Liz and Keith get some work done…

Liz and Keith get some work done…

So…Turbulence has become – among things –  the accumulation of conversations, dreams, arguments, and ideas of not just Keith and the core collaborators, but also those of our friends and colleagues. When folks come to look at what we’re making, discourse explodes. We wanted to share some of that with ya’ll.

Here’s a conversation between SF dancer and friend-to-many-of-us, Liz Tenuto, and Keith, right after the December 2011 showings at CounterPULSE:

LIZ

My biggest question about the piece was whether
the performers believed in the world you all were
creating on stage. Did they belong to that world
or were they outsiders commenting on it or both
or neither?
As an audience member, we walk into your world–
you guys are already on the stage doing the
healing stuff…at the beginning, the set up is clear
and once it begins, the performers’ clarity was
lost.

I spoke with some of the performers about this
already and they justified it by the title of the
piece. “It was supposed to be unclear.” “It was
supposed to be a failure.”
But then my question is why fly in international
performers? Why pick an all star cast?

KEITH
I don’t understand your first question. I have
banned the phrase ‘believe in’ from my
vocabulary. I don’t ‘believe in’ anything so I’d
never ask anyone else to do so.

Worlds. Were we creating a world? Ok, yes. And
therefore I think we were all in it, and I mean the
performers when I say we. I think we created a
world that included some of the audience some of
the time, or at least it gave them more than one
doorway or window into our world. I think that all
the performers were of the world created on stage
but some were there in protest or
disidentification, and I mean they were there but
also critically observing there participation or
presence, and sometimes disagreeing or needing
distance from others or from the actual world. But
they were on stage so they were in it, even if
trying to observe it or distance themselves from it
or even not feeling a part of it.

I liked that performer clarity was lost, especially
during the fake healings and when the cast moves
on to other images or scores and some audience
stay on stage to mess up the division between
artists and audience, I like that too. And I want
that to be an ongoing feature of this particular
work.

There is some work happening around performing
failure in reference to Sarah Jane Bailes’ book
Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure,
and Judith Halberstam’s book The Queer Art of
Failure.

It is a way to reframe success, to celebrate failure
as a political or artistic tactic, in that to perform
well, or to perform successfully is to affirm
hegemonic or mainstream and oppressive values,
aesthetics, structures, ideas…

So a failure in theater would mean that the piece
should or could fall apart, not be coherent, not
hold together, not maintain a clear relationship
with the audience, fail to unite the public, or
move the audience, or even inspire… I don’t
know how far to push this idea of failure and still
stay on stage, but it’s what I’m interested in
trying with this work.

And when I say this work, I mean Turbulence, but
I think that I am permanently fucking with my
future work through the work/play on Turbulence.
I mean, this won’t be my last messy incoherent
piece that fails to meet my previous standards or
ambitions or intentions…

So why the all star cast? Because each of these
people turn me on and I want to work with them
AND the Turbulence project is about mass
movement, about group activity and process,
about organizing in groups. I also had visions of
big structures of bodies making and unmaking so
I knew that there had to be many players. These
are the best players I could find AND/OR they
were the ones right in front of me AND/OR they
were the ones that somehow sparked my muse. If
I had more money, and more consistent staff
support, I would have hired more people including
more from Europe and other countries. Our
experience last summer in Europe was so rich.
Just hearing stories of economies and money and
communities from Israel and Europe and Korea
was really generative to the project.

LIZ
This is why the title is smart–but I feel like you

could justify almost anything with it. I felt like

their responses were easy and unconsidered…

I do realize that this as a scenario could all be
justified as a metaphor for the economy–lots of
funding, elite cast, a show that implodes on itself,
the notion of a show, etc.

KEITH
The title is also the name of a collective of
dissident academics and activists who published a
zine in response to some of the big economic and
ecological summits. They look at the systems in
crisis (climate, economic) and suggest that
turbulent systems are easier to move or influence
than solid, grounded systems. They suggest that
smaller movements (they mean social
movements, but I read everything they wrote
additionally as a dance metaphor) can influence
larger movements – it’s all a matter of shifting
speed, pattern, rhythm, orbit, momentum…

Clearly there are a lot of metaphoric poems going
on and the dance is always already about the
economy of making a dance about the economy.
Fundraising and paying artists and international
travel and signing contracts and negotiating
performances and renting spaces are all ‘part of
the work’ and therefore ‘part of the show’. And to
make it all the more complicated, hosting salons
and conversations and fake healings and even the
(more underground, nondocumented) oil actions
are all part of the world we’re creating, as both
metaphor and as a reality. It’s not a model, it is
an actuality. A group of people working together,

generating value and money, and spending it too,
while inventing or revealing various ways to
relate, to connect, to produce, to protest, to
learn, to steal, to dominate, to cooperate…

And yes the show is intended to collapse, to be
unsustainable, but not only that…
(And I really don’t know what comes after those 3
dots.)

LIZ
Are you guys exemplifying the economy or
critiquing it?

KEITH
I consider there to be 3 intentions of the work.
Formal dance metaphors of the economy,
propaganda against capitalism and economic
injustice, dreamworlds/unknowing/mystery. My
idea for the latter was to be triggered by the large
gold fabric and a much slower pace, or more
elastic relationship to time.

Initially I thought that these 3 sections/intentions
would be differentiated but in the working process
I saw them merging and I didn’t try to stop this
merging or overlapping. So yes we’re embodying
the economy, and creating new economies, and
critiquing the economy. Sometimes that economy
is capitalism, or this current phase of
neoliberalism + war on terror + end of
communism + deregulated corporate control +
colonial/neocolonial occupation and slavery. At
other times, economy is more personal, more
about social relations, and the makings of

friendship or community. Economies of touch and
intimacy, of queer and nonqueer, of sociality as
gift and market.

LIZ
This definitely got me thinking. I know that the
stage doesn’t have to be a sacred place, I know
about casual performance, all of this…and I like
to see things that work outside of my paradigm
and belief systems. But honestly, I was
disappointed with the delivery of the performers
in a big way.

ok…and I’m spent. Thanks for reading and
fielding my questions. I want to be honest and I
sincerely hope that this helps in some way and
isn’t a big wa-waaa.

hug,
liz

KEITH
Liz, thanks so much for critiquing your friends!!!!!
There isn’t enough of that.

I think the stage is sacred and not-sacred. Casual
on stage is still a representation, still a spectacle,
at least from some perspectives.

I don’t know what to say about ‘performance
delivery’. The 2 performances at CounterPULSE in
December were so different, despite using the
same overall score each night. In general the
opening night audience found the work much
more hostile, incoherent, messy, unsatisfying (but
not only). I told the cast that it was our last time

that we could completely fail, fall apart. We were
still 8 or 9 months from premiering the work (I
know that’s a problematic marketing frame) and I
purposely called it a failure-in-progress with
tickets costing $9.99.

I was more satisfied with the experiment than
anticipated. I was super impressed with the
performer’s choices to engage, disengage,
initiate, follow, ignore, invent, copy. But like you,
I also wanted more. More from every performer.
More engagement. I wanted intense full bodied
dancing from both Gabriel and Laura during the
last song. I wanted everyone more intense in the
pushing/pulling/structure making & collapsing. I
want something from the song (you lied) and the
text (I can’t take it anymore) but I still don’t
know what. Music too, wonderful but not fully
realized, not by a long shot…

Thanks for pushing me to respond to your letter.
I’ll now share this dialogue with the cast.

hug,
keith

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