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Time_Place_Space


Building performances, making worlds

Keith Gallasch talks with Marianne Weems


The Buiders Association & motiroti, Alladeen The Buiders Association & motiroti, Alladeen
The second national Time_Place_Space intensive workshop in the professional development of hybrid performance practitioners is underway in Wagga Wagga and the third is already announced for 2004, relocating to Adelaide mid-year and focusing on developing specific works as well as the critical, continued emphasis on process.
The impressive lineup of facilitators for 2003 includes Marianne Weems (Artistic Director, The Builders Association, New York), Andre Lepecki (author, dramaturg, New York), Marijke Hoogenboom (co-founder and dramaturg, DasArts, Netherlands), Michelle Teran (Toronto-based performance, installation and online artist), Margie Medlin (Melbourne-based filmmaker, lighting and projection designer) and Jude Walton (Melbourne-based dancer, performance-maker and installation artist).

The 2003 Time_Place_Space participants are a diverse group of practitioners, ranging from hugely experienced to relatively new, all with credentials in hybrid practices: Michelle Blakeney, Shannon Bott, Sue Broadway, Boo Chapple, Rosie Dennis, Simon Ellis, Ryk Goddard, Jaye Hayes, Cat Hope, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Mike Nanning, Michelle Outram, Deborah Pollard, Hellen Sky, Sete Tele, Douglas Watkin, David Williams, Fei Wong and Yiorgos Zafirio.

As I talked to Marianne Weems, the sounds of hammering and furniture shifting and mention of Meyerhold’s constructivism texture our long-distance phone call—The Builders Association is in the middle of moving office. Building is the right word for this unique multimedia performance company—since 1994 it has built work through collaboration internally and across continents. It builds new technologies and communication systems seamlessly into its work and new cross-cultural ways of looking at the globalisation we are living out in the everyday. Hopefully Weems’ visit will not only share strategies for creation but also begin building a relationship between Australian and North American performance communities.

Weems is a co-founder of The Builders Association and has directed all of their productions. Over the last 15 years in New York she has worked as an assistant director and dramaturg with Susan Sontag, Jan Cohen-Cruz, Richard Foreman, and many others. From 1988-94 she was assistant director and dramaturg for The Wooster Group. The Association’s current production, touring internationally (and destined for Australia in 2004) is Alladeen, a large-scale cross-media performance created as a collaboration with the London-based South-Asian company motiroti, directed by Weems and co-conceived and designed by Keith Khan and Ali Zaidi, featuring a cast drawn from both companies. It combines electronic music, new video techniques, an architectural set, and live performance to explore the myth of Alladeen, better known as Aladdin. The company describes the work as: “drawing on the lives of citizens living in the hybrid, global cities of New York, London, and Bangalore... Specifically, the piece will look at the contemporary phenomenon of international call centres where Indian operators are trained to flawlessly ‘pass’ as Americans. The performance will explore how we function as ‘global souls’ caught up in circuits of technology, and how our voices and images travel from one culture to another...The performance will alternate the contemporary world of the call centres—a web of technology in which the performers are operators—with spectacular, colourful fantasy sequences drawn from the Aladdin story and using the aesthetic of the early Hollywood and Bollywood Orientalist films.”

How do you go about creating a work?

One of things that has always been key to the way that we construct the projects is that everyone has all the equipment there from the beginning of the process, from the first day of “rehearsal” and even long before that. The designers are there with their technology assembled and that becomes a really integrated part of the process and is obviously not something slapped on in tech week...The only way I can function as a director is to have the sound and the video present. It’s not something you can storyboard and imagine and then hope it will work later, just as a performer has to be there for you to be able to see if they can do it or not, what the palette will be, what the vocabulary will be, how it can be articulated.

What happens before that?

Usually there’s a very long conceptual period, sometimes as much as a year that is interspersed with workshops. Alladeen is being created in collaboration with motiroti, and started with me and key members of the company meeting almost monthly (or even more with those other artists) face to face or by intercontinental phone conferences, trading back and forth a lot of email and drawing ideas from sketches and dramaturgical research and videos. Then I would get together with the artists in my company for about a 10 day workshop once every 3 or 4 months and that’s when we’d bring all the media together and, really, just make a huge mess and fool around and see if there was anything of interest that would emerge, say in terms of software that might be developed that would then inform the project or a direction to go in...for example in incorporating animation or a video vocabulary. That would be developed alongside the deepening research, with the video guys going off to a residency at STEIM (Amsterdam) or another place.

What is your role—monitoring, keeping the vision together and developing?

Pretty much all of the above. I try not to monitor, but I’m definitely participating in and articulating what they’re doing and reminding them of how it fits into the project. As they come up with things they bring them back to me and we decide together what is of interest, what is superfluous, what might lead to some other avenue. But pretty much everything the tech guys come up with ends up some way in the project. [Laughs]

It is said that collaborators all perform in a Builders Association show.

The whole ensemble really is about performativity and the technicians are often on stage and the audience watching them work and interact with the performers is as important as watching the actors act–they can’t exist independent of each other, so the sense of them working together to create this spectacle has become a signature for the company–they get constumed and are very visible.

What is it about spectacle that attracts you?

It’s a dialogue that’s been going on since Meyerhold and before with theatre artists threatened by or engaged in a dialogue with mass media and it’s certainly undeniable that you have to come to terms on some level with what is dominant cultural language–television, film and mediamatic culture, it’s certainly not theatre. We certainly don’t have to but it’s part of my interest in the culture’s interest in screen culture, to investigate it on stage and take it apart as much as we can. It’s one of the great advantages of this kind of theatre to be able to look at the stage as a kind of laboratory where you can see what live entertainment still means, what performance is as opposed to mediatised performance and putting those things together in a kind of last gasp experiment of why is performance. I want to unpack all that onstage. I’m certainly not head over heels in love with spectacle in a naive way but like any other good American I have a love-hate relationship with the undeniable glory of spectacle.

How important is cross-cultural collaboration to the company?

We’ve done a lot of work in Europe and pretty much created our reputation and stayed alive by working live there over the last 10 years. We worked for 6 months or more in Switzerland in a cross-cultural collaboration-in many ways it was much more of a foreign experience than working with motiroti. But this our most significant cross-cultural collaboration to date because there have been so many artists involved all over the world, from India to Pakistan, Germany, Sri Lanka, Trinidad... One of the things that has been so heartening has been the ongoing scope of the project, that it continues to snowball. There’s more touring coming on board. There’s a website with many people all over the world logging on. There’s a music video we made which will be playing on MTV India in the Spring. And that was the whole point of the project, to get outside of the theatre as far as possible and reach people who have no real interest in or access to the theatre. It’s been a big step for us but the nice thing about it is that there’s been no compromising of our aesthetic or my sensibility. Our interest from the beginning, and motiroti’s, was not to fall into the conventional multiculturalisms of the 1980s, but to really try to define what a multicultural collaboration could do. I think we’ve achieved some of that.

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 28

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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