Dateline: 30th May, 2010
Otro [Or] Weknowitsallornothing [Or] Ready To
Enrique Diaz & Cristina Moura/Coletivo Improviso
(In Portuguese, French and English)
Coletivo Improviso’s experimental work is so lavishly multi-layered it defies definition, even in a world of interdisciplinary performance. Established by Enrique Diaz in 1998, the collective of nine dancers, actors, musicians and a video artist exists to facilitate creative encounters between performers from such a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, to provide a space where they can workshop together, learn from each other, research potential new ways of encoding material and engaging spectators in the performance. The result is a vibrant cornucopia of movement, image, sound and text, scintillating with sensuality, laughter, irony, and compassion. I will confess that I was so enchanted, I went to see it twice; it draws one in with warmth and generosity, tumbles you through an energetic and richly-textured display of human fragmentation and disarray, to leave one with a profound sense that everything is connected. Every individual is also a molecule in a vast, organic and cosmic entity.
Otro [Or] Weknowitsallornothing [Or] Ready To is the fruit of a series of residencies with artists from outside the collective and research projects culminating in a long period of improvisation and discussion. The show is about the individuals living in the vast conurbation which is their home, Rio de Janeiro. Equally, the show is about their search itself, their fascination with the strangers they have seen from afar, followed, or talked to on their trips through the city streets, on bus and taxi rides, ferries, in bars and other public spaces. In large measure, it is about the difficulty of staging such diversity, about transformations, imagined happenings, the magical ‘what if’, and the questions, some uncomfortable, which arise through an attempted embodiment of the other. On one of its many layers, Otro is a performance about performance and the creative process itself.
The title of the production is well-chosen. Colectivo Improviso embarked on this project through a conscious desire to discover something about our contemporary sense of identity. Our own uniqueness is given definition by otherness, but what do we really know about all those others mingling around us everyday, those who pass by hastily and unperceived, or remain, for one reason or another, invisible to our personal radar? Over the last sixty or so years there has been an unprecedented migration across this planet, of peoples from one continent to another, and of individuals and families from rural to urban environments. Most of humankind now lives in one sprawling megalopolis or another; whether they are inclusive melting pots or exclusive cultural enclaves, civilising environments or impromptu mental asylums, our cities have grown almost beyond our capacity for comprehension. And our personal identities are now as much defined by our cityscapes as by our own sense of self, by how we define and are defined by ‘the other’.
The collective set out to investigate this phenomenon within the cityscape with a series of theoretical frameworks as research tools for gathering material: they moved around the city as flaneurs, the haphazard and unpremeditated being assembled into some sort of logic through random systems for organisation – a colour, for example; they followed Sophie Calle’s creative methodology for impelling encounters; they created imaginary microdocumentaries or biographies, and they induced a dramaturgy that blends reality and imagination to reach core questions.
The result of this extensive commitment transcends the mere human cartography of Rio; it is a microcosm of the 21st century global metropolis, a motley crowd of checkered lives, a babel of languages and voices, and a barely contained chaos. In seeking to do justice to this multitude, they have transcended the theatre’s inadequacies by illustrating its power, its ability to open the doors of perception. Shakespeare said, ‘all the world’s a stage’, but can we stage the 21st century world of humanity in all its guises? Can we stage such a vast array of individual inner realities? Or, even the externals with all their semblances and social mutations? Can we stage all the random contingencies and flukes of fortune? Such bounty can only be achieved if the performance has the power to unleash the imagination. Colectivo Improviso have that in a nutshell or, as William Blake would have put it, ‘To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.’ Or, in this case, an hour and twenty minutes.
This is quite a remarkable feat and has been achieved through the ensemble spirit that must underlie all successful collaborative practices. And the participation of the spectator is essential too. The performance starts with an actress imagining a scenario: a mountain is over there she tells us, gazing upward as if she can see it in her mind’s eye. She continues to recount her vision of a landscape and the moon, an interior, two people in love, imagining each other, missing each other, losing each other, or, do they? Do they really know each other? Are they imagining ‘the other’, the desired? She carries our imaginations along just so far and leaves the rest up to us. As it should be.
What follows introduces us to characters created and in the process of creation, in dialogue, in soliloquy, in movement as dancers search for the most apt form of expression for emotions, actors try on funny hats, and stories are told from multiple perspectives. We watch action on video, which seems to objectify, yet it allows the spectator our own subjective window on the action, and meanwhile, the characters in the video are talking on stage, in person, about what was happening in the video, other actors make comments, one explains to the audience what was happening in French while the others are speaking in Portuguese. In many respects, Otro is about perspectives, the inviability of objectivity, of knowing the ‘other’, about the ways in which we regard each other from a subjective viewpoint.
The dance was beautiful, absurd, challenging, often funny. The choreographer Cristina Moura (who has worked with Alain Platel’s Les Ballets C de la B) joined the collective in 2004 and imbues the movement with a rich eclecticism. The dancers thrashed around in the throes of strong, sometimes comic, passions, staggered like drunks and paraplegics, projected corporeal images with ritualised movements. A naked man stands centre stage: other performers make suggestions. Perhaps, he’s drunk and muttering something over his vomit; perhaps he’s in love and has a tattoo of the name Katia on his arm. The performer walks over the naked man and writes Katia on his forearm with a biro. ‘Are you all right? Can I call you a taxi?’ another actress walks up to him to move the improvisation along. They discuss his predicament and what might happen to him. Eventually, the naked man starts to dance, a bizarre, butoh-like bacchanalian dance, like satyr or faun.
Director and actor Enrique Diaz co-founded his first theatre company when he was just 18 years of age. Over the last quarter of a century, he has directed classics and contemporary work, putting the actor’s physical presence at the forefront of his practice. Improvisation and multidisciplinarity are equally central to the creative process. Sharing the creative process is also a means to building new relationships with the audience. His Shakespeare adaptation Répétition.Hamlet [Rehearsal.Hamlet] won the Prix de la Critique Française for Best Foreign Performance of 2005-2006. His Seagull-Play was also applauded in Europe.
Otro is set in a rehearsal space; pieces of coloured vinyl delineate a playing area, chairs, props and musical instruments line the sides, a water-cooler and blackboard for notes indicated the everyday reality of a performers workspace, a screen for the videos fills the back wall. As the performers traverse the space in various configurations and states of absorption in their material, ignoring each other, trying something out, merging to improvise a scene together, or run-through a sequence, they convey us across boundaries between the real and the illusionary, the layers of imaginary worlds that are in rehearsal, in Rio, in the characters, in the performers. A remote controlled toy car can be a metaphor for a bad conscience; a dance sequence with a chair can turn into a metaphor for social conditioning, and then it is mocked as the rest of the cast seem to join in willy-nilly with spurious objects, silly head gear and clumsy movements. The music and sound compounds the atmosphere. And the video work by Filipe Ribeiro follows the performance’s trajectory with research and rehearsal material, through documentary-style to visual art as, eventually, Enrique Diaz reads a long text, notes and observations, accompanied by Ribeiro’s images. The entire performance is suddenly taken onto a new plane of philosophical profundity and everything slots into place.
Otro [Or] Weknowitsallornothing [Or] Ready To is ‘poetry in motion’.