Pedagogically speaking IV

J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment

Let's say The Machiavellian Moment describes the emergence of a new historical consciousness in 15th-century Florence, beginning with Savonarola’s preaching on an imminent Florentine apocalypse. Pocock details how this might have placed the notion of "City" in new relation to time and place, giving rise to a new kind of individual agency, a sense of historical urgency, and a new mode of historicizing, that fundamentally affected the individual’s understanding of their place in civic society. Relative to performance work, this development of historical consciousness, shifting from a temporally ambiguous civic role to the attainment of  new agency in space and time, along with the power that accompanies it, could be considered relative to character and movement.


By Hans Objectivitus

In Gottfried Bürger's poem, Lenore (1774), the eponymous heroine waits for her lover, William, to return home with his battalion. She's prayed to God that he will. When he doesn't, she curses God for the betrayal and there follows a quick knock on the door. It's William. "Come quickly," he says, "to be married." They fly away on horseback until he, sheding clothes and skin, plunges them into a grave.  

In the dance piece, Lenore, the poem becomes a Vanitas, where value and meaning adhere to objects despite the impossibility of possession, the certainty of death, and what desire for an object might mean allegorically.

An object that Lenore longs for, feels due, and is proposed a future by, represents an aspect of the lover who doesn’t return - i.e. herself possessed of the happiness it'd surely bring her. When the future that the object seemed to promise doesn't arrive, Lenore, in her frustration, curses “God” (the forces of her imagination that promised it), and lo! A knock at the door! “William” appears and they ride off to fulfill expectations until he reveals himself to be an aspect of Death (caused by the fatal object-inspired belief in a fantastical future) and they charge the grave. In the dance version, at this final moment, Lenore is distracted by factors related to her own reality-compression (she can't sustain the fantasy), and she escapes the grave to find herself at home, where another object sets in motion another longing.

It doesn’t matter what the objects are; a beach umbrella, a fruit bowl, a flyswatter, or a padlock... She longs for a freedom that she imagines the objects promise her: freedom through elegance, through bounty, through killing, through security. Once on the "wedding path" with "William" nothing else addresses the particulars of that freedom. 

Here, failure works for Lenore in spite of herself. As the ambitions and freedoms the objects inspire in her go unfulfilled, a perspective is further defined by the idealism the objects evoke in her. The denial of her idealism strengthens her notion of the failure while highlighting the solipsism of it, setting off a struggle between humility and false humility, the inventiveness of failure and the absence of invention.  Distraction opens the escape for Lenore, and fatigue brings her out of the labyrinth and back into the world. Objects offer Lenore a chance shift her position relative to memory and time.

Pedagogically speaking III

Norman Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe, and its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements.

From the 800’s through Martin Luther, Pursuit of the Millennium describes developments in the idea of Apocalypse, and how Messianism contributed to our understanding of both historicity and place, by imagining civilization’s temporal end point being advanced to our current time and place, for an imminent reckoning. This development is presented through capsule biographies of seven messianic individuals, the ways that populace believed them, the moral/ethical order with which they began, and the decay of that order as they progressed. We could consider this in actorly terms as well as political and philosophical terms, through a focus on how a character responds to its own guiding principles. Deviation from moral or ethical principles in pursuit of greater gain, could be explored in class through character/persona creation, a study of how movement languages demand form, and how a character adheres or deviates from defining principles.

Pedagogically speaking II

Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, and, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Volumes I, II

These volumes might consider idealism, failure relative to it, and how the individual mind moves between aspiration and daily reality. Students of performance might consider this movement back and forth, between a realistic position in a daily reality and an aspirational position in an imagined space. They might consider the parallels with clown theory, as the character tries to achieve something, fails, and keeps trying; with the repetition and failure relative to a single desire creating the material for the act. Character/persona might be considered as alternately moving forward in time and narrative, and alternately circling one same thing.

Allegorical Gardening

By Barnavas Songdinger

In Allegorical Gardening, two musicians play Karlheinz Stockhausen's Tierkreis, a series of twelve short tunes  based on the zodiac and written for music box, as a third performer plays/dances a “persona,” partly in response to the musical themes from Tierkreis and partly in response to cues given to him by the musicians.

The persona’s movements respond to the Tierkreis section they accompany. The movement style varies, being governed by the actions of the musicians -- the style changes as they move towards or away from a given object, while playing. So, two elements control the persona’s movements: 1) the particulars of the tune, and 2) the movements of the musician, which change the style of the persona’s movements.

Why Allegorical? An allegorical persona has the characteristics of something seemingly greater than it: a god, a season, a natural element, an astrological sign. Here the allegorical element is the persona’s notions of the correct or appropriate response, the correctness of which he holds himself accountable to. This correctness/appropriateness, becomes an idealism, the measure of truth. This is the force greater than the individual, to which he’s beholden, that to some degree directs the course of his life, and that he allegoizes.

The order of the twelve Tierkreis pieces is predetermined. The movements of the musicians and the persona are improvised. The persona itself is an attitude shaped in response to the music. The protagonist’s inability to articulate that response satisfactorily (for himself) causes him to repeat it, forever, because this idealism is what he measures the movement against. Frustration causes him to continue. The portrait created is one of frustration relative to an ideal, and how the response to that frustration creates the persona over time.

Each repetition tries a different angle, a better angle, looking for a solution. What's at stake for him changes as well; sometimes it feels personal, other times existential. He doesn't choose when to shift between those. Something else chooses (the musicians do) and he’s compelled to follow the directions received. 

Why Gardening? Because as he works through it, trying to find new expressions of himself, cultivating a sense of self relative this idealism, the fields of that endeavor are cultivated by the circumstances. He’s being led by the musicians, grown by them. “Allegorical character” in this sense is the persona’s normal response. The phrase is a puzzle he can't solve, so he keeps trying. If the context was narrative, the frustration would lead to changes in circumstance. Here, changes are brought about non-narratively by the musicians.

Pedagogically speaking

J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Vol. 2

Barbarism and Religion is a six volume series of books about Edward Gibbon’s writing of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Volume 2 might focus on the philosophical context Gibbon was writing in, the historical forms then in use, and Gibbon’s position within the various Enlightenments then taking place. Relative to those, it might discuss the means by which he conceived a new form of historiography. This could be considered in a theatrical context; how the actor defines history for the character might be a central interest of the pedagogy in question. A Theory of Individual History, might be a way of considering character, determining what sort of references are given weight, and, how those references are given different kinds of weights, to define what their motivations are and how they respond to memories, fears, and ambitions.

They Go Out In Joy

They Go Out in Joy is a work-in-progress that began at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Ireland. Based on a collection of pre-war photographs of Irish emigrants taken just before their departure from the island (one copy of each photo was left with relatives who stayed behind), the project will involve a series of short performance/video portraits, each responding to one photograph. The movement work in each video will be built in part around a description of the figure in the photo and a “gag” idea that I’ve written about each of them. Some of these descriptions and gags are posted below.


They Go Out In Joy (25D)

The sadness hasn’t overwhelmed her sense of responsibility. She’s aware of what else has to happen, and where her affairs are. Things are arranged in her mind. The loss is overwhelmed by the importance of her logistics.

Wait. Don’t go. But she’s actually traveling with them. They'll never be any further apart than they are now but the concern is constant.

They Go Out In Joy (32A)

He dominates, others tolerate him. They must. He’s angry but usually gets things done. A hard worker. Executive, potentially. Cares about his appearance. His dominance is aggressive.

Nothing will stay where he wants it. Infuriates him. Things keep moving, changing places, being elsewhere.

They Go Out In Joy (2C)


The futility of her sister's ambitions. There'll be no happiness in it. And her brother won't find relief. Pursuit of her own dreams seems unlikely, due to the willfulness of her sister and resentment of her brother. She’s the smartest, and the saddest. 

She watches things go away. Doesn’t even try to keep them. Maybe gestures, raises her hand toward it as it goes, though otherwise immobile. Things she doesn’t have to lose. The paper blown away by the wind that she could easily catch. What’s the point. Nothing's worth holding onto. Gone soon enough anyway.


They Go Out In Joy (4A)

Skepticism. Of everything. He sees things geometrically, as if in order to best organize them. He has no way to see the edges of this experience, now, to best organize it. He’s kept an orderly house, or tried to. Managed his affairs well, or done his best, at least.

Organize those buttons. Organize your hair. Mock someone else’s lack of organization.

They Go Out In Joy (43A)

He’s emotional, but holding it together. He’s observant. He can’t hold too many things in mind at once, can’t imagine delegating or asking others to do things for him. He doesn’t have a private life of the mind but he does share feelings with his family that are different from those shared in public. He’s considered quite smart among his peers, because he can think ahead so well. He’s sad now. Thinking ahead doesn’t do him any good. The immediate future isn’t a problem he can solve now. So he tries not to think ahead. But then doesn’t have his tools to problem-solve. He's trapped with his feelings. And this brings him near to tears.

He’s distracted from how he feels, by excitement at what he sees.

They Go Out In Joy (1D)

Intelligent, resistant, moral, he’s made to do things. He's made to perform the more complicated parts of their exploits. Shem, the put-upon. He’s always drawn back to the family. Never walks away. He likes walks. Longs for a lover. Has one. He's leaving her, plans have been made. Can’t escape sense of obligation. Wants inner strength to be purely emotional. Imagines it will free him.

He falls in love easily, with everything. It’s hard for him to leave things. Hard to leave even particular places on the street. Hard to walk on.


They Go Out In Joy (1A)

He’s crafty, looking for advantage. He follows the others and makes his peace with them but doesn’t like it and the irritation returns. He can’t shake the sense of being taken advantage of, but he’s not sure what to do for himself. Can’t resign himself to his circumstances. He’s very often at home, feeling controlled, waiting to go meet his friends. Sometimes he feels this sensation of craftiness while out with others, but doesn’t think so far as to imagine there'll be greater advantage, out with them, or that he’ll benefit in ways he can’t otherwise. Because it’s the sense of freedom lying elsewhere that draws him forward. He hunts for opportunity while sitting in the shadows, unable to do what he wants. Which doesn’t prevent him from imagining conquests and obstacles. 

He tries to set things up for himself but the thing he sets up isn’t there when he arrives to make the thing happen. The bunny keeps hopping away. It’s a practical problem. He needs to get an edge, being not the brightest. He knows this. It’s a conceptual limitation. 

Narrative and Doubt

Q: What's the main theme that unites your work?

A: It's all still acting work. There’s a performed persona at the center of it. Seen, usually, at a moment when his doubts arise and his attention shifts from the narrative action causing the doubt to more urgent reflections on his response to that action. His focus shifts from the behavior he thought appropriate, to a consideration of alternatives. So the circumstances causing the doubt are seen partly from the standpoint of his own current moment, right then, but also relative to their ideal form as it’s gathered up from his reflections, from his memories. I’m drawn to what happens in that reflective moment, but I’m more drawn to the fact that it happens. He’s trying to find happiness, relief from the doubt, through a recollection, something in his history, through an idealization of what he’s able to recollect. He wants a relationship, or at least the possibility of a relationship, between his current narrative time and the timelessness of that idealized recollection. For relief. To escape the doubt. He wants to learn, or unlearn, something about himself in the situation that sets this off. But there’s no objective truth that’ll help him.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of clowning. In particular the aspect of his persona that comes into existence in this reflective state, and the language used to express it. Because when his narrative-time brushes against his Ideal there’s a consciousness born in their relation but I wouldn’t say he’s terribly aware of it, and this forms part of a comic set-up. While the audience sees a potential consciousness there, he’s stuck between the nature of narrative action and the nature of reflection, unaware that they’re incompatible. The comedy’s not tuned for laughs but there’s the potential for a particular kind of pathos and absurdity in this combination of a lack of self-knowledge, non-attainment, together with an awareness of conscience, and a partial consciousness of his own modes, where the knowledge of himself as that moment might be glimpsed and a kind of freedom possible. Where in this transition from actuality to an Ideal does he just exist? He’d like to know but he never “just exists” and the result is despair, and “comedy.” This conflict between ideality and reality is the comic moment here not because one state or the other is comedic but because the conflict doesn’t understand itself.

Sometimes, when the persona looks to the audience, in that look there’s the possibility of an escape, from the confines of the moment he’s trapped in, by switching his present time, for the eternity that the audience represents by being outside of it. But he can’t take advantage of that possibility, because the perspective really isn’t there for him.

Q: So then what happens after the shift?

A: He returns to the narrative, because maybe he’s distracted, or he’s forced back, and the story continues.