1. Dominique Mercy, in Pina Bausch’s Nur Du (‘Only You’), viewed from the wings backstage at the Barbican in the summer of 2012, just prior to his entrance for his final solo, the final sequence in the performance
He spends three or four minutes in the wings offstage silently marking the solo-to-come in a very reduced, minimal fashion, while smoking throughout. He wears a brown suit, open jacket, white shirt, tan leather shoes. As he goes through the solo in distilled form, the movements barely bubble up to the surface; the focus is internal, on what is to be done. So, for example, what will be a wide arcing sweep of an arm is here just a soft unfolding of a wrist and hand. Then a slow flexing of his neck and shoulders, and one last check of his shoelaces, ensuring they are perfectly taut and neat. A pause, cigarette still in hand. Then, at the moment of his entrance into the performance space, he takes one final long drag of his cigarette, stubs it out in an ashtray on a table just offstage – then walks into the performance space blowing smoke directly in front of him. So that as he appears in the lights, he moves into and then trails a luminous grey-blue cloud around his face and shoulders. In this way his own exhalation creates a dynamic medium which is stirred by his movement through it. It parts and folds in wisps behind him. As if he were carried by it, floating.
2. Al Pacino, in David Mamet’s American Buffalo, London in the early 1980s
His entrance for his opening scene is through the door of the junk shop from the (fictional) ‘street’ beyond. The shop bell jingles and there he is, palpably in character: nervous, edgy, ‘difficult’. Immediate and unrestrained applause for the actor, who has now paused at the top of the stairs leading down into the space. He drops out of his character, his body changes shape and energy as he acknowledges the applause, a small bow and hand acknowledgements. As silence gradually returns, he then folds seamlessly, mysteriously back into character and begins to walk down the stairs to start the scene. But after two or three steps he trips and falls, slipping down a couple of stairs on to his ass. An audible intake of breath from the audience, a collective whince. This second fall out of character produces a slightly different body shape; another Pacino appears, momentarily ruffled, vulnerable, disarmed. He gets up quickly, then smiles self-consciously at some relieved laughter and scattered applause from the audience, sympathetic, willing him on. He dusts himself down, and carefully moves down the remaining stairs, settles again. Some fresh applause, supportive, expectant. As silence returns, he folds back into character, precisely and legibly the same architecture and fidgety energy as at the top of the stairs when he first appeared, and the scene is underway again …
3. Patti Smith, Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury Festival, June 2015
In an amorphous noise transition between ‘Gloria’ and a cover of the Who’s ‘My Generation’, with the Dalai Lama and his entourage watching wide-eyed and smiling from one side of the stage, she runs across the stage trailing her long white hair, a wild teetering edge-of-balance kind of run. She trips and falls heavily, spilling the mic - then surprisingly quickly gets back to her feet, retrieves the mic, spits copiously, and shouts as she lurches back towards the middle of the stage: ‘I just fell on my ass, but I don’t give a shit cos I’m a fuckin’ animal!’ Then it’s unstoppably into a ragged, clattery ‘People try to put us d-down …’, before she starts to rip out her guitar strings one by one, yanking them off with her bare hands, grimacing; they make little strangled electric wails and pops. It looks like it must really hurt.
Texts invited by Vlatka Horvat for her performance Third Hand, commissioned as part of the
Goat Island exhibition and archive ‘We have discovered the performance by
making it’, Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in Fine Art, Chicago (April 2019),
IN>TIME Performance Festival; and at the Chicago Cultural Center, June. Supported
by City of Chicago’s Year of Theater program. Photo of Dominique Mercy by Ari Rossner