A few years back I saw a piece of theatre that altered my way of thinking quite dramatically by the Vincent Dance Theatre. It was a piece of contemporary dance theatre that falls into the category of performance arts: it was weird, lacking in narrative but thought provoking and full of meaning. So I was thrilled when the company invited me to spend a week with them in the early rehearsals of their new show Motherland.
Charlotte Vincent, the Artistic Director, often uses the same highly skilled performers, many of whom have committed to the company for a number of years. She lets them play, throwing in rules, or props or tiny directions here and there, while maintaining an underlying focus on the shared concept of their exploration.
…Performance Art is for people who can’t act, aren’t musical, can’t make art, and can’t dance.
When someone says to you “There is no right or wrong” you often know that’s not the case; what is right or wrong depends on what the director likes. So when you meet a director or choreographer that allows you to be free to experiment and improvise in a safe space, while interfering as little as they genuinely can, then that’s quite exiting. With a method based on structured improvisations Charlotte Vincent sees the things that excite her and asks her performers to push the work as far as it can possibly go: the result is often magical.
Performance Art is a niche market, there’s no two ways about it. In my experience there have been certain workshops or performances that have made me question my so-called love for alternative theatre. I also remember one of my peers sarcastically commenting (after a particularly disturbing lesson involving nothing short of self-harm in the street) that Performance Art is for people who can’t act, aren’t musical, can’t make art, and can’t dance.
…when you find yourself walking out of a theatre during the interval…
At times I agree with this statement. Though you could argue that art is down to taste, but it’s my strong opinion that there’s nothing artistic about someone doing literally nothing, but bleeding at you, not really, unless you’re going for some sort of conceptual shock factor that completely passed me by.
This sort of thing tends to put people off, when really it’s just bad Performance Art; like when you find yourself walking out of a theatre during the interval, or when you’re standing in an art gallery trying to figure out whether the art work is the toilet roll holder on the white wall to the left of the plaque or the fire extinguisher on the right
The possibilities are endless…
With a reassurance of my past week, I still believe that if your performance artist can in fact sing, dance, act then the Performance Art itself is going to be to a much higher standard. It’s a collaboration of disciplines, so the more spontaneous the artists you put in a room together, a trapeze artist, a banjo player and an opera singer for instance, the more interesting the result.
Charlotte has a tendency to pull out thoughts that are deep within us all, deep human fears and wants, which resonate on a feral level. Yes, it’s conceptual, she likes to make people think, she doesn’t like clichés (who does?) and, yes, you aren’t spoon fed conclusions or stories, you are given subtle moments and images and the work speaks for itself. It’s made through playing, and discovery, there is no script to stick to, no real rules to follow. The possibilities are endless and you cannot guess what might happen on stage for that hour and a half, or where your thoughts might lead you.