Under the arches 1

Yesterday’s work – much like the first night of Juncture - contained a lot of human voice whether in speech or song. That’s not a complaint, more of an observation, although sometimes I’ll admit I do like to not have to listen to the voice. I find my tolerance for blah blah decreasing as I get older which is not to imply that what I heard was just a lot of meaningless blah blah… Far from it. [I find I am blogging today in the self-referential spirit of some of the work I've been seeing - another example of how performances can seep into in ways of which you aren't directly and immediately aware...]

Okay, first: an arch double bill at Yorkshire Dance. Buttery, too, I couldn’t belatedly help noticing if only because two of the four performers share ’Butter’ as a surname-starter. Nice coinkydink, that!

Grace Surman and Cathy Butterworth - Two Four One One (c) Tim BrunsdenOkay again and what the hell: I feel like free-associating with what I saw given that there’s no editor breathing down my neck, and esp as a lot of what these two shows did is play with words and ideas…. Hail, Cathy [Butterworth], full of Grace [Surman]. (Yes, this is my fallen Catholic background revealing itself.) Grace is on a table balancing, in red heels and kneepads, on a pale Swedish ball. Cathy, standing on a stool, holds up the latter. It represents the moon. Grace speaks of ‘new ways of seeing the world’ (but who was she quoting?). We get a lot of different moons. (Ha, the two women were in effect mooning us!) One is a pale bucket that contained the body parts of plush toys.

Digression: All of the shows’ various props were ready to hand on a long, upstage table or two, but most of the action occurred downstage. C & G were aware of us, talking to us or at us. (Interesting to observe during Juncture when performers actually look spectators in the eye or instead direct their gaze somewhere else, above or heads or…) But despite this work’s self-referential and postmodern nature I felt it was being constructed for our benefit. In other words, not just an aesthetic wank that we’re free to watch or detach from. These two want to engage with us.

Grace Surman and Cathy Butterworth - Two Four One OneCathy is a zaftig blonde and in some sense the foil for Grace, who is dark-haired and lightly dolorous. Grace has a Madonna quality and I don’t mean Madge but rather Jesus Christ’s mama. (There I go again with the religious upbringing, tch.) I can picture her in a religious painting, eyes raised heavenward (as, by the way, happened in the Belgian-made show later this same night). There’s something not quite on earth about her, whereas Cathy is more solid, grounded and plain bigger physically. They’re a good double-act.

The show is called Two Four One One, I’m not sure why, will have to muse on that later or ask…

So, Grace wears a card table with a hole in the centre as a costume. We are told, by her, that the objects she uses are very familiar to her and they in some sense determine a show’s structure. She word plays subliminal and sub-minimal. Cathy is both helpful in bringing Grace into articulacy and somewhat disapproving at least as a stage persona. Grace moves while she is inside that table – inside its hole. Like a doughnut/donut that’s square. The music to Come Together – tight and cool – is used several times as soundtrack and bridging device. Cathy speaks of Joseph Beuys’ famous encounter with a coyote. So this work is in part educating us about significant figures in the history of performance art, live art, whatever you wanna call it… Cathy holds up a huge sheet of soft, shimmering aluminium foil as Grace travels in imperfect circles on her knees clutching all the plush toy animal body parts to her chest.

 I am aware that this writing is off-the-cuff (but note-taking-derived) and thus somewhat undigested. Amen [there, another Catholick - deliberate misspell -reference]. I am working my through or into an analysis of what happened onstage flecked with my reactions.

The table is held up by Grace, the hole in its centre now acting as moon. Cathy, who is a touch adversarial, truculent and long-suffering esp when it comes to Grace, smashes a smallish watermelon on the floor and then proceeds to seat some of it. She’d mentioned the lobster they’d thought of incorporating into the show but, no, they then did not do so (but of course it is now there anyway, planted in our minds). Meanwhile Grace, who has changed clothes behind the table with the hole which lies on its side so that we can partly see her, sticks her torso through the hole as she eats a pomegranate with her lobster-like claws, i.e., her fingers are bound by red postal-office rubberbands.

I think the show is not as outright funny as I think the performers think it is, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe that is my slight wariness or reluctance to surrender to them talking… What they are doing is self-consciously quirky but I like how committed they are to their smartly daft-seeming actions.

Cathy serve Grace (presumably cold) tea (poured from a teapot, in any case). Grace, who had worn the shimmery foil like a Superman cape, puts a sheet over herself, concealing all but her head, as she balances on the Swedish ball on the stage. Cathy pays tribute to Rebecca Horn (whose work I don’t think I know, thanks for leading me to her/it…) and then both she and Grace mock and homage (can this be used as a verb? why not!) Kate Bush; Cathy mimes the lyrics of the barmily beautiful Wuthering Heights, and what’s most funny about it for me anyway is that even she grows bored with doing this. It’s this self-awareness that keeps any potential tiresomeness of the task at bay. Both women don arrrrrgggghhh! t-shirts which I think show the head of the Incredible Hulk. Each inflates a white balloon and places it under the shirts, like a cycloptic tit or pregnancy only they use the balloon to make high-pitched, whiny fart noise as they speak. No, as Cathy speaks in an American accent but with Grace inserting directions on the former’s delivery. I can’t now recall the content…

Sometimes writing about a show – picking one’s way through its landscape – is like boarding a train: you just can’t get off till you arrive at wherever it was you thought you were headed. (Subtext: I’m aware these words might be long-winded but there they are…)

Grace bounces on the Swedish ball to her own vocalising of Beethoven as she swings a small toy fish on a rod round her sheet-covered self. I don’t know why, exactly, but I don’t care. It’s amusing in large part because she conceals her body and the ball. The piece ends, perhaps somewhat arbitrarily, with the aluminium sheet on the floor and Cathy to one side of it deflating the Swedish ball so that the escaping air makes the foil flutter in the fading light. Grace in effect mounts her from behind, i.e., she lays herself atop Cathy.

This was a droll, tongue-in-cheek, knowing performance, unpretentiously pretentious and a send-up of the artifice of performance whether comic or dramatic. It exists somewhere in between but more on the side of humour. Cathy and Grace don’t take themselves too seriously but you know they believe in what they do. And that’s something we want – make that I want – from what I give my time over to…


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