Archive for the ‘contact’ Tag

Release and Redemption in DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

Bell Chimes duet – 31:35 – 35:50
For better quality go to the eVideo at:
http://osu.worldcat.org/oclc/781679192


In the “Bell Chimes” duet from DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Lloyd Newson (choreographer and performer) and Russell Maliphant (performer) dance unusual partnering that somehow contains both tender intimacy and violent aggression. The duet is situated within the narrative context of the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who would lure men back to his apartment to strangle, kill, and then hang out with them.

The duet begins with Maliphant, standing in nothing but underwear and boots, facing a mirror in a dark room as sounds of bell chimes play the semblance of a hopeful dirge. Newson-as-Nilsen approaches from behind Maliphant, wearing a similar expression (and hair cut) but covered in far more clothing than the latter. Their gazes align with unmeeting eyes as Newson manipulates Maliphant’s ready but yielding, almost-lifeless body. Newson burrows his head underneath Maliphant’s arm and walks forward, causing Maliphant’s hand to trace along his shoulder. This theme of forced yet tender physical intimacy continues throughout the dance, always with Newson initiating and Maliphant yielding.  In one moment, Newson drapes Maliphant’s hand on his shoulder and leans away, causing Maliphant’s hand to fall gently down the slope of Newson’s torso, the perverse simulation of a lover’s caress. The chiming bells of the musical score follow the slow rise and fall of a beautifully discordant melody as the interactions between the two men pulse from sudden forceful acts that fade into tender, sustained resolutions.

The partnering in this duet exemplifies how released, draping weight can be used to lift a partner. Maliphant never demonstrates muscular exertion, though he does subtly redirect Newson’s force to cause himself to fall in certain ways or directions. Most of the help that Newson gets to shift and position Maliphant around the space is the weight of Maliphant’s mostly limp body. He allows Maliphant to drape across his back or fall into his arms, shifting the limbs as they trace heavily along the floor. This release of tension towards the surfaces of contact affords the partners unusual resolutions to contact initiations that they use to retell and reimagine between their bodies the sad disturbing story of Dennis Nilsen and his victims.

In his Dance Research Journal article on Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Gavin Wittje proposes that this duet and most of the physical relationships in Dead Dreams represent not only the story of Dennis Nilsen, but also of the “toxic shame” homosexual men historically feel about their sexual identities (63). Wittje also argues that Newson, by identifying with Nilsen’s and admitting to his own brokenness, elicited a kind of pitiful empathy, seeking to transform shame into redemption through connection (via the performance), and that the audience “… in our visceral reception of and compassionate response to [the performer’s] gestural expressions of pain and yearning come to know both their faces and Nilsen’s” (65).

The grief and dissatisfaction in Newson’s performance extends beyond his expressions and into the choreography. We watch Newson fail over and over as he tries to connect with an unaffected Maliphant. Each beautiful bit of partnering sullied by the unreciprocal nature of their union. The unimaginable dance of a serial killer and his recent victim stands in as a metaphor for any unrequited affection that might pervert, by totalizing, our imagined understanding of another person. But Wittje sees this as more than glorification or pure self-loathing.

Somehow just admitting to our brokenness within the context of sexuality can be nourishing, for the cycle of apology initiated by a dropping of our guard and an affirmation of vulnerability immerses us and our partners in a larger circuit of desire. We dissolve in an asubjective flow, as Deleuze or Guattari would say. Instead of seeking to stand outside the flow and draw from it, we feed into it and feed our partners, and come to feel no longer excluded, but included ­—by the very fact of our suffering and dissolution—in something much larger, something that heals. (Wittje 76-77)

 


Works Cited:

Hinton, David, Lloyd Newson, and Sally Herbert. Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. London: ArtHaus Musik, 1990. Internet resource.

Wittje, Gavin. “Ethics in a Time of Aids: Dv8 Physical Theatre’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men.” Dance Research Journal. 47.2 (2015): 63-78. Print.

 

Antiwords at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Antiwords by Spitfire Company, performed at Summerhall Old Lab as a part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 26, 2015

Two women saunter on to the all black stage, which was initially populated by a lone table, two chairs, and a couple of buckets on the floor. Each performer carries their own large, bronze colored sphere underneath their arms and hold a net containing a glass mug and a beer in their opposite hand. They stand at the front of the stage, looking into the audience, making eye contact and occasionally smiling. The contour of their bodies hide beneath loose fitting white under shirts, suspenders, and wide black slacks. In unison and still holding the oversized brass spheres under their arms, they set their nets down, and each pull from it a beer bottle and secure the bottle between their legs up near their groin, the bottle’s neck pointing out and slightly up. They pull out a long rope necklace from under their shirt with a bottle opener dangling from its end. With one hand, they pop the bottle open and, the bottle still clenched between their thighs, lift the glass mug from off of the floor, situate it below the beer nozzle, and tilt their pelvises forward allowing golden liquid to flow and froth into the empty mug. Glasses full, they lift, salute, and empty the drink into their mouths in one long draw (one performer finishes before the other).

In Antiwords, the performers consume one frothy drink after another, switching character roles as they switch seats, going back and forth between macho instigator and sheepish prude. They don identical, oversized bronze colored bald heads that sink down to their shoulders, obscuring their own heads and necks. With identical costuming, similar builds, and covered faces, the performers rely on their physicality to present character and difference. With each switch of seats, the performers wholly embody the new character. If it wasn’t for the fact that they would lift their mask to drink the next beer, I would have forgotten which performer was which.

For the most part, the audience plays a traditional, passive role in the play but there was one moment during the show when the prude character silently begs someone in the audience to finish their beer for them while the instigator character is off stage. Someone in the front row took the beer and gulped it down, and the audience applauded them. In that moment, the social system represented on stage was translated to the audience, but I think the kind of pressure and reward was different. For the audience member to drink for the performer, it was an act of mercy, not one of bravado. Both instances involve the pressure to participate in a social event or to satisfy an expectation, but the character in the play drinks to avoid confrontation where an audience member stepping in to drink is the willful participation in a confrontation.

By involving the audience, the play, which was already performing the reality of inebriation by using real alcoholic beverages, extends and reflects its own reality on to those subjects filling the theater’s house. The person in the front row who drank the beer tastes it, feels its effects on their body which suddenly shares not only a physical space with the action of the show but also a chemical one. By echoing the actions on stage into the audience, the audience is afforded a real version of the artificial actions being performed by the actors. They can compare their own cultural subjectivity to that of the show’s and their subjectivity within the performance event.

At the end of the show, both performers, ostensibly at least a little drunk, slump in their chairs, bronze heads removed, and rest waiting for the lights to fade. One performer pops open another beer and gestures to the other performer with it. Upon a chuckled decline of her offer, she proceeds to sip the bottle, perhaps in relief, as the show gradually and gently concludes.

http://www.spitfirecompany.cz/articles/detail/19

Reflections on Miguel Sicart’s The Ethics of Computer Games – 01

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

So, I’m reading Miguel Sicart’s The Ethics of Computer Games and loving every bit of it. Well, almost every bit of it. Most of the bits. Anyway, while reading the chapter “Players as Moral Beings” I was struck by this passage:

“Becoming a player is the act of creating balance between fidelity to the game situation and the fact that the player as subject is only a subset of a cultural and moral being who voluntarily plays, bringing to the game a presence of culture and values that also affect the experience.” (63)

I had to read that a couple of times. Even after I continued to navigate the rest of that chapter, the “subset of a cultural and moral being” kept echoing in my head and becoming a point of departure for other understandings and considerations.

Sicart uses Michel Foucault’s ideas about power to frame the experience of playing a computer game. The player doesn’t exist until they engage with the game on its terms, and the game’s potentiality becomes actualized only when the player engages with it. The agent and the object exist separately, but the object creates the “player” and the player actualizes the object into experience.

I’ve started to to form some ideas about how this system of understanding could relate to teaching (which I think of in gaming terms anyway). The students are my players, each of my classes is a game or maybe a level inside of a larger game. I communicate with my students in real time, but the system that I have designed communicates simultaneously. I have been incorporating ideas that I have learned from game design into my teaching (shifting modes of engagement to maintain a steady flow state, introducing and integrating implicit and explicit goals, etc) and now I am starting to see parallels in the ethics of gaming and pedagogy (willing submission to particular power dynamic, those relationships having potential to create and inform). The information feels obvious but understanding how to articulate the exchange gives my participation in it a greater sense of agency (real, imagined, or otherwise, I don’t know). I want my students to see how they are participating and for them to consider why and to what end they submit willingly. I wonder how games and contact can present and challenge the mechanics of power.

That’s all for now.