Our 2012 piece Aefnis was thematically built around the concept of the encaged, a concept that may well turn out to be recurring in our works, as well as proving to be relevant to contemporary times in a wider social context. I felt it was worth discussing how it was made, as it provides insight not only to our artistic process, but also to our stance on composition and abstraction in the performing arts in general. There exists some video material of the piece here:
Firstly, we operate under the assumption that encagement can be either self-inflicted or externally imposed. Also, it is equally possible for the mind to be encaged as well as the body and the action itself can be intentional or accidental. It is along these axes that the piece’s discourse is developed. The freedom of movement in space, and the natural or artificial restraints that define the latter, change throughout the piece to reflect that and effectively implement the concept at certain times throughout the piece. In this article, however, I would like to focus more on the first part of the piece, described as “the freedom of body parts”, in particular its opening section on leg movement.
Twelve particular leg motion patterns were decided upon, diverse enough yet revolving around a common set of qualities. These were serialised, which means they were placed in an initial order and assigned a number in the range of 1 to 12. The primary pattern was established randomly (literally, pulling numbers out of a hat), therefore creating the initial row [8,12,3,11…]. Adding a number to each index element of the row effectively accomplished a transposition; for example, adding the number 2 would yield the row [10,2,5,1…] (note that the row wraps around the beginning beyond the number 12, i.e. a modulus operator is used). Eventually, a matrix of four rows, all derived as transpositions of the original, was established.
On the floor, 12 points were established and numbered in a grid, each corresponding to the like-indexed movement specified in the original row. From there on, the choreography was established in a combinatoric fashion: rows of leg movements were combined with different ones of spatial position. Since the original row, though random in itself, incorporated a very deliberate linking of space and movement, the act of linearly transposing an essentially random collection produced unexpected, sometimes fairly challenging patterns technically, especially considering that it was required that only the legs should move, with the rest of the body essentially motionless. The temporal flow was largely determined by the music used, in this case Fazil Say’s Sonata Opus7.III, performed live on stage. Given the frantic pacing of the piece, the sequences unfolded at high tempo, creating the sense of urgency. Yet, as the individual motions existed only for a short amount of time in a particular spatial grid, they were not apparent as such, and the general impression of the passage communicated light, fast, and free flow qualities.
This technique effectively removes a choreographer’s instinct, arising from his or her habits and established patterns, effectively implementing an exploration of artificially imposed restraints on a wholly abstract level. The piece later engages the same notions on a theatrical and semiotic level, in particular in its use of the literal cage, a metal construct that could be eventually worn, which also allowed for the narrative to unfold. In terms of the core concept, however, it is the abstract sections that are particularly telling, as they explore in a truly experimental (in the original sense) manner whether a completely arbitrary set of constraints and what amounts to a wholly abstract movement script is apparent, when the sequence progresses fast enough. In our analysis, the word we usually use is circumscription, meaning that we believe that the generalised outline of the restraints can actually be seen, as a quality if not spatially (the grid was a compositional tool, it did not exist on stage at performance time). The questions that arise, i.e. whether apparent flow may disguise hidden patterns of restraints, therefore making a distinction of true vs. apparent “freedom”, provide the raw material for the rest of the piece.
It is very interesting to compare this to musical serial composition. It is different, insofar as in music the serialised elements are ordered (pitches are comparable as frequencies and form intervals, dynamics etc. are also ordered sets) whereas a "movement unit" is mostly a quality. Spatial relationships, on the other hand, are two-dimensional. Of course, we have no inversions etc. in this case, but they would likely yield a statistically similar result. Perhaps it could be possible to make a framework of rules that would allow the ordering of these sets. Possible future research project?
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