Monday, 21 January 2013

This is Not a Review @ Into the New

Dust Yourself Off and Try Again begins with Aby Watson making a series of statements about the show, including "this performance will not receive a review."

Aby is set to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire's Contemporary Performance degree this year, and Dust Yourself Off and Try Again is part of her final year's work. A standard review is not appropriate: much of the pleasure of viewing a piece like this is in seeing an emerging artist play with forms. In twenty years time, following the inevitable cultural shifts that see Live Artists replace pop stars as celebrities, this performance will be the equivalent of hearing U2's early demo tapes.

Not that I am saying Watson is in anyway as arrogant as Bono, or that her hour long fusion of personal revelation and Swan Lake is a theatrical analogue to The Joshua Tree. This particular comparison breaks very quickly.

Definitions of Live Art are difficult. I spend far too much time trying to find one that makes me happy. At its most literal, it can mean anything that exists in a certain time and space. More commonly, it is a type of work that is personal and idiosyncratic, that does not respect boundaries of taste and convention.

Watson doesn't embrace bad taste, though. There is that bit where she is acting out an epic puking and shitting session, and she does mock the grandeur of Swan Lake. She's certainly messing about with the conventions of genre though. She hands out roses to the audience and asks them to throw them at her. Then she gets another audience member to read out a prepared statement, saying that Dust is rubbish.

She is trying to show how the grandeur and poetry of romantic ballet is a poor imitation of the difficulties of real life.

She is trying to draw a contrast between the person she would like to be and the person she is.

She is trying to indulge a fantasy of the one woman show.

She is expanding the possibilities of stand-up comedy and staking a claim for a female version of humour.

She is trying to do none of the above.

She is fighting the conventions of theatre to find a way to tell her own story.

"There's no success like failure and that's no success at all."

"Develop success from failures."

"Socialism is a philosophy of failure."

Success implies a particular outcome is preferable. Does the outcome tally with this intention?

In the crucible of Live Art, expectation and meaning are heated beyond their boiling point until they evaporate. If the art form is abandoning the habitual behaviour on the stage, why does the audience feel beholden to maintain its own traditional role?

(This is not a review that makes any attempt to assess the quality of the work in question. Rather, kit adopts a posture to mimic the broad feel of the piece, to provoke an emotional response in the reader that they might experience during the performance. It's an uncomfortable way to write, critically: by avoiding the usual structure, the critic is forced to imagine possible readings and experience a paranoia that they are going to be misunderstood.

When addressing work made by undergraduates, that paranoia is all the more intense: on the one hand, this is not work that is expected to be as accomplished as that by the National Theatre of Scotland, but to somehow adjust the response to that, to "let the artist off the hook" is to present a dishonest review to the reader and the artist, to pretend it is something other than it is. On the other, to review it with the same intensity as that given to the NTS would be to expect the artist to have an ability, and resources, well beyond their situation.

The compromise here was to fragment a series of responses to Dust and attempt to structure the responses in a way that might transmit how the piece made me feel.)

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