Saturday, May 29, 2010

Top Secret

Recently I contacted the creators of You Me Bum Bum Train and have volunteered to participate in creating the project that is to be presented throughout July. I am currently helping out with building sets and will be one of the two hundred performers. It is fun to be involved in a project of this size, so I am looking forward to the final results (all tickets have been sold already by the Barbican).
Till then I can say no more, it's top secret.

Organic Self#2

While in presenting Organic Self for the Interim Show I had aimed at making the relationship between performers and audience members evident through the interaction of sound (produced by spectators) and movement (produced by performers), Organic Self#2 was entirely about audience and their interaction with one another.
It focused on touch and hearing, while vision was eliminated at the very beginning by blindfolding all participants. The 'flute players' were seperated in two small groups of six people each, facing each other within the space. Were they not blindfolded, they would have been able to see each other and their reactions would have been largely dependent on seeing. Once vision was eliminated, they could feel more free to interact and would feel less inhibited. Of course, this meant that they would have to trust their sense of touch to understand how the organ worked. Considering that vision is the sense we rely on most, everyone took their time until they realised how things were to work. Especially those sitting in the back row, whose 'task' was to pass the signal by touching the people in front of them, left themselves be entirely manipulated and rarely passed the signal; this was very different when audience members were not deprived of seeing in Organic Self.
On overall people enjoyed it. No doubt some were uncomfortable in a situation like this, exactly becasue we do everything by looking first and then turning to our other senses as reference. Somebody said they were 'unnerved' by the fact they couldn't see, while another said 'It made me feel calm'. Surely, all of us discover how their other senses work when we are deprived of one of them.
Some pictures, courtesy of Liushan Lin

Monday, May 24, 2010

Organic Self#2 at 3rd CCW Salon

Things are happening so fast these days I haven't been able to update on my plans for my off-site showing. Few days ago I received an email for participation at the 3rd CCW Salon at the Flat Time House. I thought it was a great opportunity to meet new people and show my work outside college, combining this with one of the requirements this last term (presenting work outside school premises).
I had thought about proposing either What you see is what you get? or Organic Self again. I sent in documentation and info on What you see is what you get? and was pleasantly surprised to be invited to perform tomorrow, Tuesday 25th of May. Today I went to see the space, a really nice venue, which despite its clean, white, gallery walls feels quite cosy, probably because of all the small spaces of which it's made up, including a lovely kitchen. It is the former residence of the late artist John Latham.
With Josh's and John's help we tried to find the right spot for my piece, trying to black out one of the spaces. However, it was impossible to get a completely dark space, which is needed for the torch effect and the complete impossibility to see for the audience that it very important at the beginning of the piece. The place is full of light and it gives you a lot of space to breathe, so it was probably wrong to try and black it out anyhow. So I thought it was the perfect venue for the new version of Organic Self. After trying out a few arrangements I was convinced it was the right choice for the space. I am excited about taking this piece one step further!
Join in tomorrow, Tuesday 25th of May
At the Flat Time House
210 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4BW
2-5pm - Tea and open viewing of the works
6-8pm Performances
8-9 closing drinks

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Questions rising, intertwining and then going their own way...

Yesterday we split into groups and did a brainstorming of the ideas behind our work. It was interesting to see how some elements or issues that concern us linked, maybe something we hadn't realised before, and yet how differently we can all look at the same question.
Here's the map I plotted while discussing with my group.
We will continue on defining the main questions we want to exapnd on as we are working for and preparing for the final show.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Plans for June

As June is getting nearer, it was important to make sure I have a space for the showing outside college. Various places I checked out have already been booked, while another had some strange requirements, including the fact that my audience had to take their shoes off. Also, most places are quite expensive, so the best option was to hire a place with a group of people, which not only has the advantage of sharing costs, but also presenting different work within one space, thus bringing in more audience.
A few of us went to check out the Rag Factory in Brick Lane, where I had performed a few months ago. It seems we have just managed to book two spaces for a day at the end of June. 
I will present What you see is what you get, taking advantage of the fact that this piece requires a closed space. The idea I dropped was presenting 'Organic Self' in a park, as the weather is not looking good and I don't want to take risks at this point. I wouldn't want to freeze outside and put another performer through the suffering, along with all the participants involved!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Space Space Space

Third and last term is kicking off! And it's time to present one of my pieces in a space outside school. I had been meaning to do that since presenting my first piece last December. However, I had realised how hard it is to find a venue in London that will not charge you a high price, making it really difficult for a full-time MA student who would not exactly be described as rich and economically independent (speaking for myself of course!)
Even big festivals like The Fringe in Edinburgh charge you for every single thing, from the hiring of a space to any minimal technical assistance, and this advantage is reserved to the selected artists and groups. Looking at the costs one wonders whether it's worth it to even apply.
It is no doubt a must to get out there, so in my current hunt for a venue, I do hope to get lucky. My advantage is that having more than one piece to choose from, I am flexible with spaces and have even thought of doing it outdoors. Problem is, outdoors is a synonymus to bad weather these days...
Let's see

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Singing and dancing along (A look at participation in a Rembetiko concert)

Going back home to the sunny island of Cyprus, for as much work as I had to do in such a short period of time, I had to go and listen to a live music performance of Rembetiko. 'The Mediterranean Blues', a common description for this style of music, which is still much appreciated in the countries where it was born, gives rise not simply to concerts in laid back restaurants and caf├ęs but to a quickly spreading audience participation.

Rembetiko developed in the 1920s and 1930s in the port cities of Greece, among communities uprooted from Asia Minor in the population exchanges after the Treaty of Lausanne. This mixture of Oriental classical music, Greek folk music and Western urban environment created a unique style. With its “limping” rhythm and lyrics about depression, drugs, prison, death and unrequited love, Rembetiko became the expression of the outcast. Banned in Greece by the dictator Metaxas and in Turkey by Ataturk, Rembetiko is now been rediscovered, shared and celebrated by many from both countries.

The three performers were sitting on a table like ordinary clients, with their food and drinks in front of them. Tuning in instruments as if it were the most natural thing, they started off by playing a few familiar songs. Very soon, more people started arriving while some of them whould sing along in a low voice. The musicians nodded with satisfaction at anyone brave enough to join in even if omitting some of the lyrics. The clapping of hands that follow the rhythm of tunes is an alternative for those who are too lazy to sing, however, it requires quite an amount of experience as the uneven rhythms can often fool you. Some would also make requests for a song to the musicians by singing the first lines, and by the end of the night everyone was singing and dancing, having made contact with at least one other table of people besides the one occupied by the musicians.

Scene from Kostas Ferris' film Rembetiko

I believe that music is an art that reaches its spectator/listener with an immediacy that no other does and it has, thanks to this immediacy, managed to preserve audience participation as one of it elements-something other performative arts have lost throughout time. Audience participation in this case however is not only triggered by the music itself but by the casual setting (an unpretencious and friendly restaurant). Although it is true to say that all spectators here were out for a treat and were therefore pre-disposed to joining in and contributing to the performance, also given their backgorund and traditions, the dynamics of audience-performer influence is evident and undoubtedly has its roots with the very first musicians of Rembetiko.

After its official ban, the Mediterranean Blues had to be practiced in secret, which made
the sense of community created within those gatherings even stronger. People met and all participated in something that was not legal; whether musicians or not, they were all transgressors in the eyes of the state and on this common grounds the gap between performer and spectator never even had the time to form. This is why singing along with the musicians and singers is welcomed, as Rembetiko is about sharing.

The style of making Rembetiko and participating in it has preserved its original meaning, and although it is obviously not banned today and is no longer considered the expression of an outcast's life, musicians and audience come together not only to celebrate the Blues of the Mediterranean but to be part of a community.

Audience-Actor Ratio 1-200

You Me Bum Bum Train takes a single spectator for a wheelchair ride, on a journey of different scenarios that are made up of no less than two hundred actors and performers. A 40-minute adrenaline session gives spectators a condensed taste of real life situations (some less 'real life' maybe)- from going to the dentist, assisting a bull fight and being famous to becoming a translator of a language you don't even know!

Role reversal takes another dimension here, as spectators are not simply becoming actors through the interaction with other performers. The presence of such a large number of performers for a single spectator shows the attention given to each participant, clearly concentrated on the personal experience of spectators. They are cured, adored, provoked, put under examination by the performers. Hence, the strong impact on spectators, who describe it as one of the most powerful experiences in their lives. I wouldn't blame them, despite the fact that You Me Bum Bum Train is not real life. But how many times do we happen to have 200 people there for us, constantly creating an imput for interaction?

The concentration of different situations in which the spectator is put inevitably wakes up their senses, which is another reason why I find this participatory performance so interesting.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A story told through sensorial experience (I Fiori del Te' by gruppo LIS)

Few years back I participated in an itinerary performance, the rituality of which involved its spectators by engaging their senses of touch and smell apart from vision. I Fiori del Te' (which means 'The Tea Flowers' in Italian) was presented as part of an annual art festival, Fabbrica Europa. Since my work has evolved around sensory experience and audience participation, I recall this piece quite vividly and haven't happened to see anything like it ever since.

Gruppo Lis took its spectators on a journey that illustrated the Japanese ritual of tea through letting them explore their sensorial perception and thus making the delicate story somehow more accessible and real. Each participant was separately greeted by a performer with a hug and led into another chamber. The dark atmosphere suggested from the beginning that vision was not the only sense that was to be explored and used in this performance. One by one, audience members assembled in a dimly lit chamber and were seated on the floor. As the performers began to recite part of the story, people were given little knives and before we realised we were all engaged in peeling potatoes together. The lack of light made it a highly sensorial task, which brough together everyone in the room, including the performers.

The sense of touch and manuality were explored individually although by using the same elements audience members became part of a community. The simple manual task emerged spectators in the rituality that is attached to the growth and preparation of tea in the Orient.

The itinerary nature of the performance made spectators feel more participative as we were led to new rooms, each with different settings as every time another episode of the story unfolded. The performative actions, which concentrated on the visual perception of spectators, blended with moments of haptic experience, triggered by the settings and objects within the spaces. As single moments were marked by different places, it became clear that each episode contained its own ritual, whether it included visual, auditory or haptic involvement.

Barefoot, participants were conducted to a path of warm earth in order to reach the chamber where the story came to an end. The act of walking itself was transformed into a sensual experience, leading the audience into the conclusive act of the performance.

I Fiori del Te' made its spectators part of the performance by physically making them aware of the rituality that is contained within the Eastern tradition of tea. The theme of the performance perfectly matched its sensory elements, thus making the piece a very special event that hovered between theatre, performance and ritual.