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flying

Proposed by Cécile Martin

Text by Irina Raskin

For human kind the act of flying is one of collaboration. As the physicality of the human body refuses the mammal to float in the air by its own, it is indispensable dependent on helping devices in order to realize its dream of hovering. Whether these are technical apparatus like planes, zeppelins, hang-gliders that enable a passing high above the ground or whether these are illusions evoked by video graphical installations or drug consumption that simulate the corporeal feeling or visual effect of flying. So it isn’t really a contradiction that Cécile Martin’s proposed project with the quite self-centered title “I want to fly” was an open invitation for everyone to come. Behind this clear articulated wish, this yearning that seems so urgently to demand a resolute plan, appeared an open area for experiments, try-outs, improvisations and explorations.

 I want to fly

With this project Cécile lifted into the yet untried field of performing arts. Being used to work with and treat substances, she then wanted to investigate on the human body as an artistic material. Therefore Cécile chose an open structure, providing a setting where other participants are able to find their own way of responding to the circumstances and the given topic. Basically the setting consisted of several ventilators, a few spotlights, a fog machine, a flashlight as well as a microphone and a piano, all being free to be rearranged, used or not.

“A playground” as Gudrun Lange described it, after following Céciles open invitation. Gudrun found herself in a wide circle of running fans. She approached to that by letting the wind blow into her shirt, fronting the fans and transforming the direction of the air into movement, sketching different points within the borders of this circle. Watching Gudrun jumping and turning extensively or then doing an arabesque penchée with her head directly facing one of the low fans, the impression came up that this was a way of loosing balance in order to gain a hovering feeling. But it wasn’t at all that, as it turned out later in a conversation with Gudrun: in the first place, it was more about sensing the wind on her body, then reacting to this feeling as well as to the wind’s direction and force, without any attempt to render a metaphorical meaning. Whereas another time, by performing a vital, a bit rushing dance that tended to jump its steps, Gudrun seemed to embody the expressed desire of this project, less the state of floating.

Together with Samir Akika, Cécile arranged a magnificent scene: one spotlight was put in the back of the setting, crossing it from the bottom upwards diagonally, pointing into the spectator’s area. The decent fog in the air made one strong cone of warm light visible. When the dancers then moved in front of the spotlight, the covered rays changed into shadow rays inside the remaining cone. This led to several beams of lights and shadows within that one large cone. As the cut between light and non-light was very sharp, each beam looked like dense matter one could easily grab. Making their way through, the shadow sculptures casted huge shade silhouettes of the dancing persons on a wall of the spectator’s area. The dance performance manifested itself in three different images at the same time: in the flesh of the dancer, in the interplay between light and non-light and in the shadow play on the wall. Through that, the invisible, theatrical, so called forth wall between the stage and spectator area broke through, and the distance between performer and audience seemed to decrease. In a way those different forms of the same movement, passing from the depth of the stage to the audience, could be read as a metaphor for the perception process of dance in general, where the motion disintegrates into different characteristics, becoming each time something else. But there isn’t only a notion about visibility, but also about physicality. As the shadow rays casted approximately into the spectator, an additional connection to the dancer’s body became perceptible. The interplay between light and non-light turned into an extension of the dancing body, an embodiment of its movement’s rhythm. Nonetheless all of this could only be experienced if the spectator maintained a certain distance and witnessed it from the right angle.

After watching Nuria Guiu Sagarra dancing a solo within that kind of setting, Samir showed her the famous plastic bag scene from “American Beauty”, asking her to keep the quality while going into different directions. In the following dance Nurias body became lighter, its parts non-uniformed, partially sinking into itself and then lifting up again. The movements seemed to fall from one position into the next. This provoked a heterogeneous rhythm and slurped postures.

Then there was also Jean-Jacques Sanchez, improvising in total darkness with a single flashlight. As it was also silent, the attention of the audience was very focused on that little light, so that Jean-Jacques could guide the spectator’s gaze to its full extend. His movements were slowly, his guidance canny. Holding the flashlight very closely to his body, it was as if he would do a kind of extra scan for the audience. He also would dance in different areas of stage, leaving the frames of the setting, playing with the curtains at the very back of it. Maybe it is the notion of curiosity, that Jean-Jacques was provoking and probably self experiencing, which was his consideration on the issue of flying.

 Drop Out

You are what you are, so you do what you do. Or is it actually the other way round? You become what you are by doing what you do? And how far are you willing to face new situations and new tasks, make new encounters in order to challenge your skills and habits, in order to take off into another sphere of your own potential?

“You learn that you have wings, only if you jump out of the nest.” Cécile explained her point of interest, while proceeding the investigation in one-on-one sessions with the participants. She pointed out that birds only discover the air as their zone of comfort by facing an uncomfortable situation, which is overcoming their fear and leave the nest. Metaphorically, Cécile already did it, when she and Nuria led each other, imitating the movements of one another.

During the second part of the project, Cécile then wanted to work on that idea with the voluntaries. After conversing about that, she asked them to perform, but this time tried to drag them carefully into uncomfortability.

For example, Kingsley Odiaka should sing while he was dancing. Spotlights illuminated the setting from the side. The fan circle was tighter, so that it appeared rather odd next to the tall Kingsley. He sketched the inner space with extensive, strong moves, articulating his annoyance about structure – which was his issue – in a very expressive way. Swinging and jumping towards the range, the tempo and intensity increased. More and more the fan circle looked like a ridiculous fence. When Kingsley started to sing, the scenery changed. The tendency went from fronting the audience to opening up towards it, while the quality of the movements became smoother and the rhythm calmer. The higher effort of breathing, that the simultaneous act of dancing and singing demanded, manifested itself as a mild vibration in Kingsley’s voice, which tangibly resonated beyond the circle.

Figuratively speaking, Paula Diogo was jumping over her shadow. While Jean-Jacques, as he put it, played with the piano, Paula rearranged the setting into a fan hurdles. The spotlight casted her shadow on the corner of the back wall of the stage, from where she sprinted diagonally over the obstacles, right towards the piano. Jumping over one fan, Paula cried out a childish scream between fun and fear. Increasing the number to two hurdles, the steps were tighter, the scream louder and the impact against the piano harder. Putting a third fan into the short distance line, Paula could not overcome all obstacles. On her next mission she took one of the fans with a pole, put it horizontal on the floor and laid on it, holding her face really close to the running ventilator. Jean-Jacques joined her in this act of balance and placed himself next to Paula. They started a conversation, talking directly into the fans. The moving propellers became an extension of the human body – a voice modulation that made the speech sound flickering. Having this image of the two holding their hands while being in this quite tricky situation, it became evident that without trust, support and generosity zones of uncomfort would never lose its prefix.

Dancing operators

As the project title transformed from “I want to fly” into “Flying”, Cécile felt herself ready to take off. Not only precisely by installing a hanging device which allowed her to hover in the air, but also by returning to her element: examining the developing space between the environment and its perception by exploring the relations of the elements within.

One with rope fastened fan hung from above like a pendulum, while there were three microphones placed on the floor around it. With the help of Frieder Weiss, Cécile integrated a close-circuit video by attaching an infrared camera with a flashlight on the fan, whose recorded images were projected on the back wall of the stage. In addition, there were a fog machine and a scanning light positioned on the side of the setting. What Cécile produced was less an installation, but more of a dance performance carried out by non-humans. Since the machines were turned on and functioned automatically, it was as if they were improvising within their given frame – an open score happening. The moving propeller of the fan turned into a motor causing circulating panning movements and rotations around its own axis. The moves extended from leisurely curves to roughly expanding sweeps. Drifts divided the fog into volatile ornaments that became passing drawings of grace in the air. In the moments when the fog thinned out and the flashlight on the fan didn’t dazzle, the spectator could follow the rotating eye of the camera by observing the projection – a tool that enabled a fragmented 360° vision without the obligation to change one’s position. Just as the equal darkness of stage and audience area created a unite space, the moving closed-circuit did. Though, the latter differentiated the place as well as its perception, the darkness homogenized the relations of the participating elements towards itself. So in a way, via the same act, this dancing vision was simultaneously unitizing space and constituting new formations of it. Also, the level of sound was expanded through technical gadgets. The original sound of the fan was modified through its rotating up-side-down motion, literally piercing the silence in different rhythm and dynamics. The interference between that noise and its fragmented amplification by the microphones resulted into the performance’s music.

What made this version of “Flying” so interesting, were its constantly happening, ephemeral overlaps of the different layers of sound and particularly vision. Though they emerged during the same event – derived from one source so to say – they distinguished into different forms of materialization, which again merge in one another, creating the performance. Thus it was an undertaking that intensified the aspects of indeterminacy and chance of performances as such by playing with the interdependencies between the happening and its perception, actually by brining the event of perception on stage.

A lab within a lab

Driven by curiosity and imagination artists, just as scientists, depart into fields of the unknown. While science aims to produce facts and examine for the good of understanding proceeds, art attempts to create experiences that fathom the senses. Research has become a comprehensive term for both areas, describing a working attitude that operates beyond preconceived assumptions and keeps a certain frankness towards what is happening. As so often, also in this project the main method of artistic research was improvisation inside self-constructed frames. Yet the actual practice of flying was either achieved metaphorical or illusive, the conscious efforts of the actors with all its consequences were real. Here, flying developed into an expression standing for the expansion of one’s own potential, actually through the act of research. In which the individual progress was only achievable through collaborations between the TryAngle’s participants as well as the non-human devices. Already the very few described excerpts of the huge numbers of try-outs emphasize how important the other elements were, as their constant reformation created each time a different flying experience. Just like the project showed the significance of interaction, it simultaneously marked the huge impact that each single actor has on the course of the event. Cécile’s “Flying” project turned out to be a performing arts research laboratory examining the interdependency of experience and event and therefore somehow a field study on performance. Impressively the investigation showed the reoccurring test result: besides curiosity and imagination, trust is one of the basic conditions for new experience, for art. Due to the quality of trust, artistic research is able to produce events that appear not as science but as affecting magic.