Performance Art is defined as being presented to an audience, which may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned; with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer’s body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.
Now if, like me, you only had a vague idea of what Performance Art is, at least the preceding paragraph should have cleared things up for you – thank you Wikipedia. If it hasn’t then I would recommend going to see a show like “Preparation” by Katye Coe, which was shown as part of the ‘Wild Card’ season at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells.
On entering the theatre, the audience were met by an unconventional sight. On a simple white floor, four people were placed. One sitting in what appeared to be the lotus position, the other three lying on the floor – on their back, side and front. There was silence as the audience took their seats on three sides of the performance area. At a certain point, the sitting man (philosopher Alva Noe) stood and moved to a chair at the back of the ‘stage’. He was followed by the first of the prone figures, the Sound Man (Graeme Miller), who started taking recording items out of a silver box and then did a sound test. This was the spur for the other two figures (Katye Coe and Charlie Morrissey) to make their entrance. Almost as if waking from a dream, the two performers slowly started to move around the floor. Without opening their eyes, they moved closer to each other until they finally touched. This was where my feelings about the performance changed. To me, it didn’t seem as if they were still awakening but more like they were newborns, possibly escaping from an egg into the sunlight. Alva started talking at this point, talking about the most boring time of life – a Sunday afternoon. Got to say that this struck a chord for me – and probably anyone over a certain age – as a reminder of how dull Sunday afternoons used to be when there was literally nothing open, no shops, no pubs and for most parts of the country, no restaurants, fast food outlets or anything to distract from the mind numbing tedium of the day. As this was going on, Katye and Charlie’s movements were getting more frenetic. Their ‘dance’ more energetic, more confrontational as if they were fighting to be top dog. Suddenly they stopped and sat on the seats, changing the dynamic of the relationships on stage. Now Katye and Charlie were in control of Alva and Graeme – directing them to freeze or move. Another sudden switch and the ‘dance’ started again with Graeme recording and Alva talking – putting questions to the dancers that would never be answered, but were on the mind of every audience member. Three times this scenario occurred with the dancing each time becoming gentler and the two performers appearing to become more synched with each other. Almost, and again this is my own interpretation, as if each dance was a point further along the lifecycle of the dancers. Each getting older and more mature as the dance progressed. Is my interpretation correct or is there another version of events that fits the performance we saw? I guess I will never know and maybe that’s the beauty of Performance Art, every person takes something different from what they see.
Sadler’s Wells ‘Wild Card’ season is made up of specially curated evenings from a new generation of dance makers, bringing fresh perspectives to the stage. For me, this was my first piece of pure Performance Art and, while I really appreciated the work that had obviously gone into Katye Coe’s “Preparation” if I’m truly honest, I’m not sure this was really my cup of tea.
However, I am still thinking about the performance and discussing it with my housemates 15 hours after watching the show, something that doesn’t occur with everything I see, which really suggests that as a piece of art it achieved its objective.
Review by Terry Eastham
Wild Card returns with more specially curated evenings from a new generation of dance makers, bringing fresh perspectives to the stage. For each Wild Card, an up-and-coming artist is given the opportunity to present their own work alongside works by artists they admire.
Katye is a dance artist practising as a performer (Station House Opera, Florence Peake), curator (Decoda), maker and teacher (Coventry University). One of her latest works, the running intervention (to) Constantly Vent was recently presented at the Hayward Gallery. Her practice reaches across forms and communities, informed by the belief that thinking happens differently when it is located in dancing or moving. Improvisation is a core aspect of her work, as is collaboration.
This evening is curated by Katye in conversation with Charlie Morrissey, dance artist and collaborator (Steve Paxton, Siobhan Davies). Katye has anchored this evening through key questions in their evolving duet, where we are not. The performers’ visceral presence makes visible the live-ness of decision making. Sound artist Graeme Miller and philosopher Alva Noe will also contribute works igniting the idea of ‘preparation’.
Friday 24th April 2015