On Saturday 12 September Colin Poole and I performed a version of our duet “Colin, Simon & I” at The Place in London as part of the Touchwood season (designed to show works in various stages of development). We’d had about 7 weeks development (on and off), and there are some notes at http://colin-simon.tumblr.com.
The final section of the work involves Colin moving to sit deep in the audience, and then me effectively trying to ‘fail’ as a performer. At least I think this is accurate. We’d cultivated a certain degree of awkwardness in how I was attempting to be, but of course things only stay awkward for so long. So, we didn’t really rehearse it at all. I was left talking (addressing the audience very directly) and dancing and attempting to find out (and share) what it was like to no longer have Colin on stage with me, and also talk to the feeling of wanting to entertain them (whilst trying to avoid doing just that).
Long silences. Long pauses. Flurries of movement. Some music (which made me feel more comfortable for sure). Discussing a slight feeling of frustration that Colin had elected to ‘disappear’, a monologue about how he hadn’t really disappeared … and then, a missed cue from the ushers. We thought they were going to ask the audience to leave whilst I was still attempting to fail. They didn’t and I was left with a really close experience of on stage awkwardness. Excellent fun indeed.
But what is it to fail on stage? The ‘dying’ I’d felt in an earlier showing wasn’t really there this time — it felt far too easy to go into ‘entertaining’ mode. Is it to not know what is going on? Is it resisting training/experience? How can I do this?
It reminds me of playing tennis as a youngster: when there were certain parts of my game that I was having trouble with, one strategy for coping with this would be to develop control of the failure. That is, to practice various degrees of failure (say, hitting the ball at the bottom of the net, then a bit higher, then a bit higher still, then to just touch the top, then to pass just over etc). It goes against all the rules in sport of “perfect practice makes perfect” but it was a powerful way of ‘owning’ the failure … or being able to choose to fail (and therefore choose to ‘succeed’).
As a performer/dancer, perhaps it is in listening to the silences and the stillnesses, and how audiences are ‘coping’ with these that can step the practice of failing into the foreground? Of course, the paradox is that seeking failure opens up the body to all kinds of listening that inevitable is not failing at all. Ugh.
I guess another question is about why I’d want to be failing … but in terms of this work with Colin it had to do with absence/presence on stage. That is, it was an aesthetic or creative decision.