Saturday, 1 August 2009

Video notes 2: Le Dernier Spectacle (The Last Performance) (1998) by Jerome Bel

I posted the first of these over a year ago, but its taken me a while to get back through my notebooks. To recap the nature of this side project: Taking a lead from Christine Evans, I'm going to post in installments my notes on a series of performance documentations I watched in the Live Art Development Agency's study room whilst in London in November 2007. Not quite reviews, these notes are largely my own labour of thinking through these works, an interest triggered by the recent performance The Show Must Go On for MIAF in 2007. Since that time, I've read with great interest sections of Andre Lepecki's book Exhausting Dance, part of which is an excellent response to the key concerns of Bel's work. Enjoy!

“Je suis Jerome Bel” states a solo performer (Frederic Seguette) in an affect-less monotone whilst standing at a microphone downstage centre. Identity announced, his choreography to demonstrate the legitimacy of this claim is simple: he sets a stopwatch and waits, looking out at the audience for the duration of the countdown. The alarm beeps, and he exits.

Perhaps a minute elapses. Another performer (Jerome Bel) enters in tennis whites, carrying a racquet. “I am Andre Agassi”, he announces. The tab curtains open, and he serves and volleys against the back wall of the theatre, swapping sides to indicate a change of service. Task completed, he exits once again.

Another minute or so, followed by another performer entry, (Antonio Carallo) dressed in tights, a vest, and carrying a skull. “I am Hamlet”, he declares. Again, the choreography of identity demonstration is simple and unemotive: “To be”, he states whilst onstage, followed by “Or not to be” delivered from offstage. "That is the question" he adds upon returning centre stage.

Another performer enters, a woman this time (Claire Haenni), who announces: “Ich bein Susanne Linke.” She dances silently, re-enacting a fragment of choreography. After some time, music begins (Franz Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’) and the dance increases in poignancy. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful eruption within the hitherto austere performance structure, and is quickly and firmly arrested. Carallo re-enters wearing the same costume. He too declares that “Ich Bein Susanne Linke”, and performs the same dance fragment with the same degree of seriousness, whilst wearing a tutu and slip that makes him appear ridiculous. The Schubert begins again, and Carallo tries valiantly to make his very different body perform the same work of identity formation as the willowy previous dancer. Does thinness and physical delicacy necessarily equate with beauty and vulnerability? Or is beauty, like identity formation, simply a machinic process? Carallo tries hard, but he remains unconvincing when measured against the original copy. The dance ends abruptly, and he exits.

Bel enters in the same costume yet again. He too claims to be Susanne Linke. The question arises – what did the original do to deserve such unfaithful imitators? Seguette enters as the fourth successive Susanne Linke. Is it a competition between the three men as to who can be the most interesting female impersonator? Or is it more likely, given the deconstructive nature of the work’s operation, that this parade of three highly unlikely physical surrogates for Linke is a means of aggressively curtailing the seductive possibilities of beauty and lyricism.

“Je ne suis pas Jerome Bel” Bel announces, and then proceeds to set and wait through the alarm clock. “I am not Andre Agassi” Haenni declares, then plays tennis against the back wall, somewhat less successfully than Bel’s earlier iteration. “I am not Hamlet” Seguette states, then removes his vest, dagger belt, fancy shoes, shirt and tights. Waiting in his underwear, he announces instead “I am Calvin Klein.” In place of Hamlet’s most famous sentence, he declares “Obsession”, followed by an exit and offstage declaration of: “Escape”. Still in underwear, he repeats the sequence with different brands of perfume: onstage is “Contradiction”, and offstage is “Eternity”. When there remains little else to say beyond the impersonal machinic replacement of personal identity with dramatic identity with brand identity, the rest has indeed become silence.

Left as a not-Hamlet Calvin Klein, Seguette helpfully offers: "Ich bin nicht Susanne Linke." Dressed as Agassi, Haenni announces: "Ich bin nicht Susanne Linke." Together, they hold a black cloth in front of Carallo, so that the audience cannot measure his performance as not Linke. The cloth traverses the stage, entirely obscuring his dance and negating his negative identity claim. The music plays out as before, and Carallo dances behind the curtain, the occasional foot or hand protruding beyond its bounds. Carallo exits, and the obscuring curtain follows him off.

Bel too is "nicht Susanne Linke", and he demonstrates his non-identification by listening to the Schubert music on headphones and humming its by-now-familiar melody out loud. Identity continues to be erased through actions and inactions - Bel as "not Bel" as Agassi throws his tennis racket after the balls. Not-Hamlet Calvin Klein sprays perfume towards the audience, waving a jacket to waft it more completely in their direction. Objects, it seems, can carry identity independently of their human possessors. If this proposition is correct, what is the future of subjectivity? If mere objects can act in our name and thereby 'be' us, is there any purpose to human existence? It's a depressing question, drolly delivered.

The black curtain 'dances' with no-one behind it. The microphone is left alone onstage, amplifying a recording of a female German voice (the 'real' Susanne Linke?) dictating a list whose contents remain unintelligible to me. Might the last performance be that in which human bodies are no longer needed by the practice of dance? With this question of post-human identity performance uncomfortably floating, the lights go out.

Concept: Jerome Bel. Choreography: Susanne Linke, excerpts from Wandlung (1978). Performers: Claire Haenni, Antonio Carallo, Frederic Seguette, Jerome Bel










1 comment:

Jana said...

Remind me: what does Lepecki say again? I remember a brilliant argument on Descartes, individuality, and Hamlet.

So good to know that there are people who seriously read such beautiful books.