Rehearsing Intra-Activity – On some event during the LISTE Performance Program 2017, curated by Eva Birkenstock

  • 18.06.2017

I was cheering with some Swiss friends and some Prosecco on one of the few terraces of LISTE Art Fair Basel when we heard commotion coming from the yard. Distorted sounds, pulsating basses erupted in the former brewery and all of the visitors jumped to the handrails and stared down – the LISTE Performance Project, curated by Eva Birkenstock, had just begun.

Ellen Freed and Keira Fox, the two members of New Noveta, wore jumpsuits, bondage-wear, and high collars, all in pink. They ran up the stairs in rage, pushed people aside, frantically tried to cut bags open until they finally threw pearls and glitter into the yard. With scissors in their hands, the went up and down the famous Warteck-stairs and unknotted pink robes and pulled them over the stairs, through the crowd – no one was safe, wherever they stood.

This wild opening of the week set the tone for the Performance Project. In neither performance the spectator remained innocent or detached, but was dragged into compliance. The roles of choreographer, performer, and viewer overlapped in various modes, they were exchanged, and contrasted to the extreme.

While your pulse-rate rose during the New Noveta performance, the experience of the contribution by Selina Grüter and Michèle Graf felt detached. The sketch in the hand-out promised some form of adaptive choreography, though the artists and their collaborators, all friends, performed a contra-dance choreography. This folk-dance is based on pairs, that stand in in a row, facing each other. Traditionally a caller names the moves and their sequence before the dance starts. In this case, the artists and performers walked up to the middle of the room and started the choreography while counting from one to eight. No music was played while the bodies turned around, changed places, progressed from one side of the row to other and back, until everybody danced with everybody.

Though contra-dance offers a wide array of interesting topics to discuss, specially for choreography, it was impossible to shake off the feeling of exemplary use of the choreography in this performance. The spectacle of contra-dance in front of the art-audience, that was sitting and standing around the dancers, felt weirdly anthropologic. As if the whole dance was discovered on an expedition to Anglo-Saxon folk and now brought to the enlightened art world. If it was not ironic, it might have been sweet to dance with friends.

Jérôme Bel’s choreography “Cédric Andrieux”, performed by Cédric Andrieux, was a first highlight. This piece from 2009 is a solo by the dancer “who has lived the history of modern dance”. The dancer stood on a simple stage and started to narrate his career as a dancer. From the beginnings, the school, the first engagements, the trainings, the changes from company to company, until the very moment he stood in front of the audience. He changed into the matching outfits for specific moments of his life, remembered humiliation, love, pain, and realisations. Cédric Andrieux performed choreographies, training methods, and situations that he encountered throughout his life. He admitted the different reasons of decisions he took: love, money, career. He also recounted his relationship with the audience.

The dancer disclosed all the influences on his body and mind as a dancer to the audience. As if a sculpture would tell about each hammer-hit it took from the artist to be shaped the way it is. And as if it had been scripted, the dancer reacted to a lady rushing out of the room with a dry remark: “telephone”. A simple hint to his perception of what happened: this lady set her priorities in whoever was calling her and not in the performance she was attending. And only in the end it became clear, that the present audience was, we were part of the process that lead to the Cédric Andrieux that was standing in front of us.

The next day we entered the Kaserne theatre and were greeted by darkness. Dana Michel started crawling ungainly across the stage that was set with different kinds of objects. The artist examined a teapot, plastic bags, a fur-coat, and many other things through a childlike curiosity. Each object was examined as if the artist was learning about her body and its functions at the same time. And suddenly certain objects came together with her black body and a certain, apparently essential, behaviour stuck out. She burst out in gospels or nonsensical noises and investigated the microphone. Comical recitals from Hip Hop culture or political figures (a hilarious nonsensical rant from a lectern in a spray-tan tent didn’t feel awkward anymore…) spawned across the performance. The most eerie thing, though, were Michel’s eyes. They searched, the recognized, the ignored, they went through the skin – this Dana Michel clearly had a plan.

It was this performative archaeology of herself and the object at the same time, that introduced Dana Michel, and the objects, to herself and the audience. AT the same time, it broke with stagnant points of view and eradicated essentialist ideas. Though it barely involved the audience though, as we were left alone to take the performance in.

Isabel Lewis performed twice, once on a sunny afternoon on one of the many terraces of the LISTE Art Fair and a second time later that day in the Kaserne. “Strange Action” was the title and it consisted of an interactive game of associations between Lewis and the audience. Like an MC she started to ask the audience who she looked like and to forget about her skin colour and any political correctness. And as she revealed to play Mr. T, she described the different layers of of her act; Lewis plays Laurence Tureaud who plays Mr. T who plays Sergeant Bosco B. A. Baracus in “The A-Team”. She progressed to discuss Nicole Kidmans acting quality and how it differs from Mr. T: Mr. T is only a persona but it is inseparable from the body of Laurence Tureaud, while Nicole Kidman is clearly separated from her roles. As if she wasn’t taking over her roles feelings and motives except for once; as Alice Harford in “Eyes Wide Shut” by Stanley Kubrick, in which Alice cries for hours and Nicole looks like that. As Kubrick asked Kidman to repeat the scene for hours and hours, she actually cried for hours – all for those thirteen seconds on screen.

Touched by this, maybe, Lewis proposed to act those thirteen seconds to the gathered audience: She explained the typology of head-banging before she engaged into head-banging of the hard kind. The music stopped abruptly and Lewis was sobbing, she played Laurence Tureaud, who played Mr. T, who played Sergeant Bosco B. A. Baracus, who played Nicole Kidman, who played Alice Harford. She asked for a cigarette from the audience, cited those few lines from the movie – and came out of the act.

As always, I missed the the performance of Sophie Jung, but also of Myriam Lefkowitz. While Jung developed a new piece, in which she plays and changes between different roles and situations based on words and language, Lefkowitz presented “one-on-one walks” at scheduled times. These walks went through the city and were conceived as perception-altering situations.

Even though the contributions were all kept in their architectural and timely confinement, they mostly developed their very own positions with distinctions from the other performances. It was refreshing to have the possibility to see the some of the choreographies and performances various times, Isabel Lewis and Myriam Lefkowitz to name them. This gave the chance to see how a score is dependent on other circumstances as well as how the artists reinterpret the piece each time they perform. And I am looking forward to the next chance to experience this particular program again.