image by Benedict Johnson http://benedictjohnson.com/
‘A spur to the imagination’ (colinsimonandi.com/blog)
A spur digs into flesh, draws a little blood, it’s just enough pain to galvanise.
∞ this is the symbol for infinity, and in Colin, Simon & I: Because We Care, the performers often return to making this shape, they are linked through hands, arms twisted across bodies, one front and one back, black skin against white skin, (Simon is actually more pink than white, but you know what I mean).
Simon and Colin/Colin and Simon, they are together, they sometimes do the same thing, but they are not the same. The image of linked hands and arms might suggest the continuous flow of energy, but as the work twists, unravels and ultimately gets more knotted, the form accumulates other meanings and it feels more like a state of stasis. This interruption of flow is important in considering the performance, it’s the thing that, in a work that is full of disturbing images, perhaps challenges us as an audience most.
Colin is standing on Simon’s chest, then on his stomach, he is bouncing/Simon is letting Colin stand on his chest and then bounce on his stomach/Colin is allowing Simon to allow him to stand on his chest and then bounce on his stomach.
The thing is though, this is Colin and Simon and me and I know them a bit, half way through the show, my strongest response is to wish that they would stop the game, because while I know that they know what they are doing physically, I don’t want Simon to get hurt and I wish Colin would stop playing the bad guy. There is no quarter here (to use a sporting metaphor), there’s a kind of recess where they share a bottle of wine, later they cheekily suggest they might break out into dance and go ‘the full Troy Games’ (as I believe it’s known in the dance equivalent of the locker room) but, there is always an undercurrent of tension. I know that their relationship won’t alter, there won’t be resolution in a switching of roles; this isn’t how the performance of bullying and abuse works. This is not the kind of show where we’ll feel that a manly fight or a manly fuck sorts it out, and they’ll walk away together (or apart) with their heads held high in a manly way. I described the work to a friend and he suggested that perhaps there was a homoerotic element to the work, I didn’t see that at all, I don’t’ believe that when two men fight they really want to fuck: I think they want to fight.
As the performance progresses Colin and Simon enact scenes that end in more extreme humiliations (Simon’s), the result of what could be described in wrestling as a successful submission strategy. For example Colin spits the word ‘boy’ in Simon’s face, they play master and slave, Colin acts out the aggressor and Simon his victim. This is repeated in different ways with Colin always being successful in getting Simon to submit through physical and psychological challenges and humiliations. The action is ritualistic, they sometimes look at the audience watching them, breaking the frame; its odd, jarring, they make me complicit in the action. As a result, this master-slave dialectic appears the result of an agreement on both their parts, in the play it seems that Colin pushes Simon further, but Simon acquiesces in the knowledge that Colin is compelled to push him further. Physical domination is only one way of having power over someone else.
Now of course that gets more complex because in performance could the image of Colin dominating Simon be read other than the result of a shared agreement? If a black man is standing on a white man’s chest is that speaking to a deep fear, and is this fear going to be resolved in reading that image as somehow the result of a white man granting him permission to do that? If this was WWE or the wrestling that Barthes speaks about in The World of Wrestling (1993:15), the function of Colin and Simon’s performance is the play in a ‘safe space’ of the drama of black versus white, with the black man as an aggressor and the white man as a victim. So to a great extent with Colin and Simon and I….we, the white liberal audience get the chance to also do a spot of wrestling. To this I would add that the wrestling they are doing is not pure WWE, it seems more like classical wrestling and their schoolboy linen shorts and shirts suggest a uniform, maybe the programming for this kind of relationship between men happens early on.
The performance of Colin and Simon and I that I saw at The Place was the diametric opposite of the smooth chains of virtuosic, aestheticized violence that we have become used to seeing in recent choreographic work in that explores a seam of violence in relationships between men. Where Hofesh Schecter has presented a sustained enquiry around identities and is developing a theatrical vocabulary for doing so, he has been the inspiration for a sub-genre that celebrates only the surface values of his work. This sub-genre features relentless ‘metal’ soundscapes and a fast-moving movement vocabulary informed by martial arts and contact improvisation techniques. Here, no one gets hurt, the body is impermeable and the violence alluded to is presented as spectacle in a vague cultural context of ‘male relationships’. Another key feature of this work is a structure that goes on without a break. Unlike athletes, dancers, and particularly male dancers, are not permitted to show the effects of exertion; even in 2012, its all still supposed to look effortless. This flow of action creates a space that offers a safe distance between the audience and the dancers; and a safe distance between the bodies that are hurled against each other, the body’s momentum absorbs the impacts through speed. Dancers don’t really touch and audiences don’t really feel, the paradox of work that deals with weight being shifted and thrown is that no-one ever really gives in.
Colin and Simon and I with its stops and gaps, its pauses and stilled moments, produces a space that is an arena of awkwardness and vulnerability, violence and frailty. From caresses that play out like dares, (but not a dare that will end in a kiss) to the grappling of wrestling that leaves skin marked and both men breathless; Colin and Simon are often not quite in control over their bodies. In this paradigm we see the effects of gravity, the surrender to the other that is not aestheticized; its clumsy and painful, there is no momentum to smooth out the edges. The risk and daring isn’t happening because they are flying through the air at each other, but precisely because they are not; and what is interesting of course is that this is a choice; both are highly accomplished dance artists and this makes their decision to resist virtuosity more subversive. Perhaps in stopping ‘the flow’ Colin and Simon reveal something beautiful, ridiculous, troubling, unresolved, between themselves and in our relationship to them. Here, there is a space to be unsure, to look again, to think, perhaps to intervene, to be conscious and aware of our responses and our responsibility. As an audience this is what we’re often missing out on; this I think is what they care about, and so should we.
Barthes,R (1993) Mythologies, Vintage, London
Blackman, M (2006) Noughts and Crosses, Corgi: London
Suture (1993) (Dir.Scott McGehee and David Seigel ): Kino Korsakoff
Dear Colin and Simon,
I want to thank you for your performance of “Because We Care”. Here are some of the feelings/thoughts I experienced from your work:
Having experienced your piece I honestly think there is nothing much in terms of relations between two male bodies that you have not approached (implicitly or explicitly) in your partnership. The piece is semantically over-layered and the movement produced has a complex silent dramaturgy, which i thought invited me in. It was indeed Colin, Simon and I in my experience of constructing the meaning of this piece. So here is what i constructed:
I felt overwhelmed by the viscerality of your physical presence, your virtuosic risk-taking and at the same time your ability to reflect ironically on the idea of “care” (in art, in curating art, in dance, in teaching dance and beyond). There were echoes of abuse in the piece juxtaposed with the imagery produced by the infant-dummy. It made me wonder how much we abuse ourselves in the process of becoming adults. It made me read your embodiment as male adults as a sort of violence performed with mastery so that it appears to be strength. The gestures you made this dummy perform, has someone else inscribed on your bodies when you were young? Does society sexualise our neutral bodies and turn us from children to boys, from boys to men? I saw you carrying the child in you, the child in that suitcase and it made me wonder if i carry one and whether I have been good to this child or not. I am a mother and teacher and the phrase “because we care” rings as an instruction, a reality and a responsibility that I often do not seem to comprehend. What does it mean to care for others, what does it mean to care for ourselves? What are the terrible violences we commit “because we care”?
I saw you lifting you clothes and reveal your waists and your nipples, in almost a competitive ritual in which you compared your flesh. It reminded me of playground teasing and boys fooling around. “Show me yours and I’ll show you mine” and “mine is better than yours”. At the same time that particular part of the male body makes me think of the book of Genesis. Isn’t it the part of Adam’s side that gave birth to Eve? I wondered if together with that child you also carry a virtual Eve with you? A woman of some sort?
There are signs of class inscription in the piece. The way you share sake and edamame. How “middle-class”, how safe and “multi-cultural” and “liberal” and “civilised” and “tasteful” and at the same time how familiar and comforting a ritual of social bonding this seemed!
And then signs of racial inscription, of power struggle, of menace. Colin you were terrifying when you pronounced those words, those verbs that once uttered they gave birth to real actions (lick, suck). Those abstract words that became a performative reality by Simon and which I witnessed with my eyes cringing because of how real they were. How a tongue, how saliva can cross boundaries and at the same time can make one seem so vulnerable! Simon you seemed like a body of power but also subjected to the power of Colin’s words.
Colin when you pinned Simon down and made him repeat those words “yeah boy” with your accent, i thought you were really phenomenally confident in the way you exercised a sort of cultural power, a sort of a pedagogic violence, correcting him, making sure he pronounces them with the correct intonation. Slapping him humiliatingly if he did not. You were instructing Simon, menacing him to say the words without being afraid, you seemed in control of those threatening words yourself (yeah man!). I saw you as the Man, maybe once a terrified boy but now a man in control of his fears having ritualistically mastered the accents of masculinity. Simon, I read you embodiment as the moment the Boy that surrenders to the violence of being turned into a man, yeah! It is like a ritual, enthralling, scary and irresistible. Once you copy the sounds, once you copy the words they have a certain magic to them. You become a “man” echoing those masculine accents but you also looked like a frightened boy, simultaneously.
I saw many other things, but this is what most impressed me: your shared male physicality, your distinct physical difference, your vulnerability in pushing your limits and the power of succumbing to your own bodily surfaces. The imagery of your bodies and the reality of your weight, height, skin colour and accent is ripe with cultural innuendos. You invited me to your duet and the “i” that gave it meaning was all mine!
Because We Care fixes on the moment where friendship becomes confrontation: who is in charge, who chooses, who decides. It doesn’t provide much context. Ellis and Poole don’t explore what draws these characters together, how they make sense of their struggles, why they end as they do. Though it’s about friendship, we don’t see what makes them friends.
‘Because we care’ they intone flatly near the beginning. They say this in direct address to us, but if they cared about the audience they would have done well to hire a director who could provide an outside eye
As long as a man is affected by the image of anything, he regards the thing as present, although it may not exist, nor will he regard it as past or future save in so far as its image is connected with the image of time past or future … And so the emotion of pleasure or pain is the same whether the image of the thing be present, past, or future.
— Spinoza’s Ethics, Part III, Proposition XVIII, Proof
Colin and I have deeply questioned the role of the audience in Because We Care. We have based much of our decision-making on the assumption that the audience cares, that they are willing to work, and that they are smart and curious. We see our role as providing the space for their imaginations to be stimulated, rather than making a work in which we provide the questions and the answers. In other words, we have resisted being didactic, and this is a mark of respect for contemporary performance audiences.
Spinoza’s writing on time and image suggests that when we (as humans) are drawn to an image it becomes our present. We draw our past experiences, our future desires into the present.
Because We Care is (amongst other things) a spur to the imagination.