January 01, 2009

Tim Etchells - 2008

Looking back, 2008 seems somehow completely tangled up with dance - weird to admit for a bloke like me whose starting position used to be pretty much "I don't like dance". In Vienna I saw Fumiyo Ikeda (with whom I'm working with at the moment) in Zeitung, the new piece of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and loved it - went back a second night just to try to get a fix on what it was exactly. Still don't know if I grasped it, a fact I'm really happy to report. I kind of lost touch with De Keersmaeker some years back at the point when the work seemed overly in thrall to the ethereal and the beautiful but this new work had a disjuncture, a sense of trouble and darkness to its fragmentation, formal restraints and twisted bodies that spoke much better to me. Music starting in the middle of movements, lighting that shifted drastically and apparently at random mid-sequence and a fragile slow burn dramaturgy really made their mark on me too. Later in the year I got to see an old work of Anne Teresa for the first time too, the incredible Phase, in which two dancers mirror each other in a brutally beautiful restrictive and delicate choreography that creates a third shadow body hovering, gliding and spinning between them - sustained trick of light and bodies danced under the tight rules of Steve Reich's Piano Phase. Breathtaking. You can find it on YouTube, in pixelated form.

Before those treats even it was Jerome Bel's highly self-conscious / reflexive masterpiece The Show Must Go On (I have seen it so many times in the last six or seven years that the cast take the piss out of me), Jerome's film of Vèronique Doisneau which I saw for the first time (another really good work) and a real blast from the past in Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring. Weird to watch something (in the latter) where you feel so distant from the aesthetic, so aware of its date, so aware of the other-time and place from which it sprang and yet - almost at the same time - to feel it vault into the present and grip you, a knife to your face, and a hammering heart pressed to yours.

Later (and much more now, aesthetically speaking) I saw the duets of Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion (at Saddlers Wells in London, like much of the above) and a revival of Jonathan's Stop Quartet (at Kaai in Brussels) which I'd never seen before. I loved all of these, esp. the sense, in each, of narrative emerging from task and system, of the borders between moving and dancing, gesture and abstraction, of the blankness, comedy and delight in being and doing, moving and stopping - in the simple human acts of negotiation, counting, joining, leaving, watching thinking.

What it may be (searching to explain all this dance!), is that for a person so entirely wrapped up in words (reading them, hearing them, writing them, banging them into the internet, into email, into the keyboard 24/7 it seems sometimes) I found a lot of space in the 'silence' of these pieces, which of course, is not really a silence at all. I felt the same thing, or something like it watching Guido van der Werve's film Nummer Acht. Everything is Going to be Alright, in Manifesta 7 - the whole work a long single shot of him, walking on the ice about ten metres in front of an icebreaker, the ship following behind him, breaking the ground over which he has just walked, his progress slow, metronomic, constantly shadowed by the dark ship, the whole piece a kind of dream-made-concrete and his walk in it an index of the cold, human frailty, simple resolve.

Reading- wise for me it was the year of Denis Johnson - I got myself well and truly immersed in Already Dead and Tree of Smoke, both vivid, scary, super intense. I re-read Russell Hoban's Mouse & His Child and Philip Pullman's Dark Materials books with my son S. who's ten and we just totally fucking delighted in them - strong worlds, emotional highs and lows, playful language, full of ideas. There were times in the last week or two - tag-team passing Pullman's The Subtle Knife to S's mum and back as we took turns to read, S. curled up on the bed, staring at the ceiling and watching the world go by in his head - when I really re-connected to language and narrative and what they do or can do in us, what a strange force these things have - in us and outside of us at the same time.

In the end though for me it was probably more than anything else, the year of David Simon's The Wire which produced a related feeling of re-revelation concerning TV drama. Thanks to P2P I finally got round to watching the whole thing and then spread the files around amongst friends like a virus run out of control. My friend H. watched all 5 series in just over three weeks (that's 65 hours worth of laptop TV). Great characters, Dickensian storylines and layers, real politics, and great great great great language. That's how we do.

Tim Etchells does too much stuff too well for me to explain (including fiction, his work for theatre company Forced Entertainment and visual art). Go to his site to get the proper deal... His novel, The Broken World, was published in 2008.

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