I’ve got these nagging lines of inquiry forming spirals, zig-zags and arcs of varying lengths. Perhaps the most compelling and enduring line for me is curiosity around the stretchiness of time, which keeps me coming back to performance again and again. Live performance is a laboratory in which I can study this stretchiness composed of the conscious and unconscious, perception and experience, ephemerality and memory – all unfixed and immense. I occasionally think about this New Yorker article discussing the play of timing and the brain, employing percussionists as test subjects, claimed to be more attuned than most to exacting time. We are all test subjects when experiencing live performance.
When I saw Episode One of Life and Times in January performed by the Nature Theater of Oklahoma my patience was tried and a three-hour performance at the Public Theater seemed interminable as the actors sang about the mundane details of one company member’s life. Stretchy time expanded. Alternately, at a recent concert by Sunn in San Francisco, the blaring stasis that rattled my jeans distilled time, my perception of the two hours seemingly more brief. Every performance speaks to the last work seen. Every piece also speaks to one’s life before walking into the theater. To visit the different planets of artists through performance is an experiment with time and a practice of presence.
Not only does the rare opportunity to experience the same work performed multiple times highlight how no two performances are ever the same, it also makes apparent the multifactorial nature of perception and how no two events can be experienced in the same way. Repeat watching exaggerates the variation, inconsistency and fallibility of perception. A few weeks ago, watching Early Plays performed by The Wooster Group and New York City Players both Thursday and Saturday at YBCA, I experienced the second performance to be much shorter based on my expectations and previous exposure. I was also less alert to nuance and detail the second time around.
Time is important. It’s limited for all of us. I believe attention to live performance raises the potential of every moment because it tests our sensitivity and awareness. For that reason (among many) I love artists. They are philosophers in their own right and shape how we pay attention. And what is life about if not paying attention and noticing fiercely?
As the Writer in Residence at the ODC Theater, I consider the people, processes and performances at the Dance Commons catalysts and informants for conversations about the potency of dance and how we frame the craft in relation to the Bay Area, arts across the nation, and, perhaps most importantly, to our globalized society and the questions of our time. Founder of Culturebot, Andy Horowitz defines contemporary work as that which involves inquiry or interrogation. I also think of these as guiding factors for the conversations to be had on this blog.
So you’re invited. Put on your art goggles. Do it quick! We’re going in. Art and life run on the same track you know. Pull the thread. See dance everywhere. It’s there. Why, you may ask, would you step up to such a dare? To answer, I share with you the words of Jeanette Winterson:
“The time you spend on art is the time it spends with you; there are no shortcuts, no crash courses, no fast tracks. There is only the experience. What art can do is prompt in us authentic desire. By that I mean it can waken us to truths about ourselves and our lives; truths that normally lie suffocated under the pressure of the twenty-four hour emergency zone called real life. Art can bring us back to consciousness, sometimes quiet, sometimes dramatically, but the responsibility to act on what we find, is ours.”
Looking to emerge from that “twenty-four hour emergency zone”? Take the triple dog dare. Share your art adventures and dance thinking here. I’ll be embedded as the Writer in Residence at the ODC Theater throughout 2013. Let the juicy conversations begin.