While we were holding it together (2009)

Review of Ivana Müller’s piece

A piece based on immobility, imagination and co-presence. A static image: five bodies distributed in space maintaining each one a different pose, no of them too suggestive. How to build a fable from there?

Immobility is the first condition: the players take a pose, which it is apparently arbitrary: probably if they had known it in advance, they would have chosen –as one of the interpreters assures after a few minutes—a more interesting or less uncomfortable one. How can the viewer imagine that this immobility will be kept practically during a whole hour of non-action? The spectator, bewildered at first, perhaps anxious, get used (after two or three fades out) to the idea that this will be only future of the performance. Accommodating himself he will sometimes forget the presumably increasingly pain that those arbitrary poses provoke to the performers. Pain is for these characters the condition for their freedom to imagine the non visible, the parallel worlds. Their pain is also ours, spectators, unable to anticipate their imagination.

Imagination is the core of the piece. First: associations derived from of each one’s static figure. Immobility cancels the image and makes the space resonant. However, gestures still work, and also sometimes the overlapping of imagination and figure. After some fade to black, the scene becomes invisible and voices reach us from the darkness. The association with Maeterlinck’s The sightless seems then obvious: they talk about the forest, the feeling of loneliness is stronger, the lack of vision becomes agonizing. It is curious: though the image provides very little, the visibility of the five bodies and five faces makes the waiting bearable, it calms anxiety, the abyss of death, which is announced at some point and which some actors make explicit. Since we can see, we feel safe.

This is the third condition of the piece: co-presence. Performers don’t look each other, but since their positions and postures remain unchanged, it is as if they did: the imagination works on the figures for the fable construction. Visual lack of communication precedes the verbal. The speech of each performer is referential in relation to the audience, but performative in relation to the other four. Isn’t it also in relation to the viewer? The voices convey imaginations only to affirm the persistence of the voice, or, as the title suggests, to “hold” the visibility. It is the voice that builds the image, the spectacle, because the bodies have given up their ability: they are mute potentiality.

The difference with The sightless lies in the absence of transcendence: the imagination is immanent, and it is precisely that what saves us, for the moment (“while we…”). The recognition of the immanence makes possible the humour, and also the complicity with the audience, which is introduced in the show: in the first part, through breaking the core fiction, namely through the recognition of the performance as performance; in the second, through the inclusion of their still bodies as stimuli to the performers’ imagination and the overlapping of their figures with different images.

Changes in the basic situation have to do with the change of identity: to travel from one body to another. If the body, reduced to immobility, loses all relevance in constructing the identity of the subject, does it matter the allocation of any subjectivity in that body? Then the voices begin to move from one body to another. And following the voices, the bodies: the actors exchange their positions on stage, adopting the poses of the others. The voices move from one figure to another by means of a recorded voice that is not hidden to the viewer. The game becomes visible as a game. But by no means diminishes the concerned atthention of the spectator.

When the basic situation is re-established, the viewer re-accommodates himself. However, the voices continue to fluctuate: it will never be possible to return to the beginning. Time, despite its apparent absence, makes its appearance through the evidence of the irreversibility of the process. However, the process is not actually irreversible; the appearance of irreversibility is one of the most artificial effects of the show. The players could talk again with their own voices. But could they avoid shaking hands? Could they even stay for another half an hour in those positions? No, the irreversibility is not about the entertainment device, but about the endurance and resistance of the body, previously denied. It is the body which is visible all the time, and the voice that plays with him finally escape, as a fly.

Imagination outside a body is an inhumane fiction, is a figure of death. Ivana Muller’s piece is a materialist “vanitas”: an invitation to play games, to practice radical communication, freedom from “us”. It is also a reflection on time, on expanded time, on time containing past and future, presence and potentiallity. But above all, it is a picture in which all invisible fantasies can be painted: our secret desires, our stupid occurrences, the unmentionable representations of ourselves and the others, our necessity of “coming back”, and our resistance to leave the others and loose the orality which inhabits us as human animals and link us to their singularly repeated will.

José A. Sánchez

Istanbul, 2009

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