e: The most important aspect of performance is the game and a sense of play and joyfulness…somebody is transforming on stage before the audience’s eyes. It’s a kind of modern ritual of transgression.
r: In my own terminology I would say it’s a specially charged event. Both performers and audience participate in something very much alive. Some kind of special rules apply which are specific to each performance, often but not always as a tacit agreement between both parties.
e: How the performer becomes somebody else, how he or she transforms or transgresses determines the kind of theater or dance it is, but I think basically performance is about transformation.
r: There is the kind of transformation in traditional theater, for example in the portrayal of a character. What interests me is to look at the performer onstage, a dancer or an actor, and observe the underlying codes that are conveyed simply by sheer presence. These are often codes that a performer doesn’t even realize are being communicated – symmetry, balance, verticality, self-conscious display and so on. For example, a classical ballet dancer comes onstage and is at once a representative of a kind of universal order of beauty and harmony – merely by stance, even before beginning to move. The dancer has immediately gone from being a specific body to a universal one.
e: What you’re talking about is close to what Eugenio Barba calls the “pre-expressive state” of every performer. His research in theatre anthropology on the performer’s craft from traditions all over the world led him to question what it is that attracts the audience even before the performer begins to act. I think it’s about the living presence of the living body.
r: We say someone has charisma, meaning they have a special quality that inspires the imagination, which attracts or magnetizes. But rather than focusing on the personality of the performer/artist, there is a charismatic ‘moment’ – a kind of resonating actuality – which is shared by both performer and viewer. This to me is the heart of performance. It’s a place before interpretation and judgment set in. I think that this moment itself is transformative: the result of a special interaction between performer and audience. The performer in this basic charismatic interaction, even before his becoming a character or play a role or dance a choreography, is not really interpreting anything, and neither is the audience. I like to emphasize this moment.
I myself am not so much interested in a body that is trained to be able to convey meanings, but more in an awareness of the meanings that the body – especially one in movement – inherently convey. And in this sense I’ve gradually become more interested in how the body might even be able to evade meaning.
e: But it’s impossible for the body not to elicit any meaning at all. The mere fact of the figure onstage, however anonymous, carries potential meanings.
r: Okay, let’s say “evade specific meaning”. In this sense I’m interested in connotative rather than denotative meaning. A range of possibilities is created which might allow for multiple individual interpretations. It’s the difference between the subject of a work and its content. The viewer may consider instead of just detect what’s going on. To say the point of a performance is to elicit a particular interpretation I think is presumptuous, hopelessly didactic, methodological and overbearing.
e: But in your work you are still busy with an extra-daily body, one that is in transformation. In your work you are returning to examining closely the quality of sheer presence and the ever-changing scale of the body. A kind of inner fire which transmits a certain radiation to the audience. If the transformed body or unnatural body is there onstage the viewer will be fascinated with it.
r: For me it’s more about how the actual moment of performance is evoked. My own body of work the past twenty years is concerned with highlighting or foregrounding just that continually present moment, in a kind of musical composition. In the course of researching this I’ve discovered, like many before me I’m sure, the many ways meaning underlies even such basic things as posture and stance.
e: Let me change the topic here – why do you perform onstage?
r: Well… I like it. I like doing it. When I was younger I liked any kind of performance. I liked to act in plays, sing rock and roll and dance, just ‘ham around’ as they used to say. Frankly it was hard to get me off the stage. For many years now I’ve focused just on movement alone – without any text, narrative, character or even face involved. I find it thrilling – it’s a thrill for me. I can feel a certain what I have to call magical feeling in my body when I perform well – not only in performance, but also occasionally in the studio rehearsing with no one around.
e: Isn’t this the basic game of transformation in performance I was talking about? You are letting go on stage – of your self or your ego and you fully trust the lead of your body. Maybe also because your body has the specific practice or training which you have been doing for a long time. Performers like you from the 60s and 70s, when there was a boom in the physical theater idea, who have continued somehow, and after thirty some years nonstop working on the body awareness on stage have now something very important and unique to share, which is based on experience rather than theories.
r: I’m not in the business of training performers’ bodies really – nor am I interested in developing a particular training method. I’m more interested in a dramaturgical investigation, which people can use in the process of their own training. Because I believe that everybody’s training is potentially relevant no matter what kind of training it is. In this sense a statement Barba made in the early 70s always stuck with me – he said training is essentially a process of self-definition that manifests itself through physical reactions. It’s not the exercise that counts but it’s the individual’s justification for his or her own work that decides the meaning of the training.