Without movement, no time

Urszula Dawkins: Jennifer Lacey, Gattica

Jennifer Lacey, Gattica

Jennifer Lacey, Gattica

Jennifer Lacey, Gattica

With only passing reference to the 1997 sci-fi movie Gattaca (director Andrew Nicol), Paris-based US choreographer-performer Jennifer Lacey puts the future, the present and the notion of ‘performance’ up for (literal) discussion in her work Gattica (a different spelling). In a piece both funny and philosophical, Lacey playfully jumps from text to dance to dialogue to group invocation, marking the minutes with the friendly rrring of a kitchen timer.

In the beginning: cross-legged on a raised stage, Lacey lights candles, then expounds on ‘the future’ in a tone equally evocative of pop gurus, sing-song TED-talkers and comforting automatons. “In the future we will all wear Prada.” “Dance will remain a minor form.” “Smokers will be replaced on the streets with sugar eaters.” “Art institutions will hibernate and cultural changes will slip in unobserved.” The pronouncements go on for some time as she waves a fan at a pace that matches the shifting urgency or ease of her tone. An ever-lengthening string of scenarios, depressing, silly or hopeful, are spelled out. The timer goes off.

What’s unfolding, though we don’t know it yet, concerns “The Future of Performance.” Lacey’s program note explains that Gattica was made in response to an invitation to address this topic in a forum, and propelled by her feeling that “the future is something I know nothing about and performance is a really broad topic.” In the present, though, things are slightly confusing, as she slips off the stage to the open floor and begins to dance, spike-heeled boots clacking on the timbers. Her body begins a slow improvisation, first marionette-like, knees knocking slackly together. Then, eyes closed, animal, prancing, undulating. Movements that look ‘like’ but are not, familiar gestures. After a while she finds a strong hook in the wall. She tries to climb it using the skirting board, whatever she can, to grip. The timer goes off.

We’ve begun with the future. We’ve seen a performance. Now for the future of performance. Lacey introduces academic and dance writer Philipa Rothfield. A large, low table is brought in on which Rothfield and Lacey both perch. Lacey sets the timer. Bottles of wine are pulled from a drawer. They drink, they talk—about the future of performance. It’s speculative, it’s intellectual, a staged conversation. Genuine, but perhaps not genuine, complicated by the performance space, by self-referential humour, by the containment of time, place and audience. This, for me, is the core of Gattica, interrogating what ‘performance’ is, what ‘the future’ means, unpacking itself, toying with us, submitting to its own unknowns, unfolding in multiple layers. A discussion disrupted by humour; a performance disrupted by discussion; both spontaneous and considered. It keeps morphing between sincerity and staginess. Ideas fly around: anxiety…solicited states of being…crystallisation…anthropology…The borders are erased between the artificial and the natural, between life and representation, between the serious and the frivolous. The timer trills, but they decide to ignore it.

Sometimes performance is defined by the pleasure of the artform itself: my companion, for example, felt she wanted more dance. For me, ‘performance’ is what happens when you give it the name ‘performance’—and then manage to pull it off. A self-fulfilling prophesy, if you’re lucky. Gattica left me thinking: all performance performs the future, bringing the future into being with every gesture. If everything were stationary, what would time be—or past, or present, or future? Without movement, would time even exist?

Final scene: procrastination. Lacey, alone again, wonders whether procrastination means you know intuitively that the thing you’re not doing would be better in the future. She asks us to join her in a kind of ‘spell,’ to bring something from the future to the present. She teaches us a sung refrain of a few words, and conducts us. The words run round in a gentle circle, “I have three horses, I have…three horses, I have…three horses…” We are placed in relationship both to each other and to what hasn’t happened yet, through a ritual with no accessible logic—but a ritual nonetheless.

Jennifer Lacey has described her work as process-based—relying on aesthetic rules, particular body vocabularies and behaviours—but giving priority, ultimately, to the poetic over the conceptual. Her work’s most consistent quality, she’s said, is a “coaxing strangeness.” Indeed, Gattica is strange but lends itself to reflection after the fact. It is amusing, bemusing, bright, funny and at times seemingly random, yet coherent. Performance happens when something is presented, yes? Made present. Hence, ‘presentation.’ The future, brought to the present. Thinking, thinking—and, at the same time, feeling the questions in their lightness, above all.

Jennifer Lacey, Gattica, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 11-12 April

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 34

© Urszula Dawkins; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

11 June 2015