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Empathetic angles

Keith Gallasch

Martin Del Amo, Unsealed Martin Del Amo, Unsealed
photo Heidrun Löhr
The performer smiles. She’s met a policewoman who has confided tales of her dysfunctional relationships. She makes a series of tentative moves, a little half dance of self-protection, a hand swinging almost instinctively over the groin. She moves along the wall, a dance suggesting impact and defence. An alarm summons her to a desk where she operates a transcription machine with her foot while typing the policewoman’s words onto a laptop (for us they unfold on the screen behind her). She stops, rewinds, catches up, ignores errors, speeding on as the story spills out. In it the policewoman transforms from victim to defender to near-murderer of her attacker, her partner.

The performer joins us at the front of the space, sitting, smiling, commencing a slow, silent writhing and twisting, conveying a desire to burst free, but also strain, the anxiety of the almost-murderer as the recorded voice runs backwards in aural space around us. Eleanor Brickhill’s performance in An Unknown Woman is the embodied emotional aftermath of the story, it is an act of empathy, acknowledging moral complexity, a taking in of a story and of a fellow being. This short, tautly contained work makes an intriguing companion piece to Kay Armstrong’s The Narrow House in which we see the premeditation of a female murderer (see article).

In Stand Still, a small precise work, 2 dancers share a space, together and apart, but never in a duet. One turns and turns, slowly, an arm out, leading. The other’s simple articulations suggest semaphoring, a vertical to the first’s horizontal reaching and turning back in. Stillness. They start up again, the movement slightly faster, more articulation, greater extension, Nalina Wait is fluid, bending at one knee to reach out further, arms arching out, hands in to meet with a sense of completion. Lizzie Thomson opens out and up, more angular, less certain. Stillness. Here too is empathy, across different forms and rhythms, sharing the same space, the same momentum and stillnesses, like a dialectic that almost but never resolves.

A man paces in his underwear. Is he lost? Looking for something? Mapping out space? The walking becomes almost hypnotic, its obsessive footfall subtly extended by a sound score evoking stranger spaces than the one we see before us. Between these walkings (rectangular mappings, sudden diagonals, impulsive stop-starts, on the spot reachings-up like involuntary signallings, half-squats, circlings) the man stops, faces a mirror, wipes himself down, drinks water. These are quiet, slow moments. He looks at himself. Each time he stops here he adds an item of clothing before coming to address us, or, once, singing...before setting out on another, more intense walk, the sound score sometimes pulsing as if rippling through him and, in a rare moment of extroversion, suggesting a demented carnival.

He addresses us quietly. He’s been to a psychiatrist, not that he’s off the rails, “but if the rails are not clear...” It’s about loneliness he says and the thin line between self deception and self perception. About what you want to be...a singer? Is it about happiness? He thinks we can get “homesick for sadness...we wouldn’t be happy without it.” Later he talks about a moment in his flat, an impulse to destroy, and acting on it, tearing apart magazines, documents, passports...but, unable to let go, keeping them in blue plastic bags sitting on the top of bookshelves. By the time he sings, a searching, fine interpretation of a Friedrich Hollaender and Robert Liebmann cabaret song, he is fully dressed. The suit appears to contain him, bulking the strange reaching gestures—a half-hearted aspiration for transcendence? He walks again, looking to connect. He stops, he shudders.

The piece resonates with the nuanced musings of Gail Priest’s improvised sound score which involves the miking of the space to pick up, amplify and ever so slightly alter del Amo’s footsteps, breath and movement. When he sings, the increasing resonance has the effect of separating the performer more and more from the real world as he retreats into that of the cabaret singer, and also pushing the microphones to the point where they too ‘sing.’

At 40 minutes, Unsealed is a complete, quietly disturbing, confiding and important work from Martin del Amo that makes an art of walking, invites our empathy and offers a sad paean to the virtues of melancholy.

Performance Space, Parallax: An Unknown Woman, Eleanor Brickhill, sound Michelle Outram; Stand Still, Nalina Wait, Lizzie Thomson; Unsealed, Martin del Amo, sound Gail Priest; design Virginia Boyle; producer Fiona Winning, lighting Simon Wise, project coordinator Michaela Coventry; Performance Space, April 21-May 2

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 47

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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