Think of a simple phrase, say it without words
- Tell a story using sounds
- A photo album: poses
- Defend yourself
- How to kill an animal
- What can you do with one hand?
- Razor blade
- Invent a new peace sign
- Games to chase away fear

- How do you open a boiled egg?
- What do you think others want to change in you?
- Something for which you could use a drum roll
- Pairs in love walk in the street touching each other: how?
- A song about a tree
- You have to pack very quickly, you only have a tiny case, you don't know how long you'll be away: what do you take?
- Mark injurable parts of the body on your partner: show why they are injurable
- Your reactions when someone makes plans for you
- An exercise to make yourself stronger
- White handkerchief
- Express delight in six notes
- Leg art
- Plan revenge
- Erect a monument to someone
- An animal kills another: how?
- Curiosity
- Five laws for marriage
- Which parts of your body do you prefer to move?
- What does an animal say when caught in a trap?
- Magical formulae
- Ways in which you amuse yourself on your own
- Back to the wall
- Different ways to warm yourself
- Babies' movements
- What do you do to babies?
- Play a game with your own body?
- Animals' games
- Distress signals
- Pas-de-deux with two fingers
- Degradation
- A goodbye pose
- A sign for good luck
- A dance phrase addressed to your bed
- Up to me
- Do something for when you want to be loved
- What are you best at?
- Softening
- The plan's no longer working
- Mini-twist
- The language of curtains
- Photos for eternity
- Look who's there!
- A game to do with time
- Make something go away
- Parental advice
- What do you have of your parents?
- Summer
- An important thought in a rainstorm
- The way in which you hold on to someone when you're afraid
- What do you only do alone?
- A love poem
- Here's a bear, and you have to make it laugh
- Small, smaller, smallest
- Where is it?
- Carress
- They used to embrace like this ...
- Games with a piece of string
- Do something with your nostalgia
- Throw yourself into someone's arms
- Ports and ships
- A mini-show for oneself
- A bagatelle for an audience up there
- Fear of messing something up
- Look at an object with malice
- Excuse me
- Make a movement of expiration
- Shame
- A little movement you make when you have goose-flesh
- Hiss
- What you need to survive
- Waiting for news
- Pity yourself
- I hope we'll see each other again
- Wanting to escape
- Good news
- Have a good journey
- Go on, just a little burp
- Reflect on something to do with wind
- Be modest
- A hymn
- A baby massage
- The language of curtains

Translated by David Williams: from Raimund Hoghe, Pina Bausch: histoires de théâtre dansé, Paris: L'Arche, 1987

Photo: Detlef Erler

the tears of things (for pina)

'I'm not interested in how people move, but in what moves them ... We are very transparent. The way somebody walks or the way people carry their necks tells you something about the way they live or about the things that have happened to them. Somehow everything is visible - even when we cling to certain things ... Everything I do is about relationships, childhood, fear of death, and how much we all want to be loved' (Pina Bausch).

In no particular order, some images, culled from a reservoir that has coloured and buoyed my imagination for 20 years or more. These (and others) are indelibly etched into my psyche, and they proliferate and animate still: in my 20s and 30s, this work changed everything for me...

A group of women scurry across a leaf-strewn floor in pursuit of a man who plays the same short extract from Bartok's Bluebeard on tape. Rewind, replay, shuffle. Later, a slow somnambulist dance of partners, the women bowed and passive, their faces hidden, the almost-naked men masquerading their bodies - performing body-building poses to the audience, displaying them to both comic and alarming excess (1).

A woman in her underpants walks through a field of carnations playing an accordion. Around the edge of the field, guards patrol with alsatians on leashes. Later, Lutz Forster 'signs' the Gershwin song The man I love. Comedy and pathos in this overlaying of nostalgic heterosexual song and signing. The overlay doubles and re-doubles the song's lyrics, making them un-familiar and re-writing them. The male body mimes and 'tells' - through an iconic corporeal discourse of a possible love to which a dominant ideology is metaphorically 'deaf'. Forster himself is both source and site of the narrative, and detached from it, consciously showing/dis-playing it to us (2).

A group of besuited men repeatedly touch a solitary woman (Meryl Tankard) like a child - pinch her cheek, tousle her hair, pat her. Cumulatively over time, their actions constitute a kind of rape; intimate, patronising 'affection' is defamiliarised through repetition to reveal the shadows this infantilising tactile economy suppresses (3).

Two dinner-suited men, smug, self-congratulatory, mask-like smiles, posturing an image of suave gentility, wealth, sophistication. Then they squirt or dribble little fountains of champagne from their mouths - straight up, splashing down over their faces and suits, 'wetting themselves', like children. A kind of critical comic display of the infantile drives that underlie and inform their masquerade (4).

An environment of towering, bristling cacti, peopled by a discontinuous dream-like array of figures. Couples waltz. Passers-by pass by. A woman in bra and pants hangs immobile and upside down, her body apparently suspended from a cactus's spikes. A man force-feeds a woman, like a goose, coercing and constructing her; she lies inert. A man in a balaclava wheels another woman around the space in a glass tank of water; it's uncertain whether she has drowned or is dreaming, her body literally floating through space. A man in a skirt, shades and a leather jacket dances alone. A woman with two black shoes in her mouth struggles repeatedly to lift herself from the floor. A blindfolded man dances alone, a tea bag held over each eye by a red cloth, his partner a tea towel. Then there's a dancing pantomime walrus, and a group standing as if ready for a rather odd family portrait: a masked woman (one of those 2-dimensional Victorian paper cut-outs sometimes used for parties); two others beside her, their hats suspended above their heads, as they wriggle to fit inside them; and a slumped woman on a chair in front, her hair covering her face (5).

A man struggles across a field with an enormous wardrobe balanced precariously on his back. A drunken woman with a bottle in her hand shouts and lurches at the centre of a flock of sheep; the sheep respond to her every move, instantly and collectively, her impulses rippling out through this animal corps de ballet. A man, gravity-bound, chases a flock of starlings as they swoop and soar. Dominique Mercy in a ball gown, pinned to the wall of a room by a model helicopter hovering in front of him, buzzing him, its whirring blades pushing an updraft under his skirt (6).

A woman with impossibly long limbs and hair, a spectral somnambulist presence in a white night slip, dances through a maze of tables and chairs in a deserted cafe. A man clears her passage, his attention to his task all-consuming and selfless (7).

The everyday defamiliarised. The image as aggregation: the conjunction of bodies, objects, rhythms, music, space as psychic landscape. Even smell (the peaty earth in Rights of Spring). Bachelard's 'material imagination'. Brecht's gestus ablaze, signalling through the flames (8). Accumulation and repetition (what repetition?) Masquerade. The voyeuristic economy of spectating: the 'dis-play' of performing. Montage. E-motion: the continuous leak of affect. Excess. A corrosive theatricality. Irreducible ambiguity. Layers of fragmented narrative. Reversals. Ec-static exposures, uninsulated. Identities on the move. Possible worlds. The heart-land laid bare, in its resilience and fragility.

Love's work, its grain, its shapes.
The tears of things.


(1) Bluebeard.
(2) Nelken.
(3) Kontakthof.
(4) Two Cigarettes in the Dark.
(5) Ahnen.
(6) Die Klage der Kaiserin ('The Lament of the Empress').
(7) Cafe Muller.
(8) 'Gestus is at once gesture and gist, attitude and point: one aspect of the relation between two people, studied singly, cut to essentials and physically or verbally expressed. It excludes the psychological, the sub-conscious, the metaphysical unless they can be conveyed in concrete terms' (Brecht).

Images: Pina Bausch (photo by Donata Wenders, 2004); Nelken at Sadler's Wells, 2005 (photo by Tristram Kenton); Ten Chi, 2004.

To watch Lutz Forster's The man I love (from Chantal Akerman's 1982 film One day Pina asked me...), see here

For a listing of other Pina Bausch materials on YouTube, see here

Obituaries for Pina Bausch: Guardian, Independent, Times, New York Times