Interview by David Sanson for the Festival d’Automne à Paris 2017
With Crowd, you are continuing your examination of our fantasmatic universe and the relationship between art and the sacred, something that has characterized your productions from the very beginning. However, isn’t this the first time that you are dealing with this subject in its collective dimension, and with such a large number of performers?
Up until The Pyre (2013) my pieces, regardless of the number of performers, have largely been about private space and superimposed intimacies through persons who are often rather isolated. Now, after The Ventriloquists Convention (2015), this is the second time that I’m depicting a group whose social activity and interactions play a central role. This group is certainly very different from that of the ventriloquists’ convention, since it’s a group of young people who have come together out of a desire for feelings of euphoria and out of a common interest in a musical genre, techno. The context chosen is that of a party. The staging of the group fits in nicely with the question of intimacy and its relation to the group, and the relationship between individual and collective emotions. From the very beginning I’ve been interested in questions raised by sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers on the relationship between the artistic and the religious and especially those thoughts and emotions which are improper, of their spaces of expression – archaic and contemporary, actual and potential. Whether it be eroticism, death, or violence, for example, these are issues that concern each of us and can disturb us, and might even jeopardize the community, depending on the way in which they are experienced. With Crowd, there are often exhilarating aspects and outlets of expression of intensified emotions that develop through desire and the complex longing for love. The persons who go to this party, and thus form a community, are prepared to experience particularly intense emotions of any kind, and reach a state where their senses are already very much heightened. The group becomes excited by a piece where the structure and certain behaviors evoke various rituals. In the face of this emotional rollercoaster, the audience can likewise enter into a physical and emotional rapport with the piece.
What kind of place does music have in this work?
Peter Rehberg, who possesses an excellent knowledge of electronic music, proposed a number of tracks and on the basis of those I arrived at a selection for Crowd. He then did detailed work for the final mix. I find it interesting that this selection in fact has a genuine historical relevance, since it’s made up of records that are important for the history of electronic dance music – works by musicians that are significant for the Detroit scene, among others, with Jeff Mills and other people from Underground Resistance, plus Manuel Göttsching, for example. The aim was to create a mix that covers an entire range of essential sounds that has been exciting for us over the last forty years. Besides these tracks, which are used over the greater part of the production, there’s also an original piece composed by KTL (Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg) and another by Peter Rehberg on his own.
And what is the role of Dennis Cooper’s text? You yourself have talked of a “subtext”…
The pieces – as is the world itself – are made up of different layers of texts, though not entirely. Language is not located solely in the realm of audibility. In Jerk (2008) the actor speaks throughout the entire play; with I Apologize (2004) very similar issues arise, although the same actor does not say a single word from the beginning to the very end. What Dennis Cooper and I have been passionate about, right from the start of our long collaboration, is the attempt with each project to reinvent new relationships to the text, to language, to speech, and to narration, and new ways of writing for the stage. The “subtext” of Crowd is a text that is not audible but is partly intelligible. In Crowd, the fifteen dancers also constitute individual personae whose psychologies, imaginations, feelings, and histories are in each case very different. When you’re observing a party, there’s a huge number of “stories” that are unfolding right before your eyes; in Crowd there are histories and portraits of persons that Dennis has developed based on work done with the actors, which refines and influences the creation of the piece. This aspect of the piece brings to mind the process of mixing in music. It involves a mixing of narrations, as though you have fifteen different music tracks and you’re adjusting their respective volume levels, and thus a composition that allows the audience to have a key role in the way in which they will see and experience the piece.
This dissociation of the various planes – dream vs. reality, real vs. fantasy – that produces a feeling of time distortion is another characteristic of your work.
Crowd has a very rich formal potential. One of the central components of this type of piece occurs by way of the multiple stylization of the movements and their montage. This is not an imitation of the movements reworked, but a very intimate interpretation guided by the emotions and the intentions that can motivate the performers, their attentiveness, and their greater reception of what is unfolding around them. I likewise work with subdivisions – at certain points the dancers are going to all be in the same type of stylization, a common language, and at others they will be in a different type of gesture. This creates a very rich range of rhythmical and musical vibrations resulting in a slightly altered perception that is somewhat reminiscent of a hallucinatory or hypnotic feeling, and still producing meaning. In fact, this musical and choreographic work itself allows a narrative work to be created. This play of rhythms provokes a very strong feeling of time distortion. These distortions are highly dynamic, while simultaneously stretching time, making it possible to observe the persons and situations from close-up, and to dissect their actions in detail. Various temporalities are superimposed, through the same movements, but also in their relationship to the music and lighting, whose relationship to time varies almost constantly.