For me the recent enthralling performance of Samba and Tears choreographed by Sivan Rubinstein talks of news, distracted consumption and vanity, a vanity in both the production and receiving of the news where the presenter and viewer engage with only the surface of mediatized interactions.
The vanity of the presenter isn’t very often acknowledged. Rubinsteins’ choreography talks about the role of the presenter or anchor in the age of 24 hour news cycle. The presenter that juxtaposes financial crisis, details of conflict and celebrity seamlessly without changing the speed or intonation of delivery. What does it mean to be collected – to maintain composure as a presenter?
Stories compete for attention, endless unspoken conjunctions – not and this, then this – just this, this, this.
And so like the news stories the performers are spinning and returning (competing for our attention) – the women also present themselves. The performers walk the peripheries turning but balance again like spinning tops endlessly returning to the focus, the audience. Dressed in conservative ‘feminine’ attire, a long skirt – professional. They adjust their hair with the familiar flick of a sexualized vanity – they deny the actions they have engaged in to remain composed – they present. There is something uniquely feminine about this idea, denying exertion to ‘present’ a front.
A woman holds a laptop like an auto-cue, the performers read.
Overlapping in dialogue
Syncopated, jerky – delivering not questioning. Presenting not thinking – an endless return to the front facing audience. And of course we can see why, the surface of presentation, or the front is the one we know so well in a mediatized society – that of the screen. The screen is synchronic, instant and lacking depth or context, the surface – a vanity.
The performers engage in Sticothymia – The Greek theatrical device – where one actor would deliver a line then another, sequentially building the drama. In Rubinstiens work however there is no dispute – instead the device seeks to remove from the performers (the presenters) the privilege of contemplation of their own language. A competing delivery that overrides the time needed for thinking about any unexpected text. Here we are brought to another familiar ennui – that of an age of information without contemplation, I imagine myself lazily filtering articles on my tablet via social media, the women bring me the excerpts of the day.
The performance allows us time and space to consider the context and form in which we are subjected to/ or are presented with the news. Within the performance the laptop (here representing and functioning as an autocue) becomes a site for magnetic repulsion, the performers hide from the source of their dialogue – pushing their bodies away. I learn that the movement, sound and format of Samba and Tears comes from the ‘images’ of the news – like sketches, the feeds are brought into the space and the bodies of the performers. These bodies remind me of Brechtian gestus[i], a single attitude is revealed then pushed away – the bodies of the performers are further alienated from the context of the ‘feed’ of stories, and I think of the gustatory idea of a ‘feed’. A feed where the news readers invite us to digest but without sensing and they do not eat themselves. A distracted consumption, one outlined in a Marxist critique of modes of production, Rubinstein seems very concerned in how we receive information.
If we push the idea of consumption a little further,
The structure of the score changes in each iteration for the performers as they are responsive to the contemporary news feed. The landmarks of the score remain constant across performances however, replicating the familiar format of politics, celebrity, sport, weather. The weather at the end of the performance is in fact the weather of the day as the headlines emerge two hours before the show. This makes the work seem more active – it talks of accessibility – we can read the news from anywhere, an extension of Western entitlement, whilst seemingly positive perhaps also a side effect of a consumer culture. Rubinsteins Samba and Tears reflects both the ubiquity of the feed and the narrowness of the consumption – the same flavour repeatedly – affairs, finance, sport, weather, celebrity. If we were to think of the impact on ‘biodiversity’ of our online media consumption we could compare it to fast food.
So the montage continues, excerpts, actions, headlines, am I more interested that Kim Kardashian broke the internet or in ISIS, Churchill or Clinton? They are received in the same medium, the performance continues to create sketches and impressions of the scenes of the news before moving rapidly on. Sivan talks of knowledge, describing in movement and score an internet that purports to be malleable and democratic supplying both abundance and brevity. The feeds are optimised for indulgence like a single aspirational item and not a spectrum – impoverishing the biodiversity of information, our journeys are limited yet we trawl through.
I am excited by Rubinstiens work and by her propositions.
Samba and Tears was performed at Dance4 in October 2015. It is funded by the Arts Council, England.
It was initially Made at: The Place (July 2014) and has since been developed and performed at Brilliant Corners (January, March 2015), Dance4 (April, October 2015) and Brighton Pilates Studio (January 2015).
Artists involved in the project are;
Performers: Rosa Firbank, Esther Siddiquie, Tal Wienstein, Ehud
Freedman and Sivan Rubinstein.
Set design: Maia Green
Composer: Ehud Freedman
Choreography: Sivan Rubinstein
[i] Bertolt Brecht had a vision that theatre could be used as a vehicle for social change. For him, knowledge is gained through a process of continual “transformation of the world as we know it”.[i] He stood out against the concept of fixed ideas and complacency because he attributed them to a kind of public inertia. The Marxist idea that the workers do not view the machine as a whole and are alienated from the system is a recurring theme within Brecht’s work that he aims to undermine. Mother Courage for instance, one of Brecht’s most enduring character gestus, does not feel her presence within the larger semblance of war. Brecht demystifies and reveals the myth of fatality which Mother Courage “submits to without understanding”[i], but we are able to see this as a control of the machine. By denying that fate controls war, the myth is revealed. Similarly Mother Courage presents attitudes or the gist (gesten) of bourgeois preoccupations when directed by Brecht to “bite a coin to see that it was genuine”.[i] Brecht invites the audience here to assess the validity of materialism in society.