vrijdag 17 februari 2012

Laurent Chetouane @ we live here - report

Years ago, after witnessing a performance of Heiner Müller's Germania 3 - Tod in Berlin in Bochum, Laurent Chetouane (1973) decided to switch from a career in engineering to studying theatre. Since then the French director has built up an impressive body of work. He became renowned in Germany for staging radical text theatre productions at many of the major German theatre houses, directing classical German texts like Don Carlos (Schiller), Faust (Goethe), Empedokles/Fatzer (Hölderlin/Brecht), Danton's Tod, Leonce und Lena (Büchner) and Publikumsbeschimpfung (Handke), but also Shakespeare, Ibsen and Fosse.
In 2006, Chetouane started to collaborate with a dancer for a performance based on Bildbeschreibung. This experiment resulted in a series of Tanzstücke and in 2011 Horizons, an impressive piece of dance, with Anna MacRae, Sigal Zouk and Matthieu Burneco performing. July 2011, Laurent Chetouane conducted a two day workshop at We Live Here.

Although many participants showed up in training gear, Chetouane insisted on talking first. As he remarked during his introduction, the invitation to do a workshop encouraged him to look back at his work and review it in a comprehensive way. He showed excerpts of it on video and spoke about how different aspects developed from work to work. When halfway through the first day, some people ventilated their pains with talking/listening so much and expressed their desire for getting more physical, Chetouane explained that “talking and listening” or conversations between all members of the team are vital to him during the work process. For these not only create mutual understanding and build up confidence within a group, the conversations also allow for collaborators to develop a shared repertoire of names [an idiom or group-dialect] for the specific performance-states and -strategies that are being developed.

Chetouane mentioned that back in the days when he was only working with actors and text, he already had been fascinated by the difference in the posture of a body reading or listening to a text and a body performing one. Comparing the private to the public body, he now declared representation on stage as presence with a lack, “presence minus something”. He described this lack as similar to the difference between “moi et je”, me and I, in language. Indeed, a lot of Chetouane’s work seems to focus on what is lost in representation and how this lack can re-emerge in performance or, in his recent work, can even become the motor of events on stage.

The things that shy most people away from public performance often inspire the ones that will do to display bold behaviour and impressive forms of control. This could be regarded as part of a learning process (as for instance the bold behaviour children display), but one could also look at it as a cover up of what is actually moving people around when performing. The tendency to overdo and impress, and thereby take control over self and others, is not the way to go for Chetouane. His work circles around or tries to undermine the obligation to perform, while at the same time acknowledging that there is no real escape. A certain reluctance to perform is being cultivated. To put it otherwise, the whole business of doing well and living up to expectations, is not cancelled but put on hold.

One of the most important tools Chetouane proposes is called “strike”: an active presence that is not necessarily producing anything, but awareness. The emptiness that results from postponing the performative (to a certain degree), fills itself with all kinds of unconscious action. For a performer the main goal of “strike” is to observe these inner activities when they occur and surface, to allow for them to happen, to observe them even more closely and eventually to integrate them into his or her presence as a performer on stage. Later on, one can even start to compose with these drives and streams of implicit information, which results in a special kind of performative improvisation.

The first day therefore Chetouane also discussed the implicit powers that move people around. The play of gazes and gestures, of positions and perspectives, representing all kinds of information flux and power structures already filling the room, surrounding us constantly and structuring our perception. How does one deal with these powers as a performer? These layers of perspective and expectation, of obligation and frame (the sense of limit comes back in the title of Chetouane's last work Horizons) are referred to in theory as ‘dominant discourse’. An awareness of this in relation to one's private and public body, offers a sensitive performer a dense web of triggers and hooks, platforms and spaces, to work with. As in an archaeology of sensibility, Chetouane dug up and discussed with the participants the strategies he has been developing over the years to enable performers to survive the moment of performance, to live these moments again and again while accepting the fundamental instability and the risk that is involved, including the delicate relation with the members of the audience. This does require a certain training and a lot of gut, since most of the material is undercurrent and normally not accessed consciously, as some participants would find out, going on the floor during the second day.

States of mind and body are being developed in rehearsal, which enable the performers to witness the powers that move them and others around in the very moment of acting out one's presence. As Chetouane remarked, witnessing oneself is not without observing many others. Next to inner-conversations (me and I), there is the sensitivity between colleagues on and off stage, but also and even more important the vast body of the audience should be taken into account, ranging from people present in rehearsal or during performance in the auditorium to the world at large. To turn it around, the world at large doesn't have to be present at all to be of influence or have impact. Chetouane answered a question about training his approach, saying that one could do it all alone, since “we are never alone and we are never just in the place where we are. We are always already in the body of some one else, or in some other place.”

Consequently, Chetouane treats performers and spectators more or less alike. They are all prey or subject to the gaze, they all produce it, act it out or re-enact it. Everybody is fed by its power in terms of confidence and all are thrown off their feet when they move or are being moved against its grain. A rather intimate and scary business, as the participants that went on the floor would find out. Not only social obligations and personal hang up’s and unresolved business showed up. The vulnerability of the performers was mirrored by the power of the audience and vice versa. It is this exchange of power, as in the empowerment and the loss of performance, that Chetouane focusses on.

As one of the participants remarked afterwards, Chetouane's approach is really enriching by the way it allows the performer to pick up on impulses that are already there, written in space and time by society at large, personal history and social exchange. By putting the obligation to perform on hold, implicit drives surface. Allowing for these primal impulses to drive the performer, to work with what happens when one does not expect anything to happen, discourse and representation or the force of the gaze become tangible as a motor underlying any action, any exchange between performers on stage and off.