I have saved the best (and scariest) for last…
In Jonathan Burrows’ book A Choreographer’s Handbook, on page one hundred and fifty-nine, discussing ‘audience’, he writes:
“Sometimes I like to be pressed back into my seat by the sheer force of the thing unfolding in front of me, open-mouthed and emptied of thought … On the other hand, sometimes I prefer to be invited, to be included and nudged into thought.”
The first time I watched the 34 minute film A Slow Introduction, choreographed by French choreographer Boris Charmatz, I was exactly that first description – open-mouthed and emptied of thought. This doesn’t happen too often with film, I feel. I sat stunned for a while. Later I chatted to my darling Tessa on Skype for a bit and tried to explain the piece I had just watched to her. I came across sounding very silly and incoherent; this post may be similar. I was appalled, overwhelmed and very very relieved that a work of art like that existed in the world. Also scared that my Father would walk in and assume I was watching pornography. (Which you are not really allowed to do, if you are a girl, especially a South African girl, I maybe think. Ja.)
The second time I watched the piece, I imagined I would feel more prepared and invited, included and nudged into thought. I felt that this time I would be prepared, the force would be less forceful and more manageable. But it wasn’t. My mind paused as my mouth dropped open. Again. I managed to think of some things whilst watching the piece, but I didn’t feel invited. Although, I think ‘invited’ may be the wrong word. I didn’t feel noticed. The dancers are entirely engrossed with being naked and empty, there is no space to invite or acknowledge any sort of viewer, which is not at all a negative thing because I think it allows the viewer to survive the piece. I don’t think this is just because of the medium of film, there is something about these performers that makes them entirely locked into themselves, into each other and into what they are doing. It’s fascinating to watch.
The silent film consists of four main dancers, totally nude and lit by eery, greenish lighting. At times it is deeply erotic but this is always off-set by the sick clinical way in which the bodies are lit up. The beautiful thing about this dance film is because you are so busy processing the silence, the nudity and the total apparent lack of ‘thingness’, you are not constantly searching for narrative or meaning, you are just engaging with the weirdness of people’s bodies and How Interesting and Horrifying Bodies Are.
The second time I watched the film, I was plagued by those mundane questions: How much of this is improvised, how much of this is choreographed? It feels improvised. It must be choreographed, then. How often did they rehearse in the nude? Who are these people? How did they get here? Is the cameraman also naked? He must be filming this naked, otherwise it would be weird. Or would that be more weird? Am I weird for thinking this is one of the best dances I have ever engaged with? Why do I keep thinking about the person filming this?
Ultimately however I feel these questions to be mostly dull and not worth playing with. Particularly when there are nude, writhing bodies in front of you.
The piece was made originally as a live performance in I think 1997. The film was made in 2007 (?). I do not know enough about the particulars, the intention, the way this work has been made and changed and shared and written about. I just watched the film, removed from much surrounding knowledge and context and found it to be incredibly powerful and strong.
On page one hundred and eighty-four of his book, Jonathan Burrows says, “Silence is no more neutral than nudity.” Ten pages later he says, “Nudity is no more neutral than a large hat.”
There is nothing neutral about this piece. It is brilliantly terrifying and disconcerting. And – you can watch the whole piece. Right here.
PS. Also, read A Choreographer’s Handbook by Jonathan Burrows right now, please.