|Duncan and Nikola as Pushkin and Stalin.|
Photo by Lynne Rutter.
Audiences want to believe that the world and their lives are something like the artistic version of truth, i.e. a book or movie or play or opera featuring a compelling and compressed narrative. A clear line is by its nature unlike real life, which has no plot and which offers no cathartic tears nor laughter. People prefer the shined-up shit, the perfect take, the tuned vocals, the edited scene, the crafted page and the polished bronze, and in a modern age where something close to perfection is possible, those arts that can best make use of it - the phono-recordings and the talking pictures - have risen in stature, and those arts which do not allow such a glossy overcoating to adhere have found themselves both troubled and troublesome.
John Cage once said: "In the immediate present we don't love; life is too much with us. We lust, wilt, snort, swallow, gobble, hustle, nuzzle, etc. Later, memory flashes images swathed in nostalgia and yearning. We call that Love." This is the heart of the problem. If two people fall in love in front of you, do you feel their love? If someone kills another in front of you, do you feel the anguish? No, it is only in the lie, the untrue version of the experience assembled by me the artist after, the fiction, using all my craft and charm and artifice, that the average audience finds the connection.
When an artist desires to assemble a truly live performance, a performance happening in a real space with real actors in real time, pressuring real sound waves formed in space by real sounding bodies, not unduly amplified, diffusing real light reflecting off real objects in motion, unmediated by projections of prepared imagery, and not allowing for cuts and retakes and careful reconstruction, she finds herself facing a fork in the road.
To the left, she sees fiction and its seductive clarity of narrative, a lie that lies about its connection to reality, but, even though that way lies easy success and an easily beguilement of the audience, she will find herself able to achieve something only less than perfect, an illusion never complete, the spit of the actors brushing past one's cheek and the sound of the ropes changing the backdrops allowing too much real reality to seep in past the barriers erected around her created world. It is an uncomfortable place, a step too close to the truth to be truly believed. She can try, as many do, to build up the barricades, to caulk the seams, to add more lights and brighter costumes, or to fall off the path of true performance completely, to reduce actors and dancers to automatons in a carefully constructed world of computer-controlled photons and phonons.
However, if she follows the less-traveled road, she will find there a bright welcoming light. Here the performance is simply a real experience, performers and audience experiencing a world together as it happens, with some showing off their abilities to sound and move with grace.
When the Empress and I were in Barcelona a number of years back, and we stumbled out of a Greek restaurant after the second complimentary ouzo handed to us by the laughing and singing waiter, and I started drunk-dialing my female friends back in the States to flirt and confess my love, Lynne wandered off to find one more thing to drink, and was waved in by a flamenco bar which was closed but not completely closed, and found herself with an overfull glass, in a circle of men passing the guitar one to another, an example of true performance, no fiction, real and present.
But is such immediacy the only possibility? Can one not use any of one's skills to organize or to compose if one wants to provide a true experience? I think so. Like the Pushkin / Kharms character of UKSUS (as played by Duncan Wold above), I am interested in nonsense. The best parts of UKSUS, like the best parts of A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, are those moments where the audience is at a loss, understanding nothing, but allowing themselves to be carried along. The skill of the creator comes in seducing the audience into a place where their normal requirements and expectations - spoon-fed a narrative and slathered with the fake truths of art - have been set aside. Some watchers find it easier. Some really don't care at all. My son's friends, who come from the comedy world, had no issue with the never-ending non sequiturs, whereas some who loved my previous works, most noticeably Certitude and Joy, had the most trouble letting go. But maybe I was lacking in my ability to seduce them, assuming that my love of incomprehension is shared by all. Or maybe I should have processed through the air vents a mild psychedelic, to give them the softest shove towards the euphoria I know they craved.