Lucy Guerin: finality and new directions

Shaun McLeod

Lucy Guerin

Lucy Guerin

Lucy Guerin

The Ends of Things, your new work for the Melbourne Festival has an intriguing title. Where did it come from?

Originally from a composer I worked with, Jad McAdam. It was his idea and it grew out of a sound idea really, to do with creating a score from sounds of finality. Like the end of a record or the tone after someone has hung up on you on the telephone, or when a film reel comes to an end and you hear a clacking noise. There are a lot of different sounds of things running out and ending and television going off the air. So rather than in a huge cataclysmic, catastrophic way it was more like that empty hollow sense of endings.

How have you chosen to work with that idea?

That was difficult because I did a development period on the piece earlier in the year and I thought that I would use all these gestures of finality and I’d set up these situations that had this emotional tone of endings. But it became extremely difficult. I realised that to create a sense of endings without anything going before it was almost impossible for me. Also I found it very, very draining and found myself not really being able to get into the process that much during the development period which was in January. So I let myself wander a bit with it and get off the track a little bit and just try out a few things, but that ended fairly inconclusively. Since then I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve developed more of an overall structure, which will have more of a beginning, middle and end. And within that structure these little final moments will present themselves. So they’ll set the emotional tone of the piece; but there will be a greater end as well, almost like the end of a narrative.

It sounds like it has the potential to be quite bleak.

Yes, well it does. And that was one of the other things that was worrying me about it, actually. I didn’t really want to make a piece that was completely dark. But having thought about it, I’ve sort of made Trevor Patrick the central character. He has this very dry, interesting sense of humour and he’s sort of like a character. It’s almost like his life. The dancers represent more the workings of his mind or his past or his fears—they are more like his psychological state. So I think it will probably end up being fairly bleak in the final scene but there will be quite a bit of humour before that, slightly black humour, but it won’t all be dirge-y and doom ridden.

Your work is often marked by that mischievous wit and dry humour.

Yes, I think that will be in there, definitely, especially in the first scene where we set him up in his little environment. Yes, but I won’t give too much away.

Is there a narrative thread that runs through this at all or is it predominantly an abstract work?

No, it is actually quite narrative, much more narrative than works I’ve done previously. So I feel like I’m trying to have both worlds in this work. I do have this narrative character who is isolated pretty much for the first two sections of the work. We pick him up at a certain time in his life where he’s become quite withdrawn from the world and he’s obviously a fairly sensitive character who can’t really deal with the pace of things outside of his own room. He’s at a point where his isolation and cutting off from people is just starting to cause his world to disintegrate and he is losing connection with reality. Hence things running out. The Ends of Things ultimately relates to the end of control or reason, so he’s losing it a bit. It is a bit bleak in that way.

It also sounds interesting that you are actually tackling that way of making work.

Yes, it’s quite psychological.

Is that new for you?

I think I’ve always felt when I’ve made works that I was entering a psychological state or getting into a particular zone of psychology. But I haven’t actually defined a character before as specifically as I am this time. Well, I suppose that when I did Robbery Waitress on Bail, I wanted that mood of the suburban teenager and that sort of frustration and hopelessness. But it was more through just an emotional tone. This time I’m being a little more specific with myself about who this person is. So I suppose it’s more like a writer would research their character. And I don’t know what’s going to happen because I haven’t worked this way before and it will be interesting to see if that’s helpful or hindering when it comes to this next rehearsal period and creating the movement.

Is that specificity going to be clearly interpreted by the audience?

Yes, I want it to transfer to the audience, to be quite simple and straightforward, which is something I haven’t really done before. I mean I think I was quite happy for people to enter a more dramatic realm but I wasn’t too fussed if they got exactly what was going on. In fact, it wasn’t necessary for me at all. This time I’m really interested in them knowing what the situation is. I still haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to get people to realise that the other dancers are what’s going on inside his head. Because, I don’t know, maybe you need these really obvious voiceovers or signs coming down or someone coming out and making an announcement. I hope not.

Is this new interest something that’s been prompted by making work in Australia?

It’s partly to do with making work here in Australia because when I made work in New York my main audience were other choreographers and dancers or other people from the art world who really easily accept abstraction and don’t feel threatened by it at all. If they don’t understand it they’re quite happy to make an attempt to engage with it anyway. And that was great except that you do start to work within a bubble in a way that’s not really connected to anybody else. It’s art for artists in a way.

There has been a lot of talk about making what we do accessible to a wider audience.

Yes, but I think a lot of that has to do with wanting to sell more tickets and create more income, which is not my main interest. I find it quite challenging for myself to actually be clearer about what I mean and not be afraid for people to know what it is. So that you are a bit more exposed, you are a bit more revealed if you actually say it straight out. I think a lot of artists are afraid of that. I think I have been.

The Ends of Things, choreographer Lucy Guerin, composer Franc Tetaz, dancers Ros Warby, Trevor Patrick, Brett Daffy, Stephanie Lake; design Dorotka Sapinska, dramaturg Tom Wright; Lucy Guerin Company, Melbourne International Festival, National Theatre, October 20-28.

RealTime issue #39 Oct-Nov 2000 pg. 37

© Shaun McLeod; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2000