Characters, Figures and Signs

Cathy and Synne attended one of the UBS Openings: Saturday Live at Tate Modern in London, on Saturday 21st February. The day, entitled ‘Characters, Figures and Signs’, brought together dance, visual art and academic discourse ‘in order to consider the parallel, but often paradoxical, significations at play in the dramaturgy of a communal discussion or performance situation.’

Xavier Le Roy’s performance, ‘Product of Circumstances’ seemed perhaps the clearest address to this sense that there might be some complementarity, as opposed to simple disjunction, between the dramaturgy of the academic lecture or discourse and the dramaturgy of dance. At the same time, dance approached human biology in ways that the academic discourse could not, or did not grasp.

Jerome Bel’s film, Veronique Doisneau allowed a member of the corps de ballet to make direct address to the audience, to speak of her experiences as a dancer. Among other moments, she confesses that the still moments of the chorus’s role in parts of Swan Lake make her want to scream or run off stage – she then demonstrates this by dancing one such scene in a moment that deconstructs the ballet through this combination of autobiographical confession and  a performance stripped bare of soloists or fellow members of the corps. It makes a dying swan of the chorus member.

Standing on a boat on the Thames on a sunny day is always a pleasure. Julien Bismuth and Pascal Flavien’s performance entailed two men hailing us from a boat – one busy with words, the other with flags, semaphore and flashing lights. In a literalisation of the metaphor of ships that pass, this performance draws attention to language as being as much a matter of signs and as elusive to the grasp as the frantic activity of the man with the flags. With the aid of a key (and a script), we caught at fragments before the boats drifted apart.

These were the moments that stood out for me, though there were others. It was disappointing that the panel discussion did not really address what had seemed the central concerns of the day – but perhaps they were not central for everyone there. However, this relationship between verbal language and physical gesture is a fascinating one, once one side-steps inclinations to place them in an antithetical relationship.