towards day 16 @ sf: the dancer’s role in RJF project, pt. 2

To preface these notes with an additional note from Gilles Deleuze – the painting arriving whole and gradually…

“And then I made these things, I gradually made them. So that I don’t think the bird suggested the umbrella; it suddenly suggested this whole image.” This text seems obscure, since Bacon invokes two contradictory ideas at the same time: a gradual series and a sudden whole. But both are true. In any case, he means that there is not a relationship between one form and another (bird-umbrella), but a relationship between an intention at the beginning, and an entire series or ensemble at the end.

– Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith, Uni. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2003, pp. 166-167, n. 5

There is another aspect to the problem of the dancer in the project which despite the length of the sentence in the preceding post (towards day 16 @ sf: the dancer’s role in RJF project, pt. 1) I didn’t address. Through the course of this series of derailed observations and comments on what we’re up to at the soap factory down in the cellar, I’ve presented an idea that has been useful to us in practice but is possibly a theoretical redundancy, anacting, meaning a zero degree of acting relative to performance and not the expunging of character but of the character as personal or individual. At the level of anacting the actor becomes his or her own supernumerary, which means in addition that anacting remains a modality available to the actor. I’ve also talked about half-mime, an idea that so far has been more gainfully discussed than usefully employed.

Half-mime relates to the sense in which the performance space, like the pictorial space, is already full before you start. Rather than there ever being a tabula rasa, there it is, a sponge soaked in all manner of cliche, memory, feelings and misgivings – and objects – and subjects. Half-mime suggested itself as a way to overcome the pretence of the empty space. Everything already there in the space to the performer, which sometimes sucks the life out of performance for being unacknowledged, may gesturally be acknowledged, may exist as part of the performance in half-mime, in recognition of its sometimes suffocating half-life, may be liberated indeed, in-half-deed. Of course, in practice, this has been the concept to show its redundancy.

Actors fill up the entire offstage area with their everyday personal mental furniture. It’s part of the routine to get rid of it before entering the stage and every role is a new one for the reason that the actor’s focus, unless it drifts, is on the present, the thinnest possible present, as Gilles Deleuze points out. So that the actor actively clears the space of the distractions of cliche and memory, etc., and relies on the actuality, even as it exists only in the imagination, of the specific mise-en-scene and the particular make-believe prop in hand. However, to ask an actor’s focus to drift… well, we might call that improvisation. I had had in mind thinking about half-mime that the gesture retreated from its object before fully engaging in the mime of its being there. Hence, half-mime. But there are also zones between half-mime and mime which may be profitably considered.

The gesture anticipates. The mime illustrates. There comes with the gesture a pathos of half-remembered things, a half-light, a romance of the image, the veiled, the iridescence of the body seen through smoke, a field of fallen gazes and the failure of love: the pathos of that which may not arrive. The broken-tones Gilles Deleuze liberates as pseudo-causes in Francis Bacon, in the paintings of Francis Bacon, are related by analogy to the diagrammes of this still tentatively suggested concept of half-mime, to its zones of indiscernability. Things are there for the actor or actress but not visibly there: mime. They are in addition, in half-mime, made mutable by the gesture which stops before encountering and drawing out from the air the shape of them, the weight of them. They therefore mutate one into another in a cascade of indiscernably different objects linked only by the performer’s attention and not represented.

The contents or modes of representation differ between the canvas and the stage. We can begin to think of half-mime as being the pictures in the mind. And of the gestures as experiencing a fall before they reach their ideal object. And of the fall as a terrible optimism, leading into areas of chance relations. What I am suggesting is that this concept with the degree of abstraction of movement it entails is more useful for dance than acting, where gesture has a different function, acting having made the historical psychoanalytical jump from externally conditioned instincts to internally derived drives.

It would be nice to think of putting the cause of theatre back a hundred years or so. This is what I had had in mind: a Bernhardtianism revisited, a revitalised gestural language. But that last word calls to our attention why this could never be so. What is at stake in the language of the theatre is the closed system that naturalises signs, which is to say that the purely gestural will get mixed up in the bad company of what is natural, characteristic, or what is abstract, or what returns it to itself, before it is considered on its own behalf. Its anticipation of analagous gestures to which it refers within the closed system of the work is what returns the gestural to itself as natural. Dance in contrast – hence that nebulous term dance-theatre – denatures movement, at the same time as it brings all movement, up to and including the gestural, within its ‘natural’ ambit. This happens in a way resembling John Cage’s naturalisation of sound within the medium of music.

The actor’s gesture represents an emptiness or fullness won from the naturalised mode of, because relative to, theatre as significant action. Let’s just say that it’s hard won. The art of theatre resides in inverse proportion to the degree of insignificance in the behaviours exhibited, including the actors’ gestures. Their systemisation may therefore be viewed as extra-theatrical. The closed system of an accepted code of (an ahistoricised) naturalism – naturalisation – provides legimation insofar as it guarantees the meaningfulness of the spectacle. And so in theatre we can again speak of a code, undersigned by language where language is taken strictly to refer to the closure of the symbolic system.

Herein lies the tension of contemporary theatre, the reason for self-referentiality, for a closed system of internal references, and the reason for its great pathos in terms of anticipating a movement which may yet not come. Theatre has slipped from that level of the aesthetic which was already in slippage from beauty to be almost completely usurped by theory. And not its own theory. That is the irony. Theory has arrogated to itself the staging of its own simulacrum, sucking it in through a small hole before which it contorts without ever really being able to pass. Stuck on a ship-bound anti-Robinsonade.

The preceding leaves out what is essential to say: alongside the dance theme’s critique of theatre there is the acting theme’s critique of dance, in which the dancer, Anja, playing the role of Ida, dances parenthetically, within theatrical parentheses. She steps into the preconsidered dance-like image with the casualness of meaningful acting, makes the image and then steps out, out and back into her proper milieu. If there was to be an anacting before this would be its counterimage in dance.