writings 1993-2005

Writing on Performance and Performing


Optik 1993 – 2004

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© Barry Edwards 2016


Writing on Performance and Performing

Optik 1993 – 2004



  1. Embodied Performer Practice
  2. A live performer practice
  3. Observing the Unpredictable
  4. Optik Performance Phenomenology
  5. Performing Presence
  6. Presence and tele-presence
  7. Optik at Tacheles
  8. Visit to Egypt
  9. Towards a Fundamentalism in Theatre
  10. Optik workshop background notes
  11. Three replies
  12. Modes of Commitment


Embodied Performer Practice

The initial ‘hook’ for these words was my intention to write about a workshop I led at the Performance Studies International Conference in Wales in April 1999.   Once started on that project I realised that none of it would make much sense without the context of my work as a whole. So I decided to expand the scope of the writing and attempt to describe my work with performers. I use the word attempt because the writing and the practice are not linked in any straightforward manner.   The scope of the writing project has grown again. I am attempting to find a relationship between (my) writing and (my) practice.

There are no ‘ideological’ objections on my part. My project here is to write (up) (down) (about) my practical work. I want to. Partly because I am often asked if any writing exists, and partly because I want to let people know what I have discovered, what I have done in a way that can be accessed when I am not there. In other words to reach an audience (a readership) that goes beyond those whom I have encountered personally. In my practical theatre work the need to make contact is at the heart of the enterprise. Is contact possible via writing ? I am writing this in order to make contact, not to theorise my own work. I develop my practical work in the absence of theory as separate. Though I am well aware that theorists would have a field day objecting to that statement.   No doubt a theoretical position underpins what I am writing at this very moment, but I am not aware of it, or I choose to ignore it. So there is no theoretical starting point, no hypothesis which can be used as a reference point for the writing. But there is a starting point, there is always a starting point.   Starting is a matter of will, of decision, and it is possible to describe the conditions in which decisions take place. These are not causal condistions, but they are exisiting, circumstantial conditions. In my case I can describe the starting point for my current practice as a desire to make performance differently, very differently. The details of ‘different’ from what, or from when, are not important, it is the fact of ‘difference’ that is critical. My need to find a new (for me) way of working in order to be able to keep working. It is a matter of (my) creative life or death. So there are no clear cut objectives here which can be written. My creative practice has no objectives, or aims, other than to happen at all. What this means for the project of writing (about) my work is that there is no convenient theory to use as a hook (an excuse) for the words. To theorise (and I have done so on many occasions) is to write (about) something else, something (thoughts, ideas, reflections etc) that happens in additon to the practice.

The project for (my) writing is to remain in the present tense, to write (about) what happens rather than what happened.   The observer and the observed event validate the writing of ‘what happened’. The same holds for the writing of what is happening, and is the very essence of the news event, telling it ‘as it happens’. Writing ‘what happens’ goes to the heart of my project because the technique I want to write is not dependent on events, it is an emobodied practice that is constantly present in the human beings who have embodied (learned) it, it is always there.

The technique itself is a way of doing. It is a way of developing and understanding action. It is a way of undertaking action responsively (responsibly) with others. It is also a technique (in my case) that is sufficient to bring about performance. It does not need something else to work on. Neither is it ‘pre-expressive’. There is no ‘pre’ because there is no-thing to come after.   The technique I am writing (about) is never other than an expressive technique.

Similarly my embodied practice is not added on to the physical practice of a performer. It is not a set of skills, though it is skilled practice. What is embodied is already there, but needs to be ‘brought to the front’ so that the performer is able to use it.

This is the case with the basic positioning system of the human. We have a sense of in front, behind, above, below and directly to the left and to the right. Without it we would not know where are. Yet we do not access this function, ‘bring it to the front’ in our everyday lives. It just underpins everything else we do.   In order to be able to begin work my performer must be aware of their positioning system, and be able to access it directly.

Stand with feet slightly apart. Be balanced evenly.   Let the weight of the body centre downwards, towards the pelvis. Relax your stomach. Breathe evenly, not too deeply but not in shallow breaths either. Align the shoulders, and the head. Gaze out from this position directly ahead of you, letting your eyes enounter whatever is there, or comes into your vision as you stand there. Listen to whatever your ears can hear without picking anything out for particular attention.

Once this is ‘brought to the front’ in this way it does not go away. It is not something new, rather something forgotten in performing. The technique is cumulative. One thing builds on another, with everything remaining in place throughout. It cannot be broken up into constituent bits, once embodied it is always there.

In the Psi workshop we were working on a football pitch with an artificial surface (we later moved into an indoor studio, but it was locked initially). I drew a line in the dust of the pitch directly to the right and to the left of each foot of a participant, starting from the centre of the foot and working outwards. I called this line a ‘time-line’ and said it represented the boundary between the past (behind you) and the future (in front of you). Once aware of the positioning ability the next step is the first step(s). Maintaining the look, the listening and the positioning awareness take a few steps into the future space that lies directly before you. When you come to a stop there is a new time-line, but you have carried this with you with every step. It is always there. You cannot leave it behind you, you are always on the threshold of past and future. But dont look back, always face forwards and always move forward. The technique abolishes the past by (con)fronting the future space at every moment and every where. There is no going back, only a going into. No holding on, only a letting go. You are constantly in between the state of some-thing and no-thing, full and empty, 1 (everything there is) and 0 (emptiness, ready for some-thing). I can write it like this: 1001100. This is digital performing.

Once you have started to move forward the steps can be dispensed with. Move forward or rest. Two more options that operate in digital code. You have this decision as a constant. There is no outside agency that is going to intervene and take over your process. You are the embodied agent. Once moving forward keep the line direct. Don’t waver, or bend, or get out of the way. Light only moves in a straight line. You are light. Only an obstacle, an impenetrable obstacle can stop you moving in a straight line, if you want, all round the earth (which turns the line into a circle). At an obstacle stop. At this point in the Psi workshop the participants moved off like bits in an expanding universe, some finding the fence no obstacle and moving onwards into woods that lay beyond the pitch, others finding the fence to be an obstacle and stopping, others again finding another participant who hadnt moved at all who was then an ‘obstacle’ to further movement forwards. There is no end to this forward movement given in advance. You can continue for as long as you can, or for as long as you want to. Stopping is always an option.

You can turn. You can turn when you meet an obstacle, or you can turn anyway, at any time. Turning is revolutionary. Turning 180° turns the world the other way round. You are facing a completely different way. By turning you keep yourself in a particular place, you are not wandering the world. Turning is fundamental. If you turn 360° you are facing the same way, turn 360° again and again and faster and faster and you are spinning. Spin long enough and you will be still and the world will be spinning round you.

We can work in lines and in circles. This is a line: 1. This is a circle: 0. We are back to digital code. Are numbers my theory ? I think they are. Three performers together is 111. If one of these performers is not there we have 101, the zero representing the absent performer who is no longer there, but who might return. The performer is the one who creates the zero, who brings no-thing into being. But the absent performer is not absent to himself. Wherever he is, he is present, he is 1. The difference between absence and presence, there and not there, is really the difference between you and me. I cannot make myself a zero, I cannot not be here. So the creation of no-thing, of absence, arises from the performer being present, and knowing that they are present And what about 1 1 1 ? The co-existence of more than one. This is the condition that most interests people. It is the realisation, the experience that I am not alone. It is essential that the 1 exists for this to happen. In the technique I have developed a lot of work goes into creating 1, the taking of individual responsibility, the acknowledgement of your own power to make decisions and to take the consequences of decisions. Independence from others is critical. It is the opposite of the ensemble, of the abandonment of the individual for the group. In this work the dynamics rest on competition and collaboration. I can compete, I can collaborate. When I compete I strive to overcome, to resist, to retain what I am doing in the face of the other. When I collaborate I go with, I assist. These are the fundamentals of independent dynamics. Neither imply any kind of control. Most practitioners, when faced with the open-ness of this technique, try to control themselves, and others. Control, the buzz word of much acting technique, is not possible in this practice. When 1 and 1 becomes 11 then we are faced with the reality of 2. The co-existence of more than one. The difference between 1 and the other 1. When the rare moment of synchronicity occurs, 1 and 1 initiating an action simulataneously (turning, coming to a stop, starting to move forward and so on) there is intense resonance because of the merging, at that precise moment of two separate entities. 1 and 1 becomes something else, not 1 but no longer separate, a totally new, weird and impermanent phenomenon. And one that is not under the control of the performers who have initiated it in any way. This leads to a particular state of trying to stay with, knowing that the slightest change in conditions can make it disappear, but also knowing that it will disappear anyway at some point. This effort of sustaining is very different from the effort of breaking up, or destroying, and much harder to do. It is very different from the agonistic concept of tension, or conflict. It is the acceptance of change, and that change is constant. It is knowing how to work with the fluid rather than the fixed, with the unpredicted rather than the planned. Knowing what is certain, so that you can accept uncertainty full on.

I have no idea what any of this means in a completed sense. This writing is not a conclusive explanation of my performer practice. It is writing in response to my experience of that embodied practice and the events consequent upon putting that way of embodiment into action.

Each one of us is an experiencing organism. This technique does not attempt to re-present experience in any way. It does not put the experience of the performer (or anyone else) ‘on hold’ for the duration of the performance, or the technical work. It does not attempt to control experience in any way (the warning on control applies everywhere). The performer has no-thing to give the spectator, certainly not their own ‘experience’. There is no past in this technique. There is only the present and the future. Is the consciousness of an ‘experience’ an indication that it is already in the past ?. Can we make contact with the moment of experience itself ?   The moment of action that is not the experience of that action but the doing of that action ? The words are straining to keep up with what is being written. In the practice, words are never used in this area. It is beyond words, not silent, but not capable of being translated into the symbolic utterance of writing. But in writing this I can hope that the reader is nevertheless there, in that place where the doing is about to happen, and where everything is potential. Or in the endless possibility of doing without pause, action that does not drag a future experience of its resolution into its present, but which has intense pleasure while and for as long as it lasts.

The most difficult thing for a performer to come to terms with in this work is the fact that they have no-thing to give to the spectator. The technique does not fill up the performer with some-thing which is then emptied out in the course of the performance to be re-consumed by the spectator. The performer is empty to begin with. This is controversial in theory. I have been told on numerous occasions that we are ‘full’ of our cultural history, our sexual history, our racial history, our social status, our pyschological history and so on. But this is a theoretical position only. In practice I can put this to one side. I can choose to work differently. Decisions made in practice are not subject to any constraint imposed by theory.   So if practice is free from theoretical constraint, does it have any constraint on it at all ? In the development of my work this has become a critical question. I have decided to work only with those constraints that are unavoidable, and not to impose any other constraints on the possibilities for performer action. The implications of this decision are far reaching. It works like this. To work in such a way that any constraints are unavoidable and not imposed by me means working without any constraints whatever as a goal for practice. If any constraints are discovered it follows they are necessary rather than imposed. No constraints are therefore accepted at any stage. It is always a matter of going beyond the constraint, of moving on from the cant be done to the lets do it  These words make it sound like a physical thing, of skill and endurance, but in reality the constraints are not always physical (though these clearly exist). Constraints can come from the performer saying there is a constraint and accepting that it is so. It is not a matter of agreement, ‘let’s say there is no constraint and agree to get on with it’, or of ignoring. There has to be an acceptance by the performer of total possibility, which in turn leads to total openness to possibility, within a conscious decision making which can say I want to do this .


A live performer practice

 Written in 2005 as a ‘summing up’ or ‘note to self’ of approaches and thoughts in the work period 1993 – 2004

Optik’s recent compositional practice (1993 – 20040 has been performer-centred, engaging around live action (body, space, time). Recent performances have also used live and digital sound and live video but in Optik’s practice canon the emphasis is on the particular dynamics and technical terrain of live action.


I am interested in process. We are all used to the notion of process in rehearsal and training. I take process into the performance event itself. Process is defined as a ‘series of changes’. I am very interested in how change occurs in performance, sudden change, unpredictable change, but ultimately any change at all.   I believe that performance is a complex process, and that most performer techniques close this down rather than explore it. To work in process implies uncertainty and working with change that is outside of your control. Change happens.


I want to make some simple observations about the performer. I do not use any notion of character, fictional or otherwise. I work with what is there. Grotowski captured this when he said: ‘the performer is a man of action, he is not one who plays another.’   I am very interested in what is there. The size, shape,colour, hair, as much detail as we care to go into in fact. All of these things make up the singular instance of this human being.   There she is. She is not anyone else. She is her, in her own singular body.


At the same time as all this is the case, I am going to ask you to look at the performer in a different way. In so far as she is standing here you know she is human.   And yet through this humanness she is connected not only to all other humans, but beyond that, to all mammals, to all sentient beings, to all matter and so on to all there is. This is not something you can work out. As the phenomenologist would put it, it appears in its totality in one single act of intuition. This sense of connectedness or oneness is in constant play/opposition with the sense of singular, uniqueness that each one of us is.

Phenomenology is described as: ‘the processes involved in perceiving, thinking and doing, suspending all assumptions about existence and causation. Intuitive knowledge of the essence of things.’ I believe that performing can be such a way of, perceiving, thinking, doing and I am going to add feeling.   I think that the connections between these processes are part of an ancient form of knowledge based on the performer’s art.

This is because in performance these elements work seamlessly together in even the simplest of movements, such as taking a step forward. Which is another way of saying that the simple task of taking a stop forward is a highly complex action.


She is standing still. I believe the fundamental division between movement and stillness is critical in the technique. It is the basic building block. I like a term used by the French anthropologist Marcel Jousse: dynamogenesis. Instead of working on what happens after you move, work goes into what happens before you move. We have a saying: the first step counts. In other words the impulse into movement is an all or nothing thing. You do not build up to it.

To initiate the move I say to the performer ‘move if / when you want to.’ I clearly cannot give the instruction to move, I would become the cause myself. The performer is asked to explore this proposal. It’s important not to build up tension. No one is going to interrogate you,   ‘Did you really want to move ? Are you sure ?’ All that matters is whether you move or not. There is no why. It is the action that is important and it is absolutely precise, nothing uncertain about it at all. You either move, or you remain still. Two clear states, with no ambiguity.


Once moving you’re off, you’re launched. Some performers are so pleased with this that they stop moving. If they stop, the whole process must start again. But once moving you can ask yourself the question why not keep going? As most performers know very well, the resolution of a movement is usually the pay off point, where the objective is rammed home. So in this technique the resolution of the impulse is left unresolved. Like Forest Gump you can walk for three years if you like. Or at least you have to entertain that possibility, consider the scale of that. With no pre-determined resolution the movement stands out as movement, visible, excessive, and the performer with it. Decroux hints at this when he says ‘the way of walking is more important than the destination.’ I just take it one step further and remove the destination altogether. When you do this I find that the causation and the need for it slips away. I describe this as working with duration. This term replaces motivation in this technique. Instead of asking ‘where do I want to get to with this move?’ the performer explores the question ‘how long shall I keep this movement going?’ Again, no why. Instead there is only when.


When movement is not linear it becomes cyclical. This is explored in repetition. Repeating is a way of exploring duration, and is another technical building block. Let’s say you walk across the space. You reach the other side. You turn. You walk across the space. You turn. You walk across the space. Of course repeating is a paradox. It is subject to chaos theory. Each move across the space is a repeat, but it is not identical in every respect to the move that preceded it. These minute differences can grow. In this way the significance of a moment, the emergence of an event, arises not from the qualities of the movement itself but the conditions surrounding it. These conditions are outside the control of the performer. It follows that the performer cannot control what is significant and what seemingly is not. This is a strange feeling.


We are used to perception being a matter of looking with the eyes. Focus of attention is all to do with where the eyes are looking. I take a completely different approach to this, and work with what can be called (as Grotowski also said) corporal perception. Basically the emphasis shifts from the eyes and on to the whole body. The focus of the eyes is then on whatever they can see in front of them, which will depend on the position of the body. Looking is tied into the body. But it is more than that. There is a shamanic song which has the line ‘my body is all eyes’. The performer becomes aware of the whole body as a sensitive system. I base this on the binary symmetry of the human body. Forward looking eyes, two legs, spinal column at the back, a front, and shoulders and ears that are to the right and the left side of the body. The performer uses this symmetry to know where they are in relation to everything that is outside of them. It gives them a sense of position. But again, it is more than just that. It develops a sense of being there, the human sense of proprioception. With this the performer can use the eyes not to look for something, but to look at what they can see. They can focus on a detail, or use the wider field of vision. We are able to do both. Movement is especially apparent at the edges of our field of vision. There is no need to turn the head as a result. Which means that the performer can become aware of the precise line between seeing and not seeing. It is a very powerful line, and cuts across the line of forward movement. Corporal perception also allows the performer to work with distance, from far away, to the closest position possible outside of contact itself. Once contact is made there is no distance, almost no difference.


Generally we enter a space to watch theatre. Then there is another space inside that one which is called the acting space. So we have a space inside a space. In Optik’s work this is resisted. The space is not segregated in a fixed way but where possible opened out. Where there are open pathways the performers go along them, which can lead them into many other areas of the space itself, the bar, the basement, the street outside. It has happened on more than one occasion that all the performers have in this way left the ‘inside’ space and have continued to perform ‘outside’. Sometimes spectators follow them, sometimes they don’t. In the Lilian Baylis theatre in London all the performers were in the street and the spectators remained in their seats, looking at each other. The performers could be seen through three large theatre windows located at street level, along with passers by, children on bikes, the occasional dog.

To work the space in this way and to work with other performers certain technical principles are involved. You work independently but with complete sensitivity to the other. You can’t block the other out, stick your head in the sand as it were. Patterns of alignment in the space are formed from each performer’s independent decisions about standing still, forward movement, rhythmic speed, turning right, turning left. The mathematician Poincare said that there is no exact solution to all the possible movement relationships of three bodies in space. Given this constantly changing set of possibilities there are endless different patterns, spatial and temporal, that emerge. But at any one time a performer can know what pattern they are in, and the dynamics of its potential for change. As in for example two running and one walking. This can change to three running or two walking and one running, which is then a pattern which can become three walking or one walking and two running and so on. The spatial patterns come from the symmetrical alignment I described earlier. Three all facing the same way, all on the same right-left line. One simple turn by one of the performers changes this to two facing one way, one facing the opposite way. And so on. In making these decisions each performer is constantly in the pull of the others. They have to be. If you are standing still and someone is running fast just missing you, you will have the impulse to run with them. In these conditions we talk about resisting impulse or releasing impulse. You can do either. Its a kind of collaborate – compete situation. But be careful! Nothing stays the same for very long, change is constant, and wave like.


Sudden realisation of the nature of a particular temporal or spatial relationship can often surprise performers with its intensity. A performer, Hannah, was repeating a run across the space. The other performer, Simon, moved into her line and lay down on the floor. She continued to run, jumping over him when it was necessary. After repeating this action several times she started to laugh, and her laugh grew. Eventually she was running and jumping over Simon laughing and shrieking at the top of her voice. She had no warning about this sudden intensity that erupted in laughter. Or how long it might last.   Another performer, Linda, wrote about a moment in her performance: ‘How does it feel when the group have come together at the other end of the space leaving you completely isolated and alone ? I felt so alone the tears just flowed. I could not control that feeling. Not that I broke down and cried because I was still in control of myself and body. Yet there was no doubt that the vast space between us had brought about a very strong emotion within me.’


These sudden states, which are often described/remembered as feelings, could be described, to return to the philosophical, as a kind of phenomenological turbulence. There is nothing that is predictable in human response. I also like the language of new physics: there are phenomena called instantons which are sudden and unpredictable eruptions of intense energy. They appear and disappear without warning. I believe there are similar phenomena, similar ‘instantons’ of human experience/response/awareness in performance.


Spectators are also unavoidably involved in the fluctuations of the performance. They too can experience sudden and total intuitive insights. Sometimes it feels as if the everyday crashes in to the performance, full of unique particular instances: dogs, babies, drunks, police sirens, everyone in the space, their belongings, bags, coats, the space itself, its doors, stairs, windows, lights, all ludicrously in the way, disconnected. Sometimes there is connection everywhere. The results of this intuitive understanding can surface as thoughts, feelings, perceptions or as action itself.   What matters is this duality of particular and essence. Action as a response is particularly interesting, though I don’t want to over-emphasise it. Spectators leave their seats and do something in the space. I believe they are using corporal perception, to see what it feels like to do, what moves them to move.


I believe that form is not fixed. It is in flux. Phenomenologists use a term ‘eidetic intuition’. The word eidetic comes from the Greek word eidos meaning form. It refers to a mental image that has unusual vividness and detail. Intuition is the immediate apprehension of something without reasoning. Eidetic intuition describes the immediate knowledge of the form of something, something that is vivid, and present. I am referring here to the form of objects, of material phenomena, and especially the human form.   It seems to me that this is what physical theatre can do at its most fundamental experimental level. It can work with the material physical dynamics of the performer-space-spectator relationship to produce transformations in the human form itself.


Observing the Unpredictable

Originally published in Dance Theatre Journal London Volume 13 No.1 Summer 1996

It covers the work of Optik from 1993 – 1995. I hit on the idea of using past and present tense as two separate formats of writing.

In the town square of Giessen Germany on a summer afternoon. About fifteen people are standing. Still. Looking calmly but intently ahead of them. The stillness is growing. Each person can move forward a pace or two if they want to. No-one does. Unlike these people I am the observer. I too am standing still but allow my head and body to turn and look at the whole scene and at each person in it. Each person is silent. Suddenly my sense of what is happening shifts utterly. Movement is everywhere. A curtain is moving in an upstairs window. The trees are swaying. The hair on one of the people standing a few metres from me is moving strand by strand.   Sounds erupt from every corner of the square. Cars, footsteps, a dog barking, doors opening and shutting, birds singing – a cacophony. A small girl on a tricycle appears from round a corner and wheels into the square mapped out by standing still figures. The girl dodges first one then another, accepting the obstacles in her path as the natural way of things. Suddenly something about these people, or is that particular person she has stopped by, makes her take notice. Something is different about these adults. She spots first one, then another and another calm standing person. She is not afraid, but now intensely curious. She too is still, then slowly moves around the figures, looking at each one. She looks with great care, intently. Then something else catches her attention, the spell is broken. She speeds off. The whole episode lasted minutes, perhaps seconds, and felt like hours perhaps days or even longer.

As I watch the little girl disappear into the high street a movement catches my attention. I do not turn but sense this movement acutely, right at the edge of my field of vision. It is one of the standing figures now moving. The person comes to a standstill. Now I turn and look. They are perfectly still, rooted there as if always there. I cannot relate the movement that took them to there to the position they now occupy, but I am acutely aware that this person I am looking at is not where they were. As I look at the back of the person standing there, the leaves of a bush they have half entered brushing their face and shoulders, I am filled with a longing for that person to turn and look directly at me, to be there just for me. They do not turn. I feel very close to this person although they are metres away from me. I want to move towards them, go right up to them. I do not move.

Stand and face forward. Look ahead of you. Keep your head still. What you can now see is what you look at. Observe as intently and precisely as you can. Observe what is directly ahead of you, and what catches your eye at the edge of your field of vision. Be acutely aware of what is in your vision and what is not.

When you want, move forward a few steps and come to a standstill. Keep looking. Observe changes to the detail in your visual field. Notice how this changes as you move. Keep the line and direction straight ahead of you. Let your weight release to the floor and keep the upper torso relaxed. When moving keep each step going forward. Keep balanced between each step. Move forward again when you want to. Come to a standing still. Wait. Observe. Listen. Listen especially to what you cannot see, what is behind you, behind the line of vision.

You can turn to your left or your right at a precise 90 degrees using your shoulders and hips as lines out. You can turn 180 degrees to face precisely the opposite direction. This is now your fowards direction. You have a completely different perspective. You can do any of these turns at any time. Keep looking at all times. Keep the head facing forwards and relaxed. The body turns and the head follows. You see what comes into your vision when the body turns. As you turn everything turns. You are at the centre.

I am sitting in the Cultural Centre’s Studio Theatre in Warsaw. It is early winter. The seating has been arranged to create multi focus pools of empty space and pathways up, down and across the studio floor. There are some empty seats. Three performers are moving along the pathways open to them. Sometimes synchronously, together, sometimes two still, one moving, or one still and two moving. They are working independently of each other, but patterns are clear with a mathematical form: 1 + 1 + 1 or 1 + 2 / 2 + 1 or 3. Three together is a strong pattern with enormous energy: 3 standing still or 3 walking, running together on the same line, in the same direction. The sound of this movement begins to fill the senses: feet on floor, hands on wall, the different sounds of breathing. The listening becomes acute. This same listening picks up a different sound. Feet but singular in their rhythm. Determined and with a purpose – very different from the purpose-less sound of the three performers. My look seeks the sound, finds it. A young woman has left her seat and is walking tentatively towards another seat in a different part of the studio. Performers pass her by, momentarily blending with her own line and pace of movement. She reaches her new seat, turns and sits, her face elated, relaxed now. There is a completely different atmosphere in the studio. The watchers are no longer passive, inert, but they too are waiting, wanting.   The moment arrives: another woman, older, gets up. She negotiates her way round seating and pathways to reach her goal, one of the performers. She walks alongside him. Then grasps his right hand, first with one then with both of her hands. She keeps up her walk with him which now has to twist on itself to maintain hold of the hand and keep the direction. She releases him. Turns round and walks back to her seat. I am sitting just behind her and am looking at her. She rummages in her bag and takes out a piece of chocolate. Offers some to her neighbour. Notices me looking at her. Twists round and offers some to me. I can hear a performer walking past my chair directly behind me. I accept the chocolate and keep it in my hand.

As you move forward concentrate on the distance between you and what ever is in front of you. If a performer or spectator or a wall is in front of you, and cannot be passed ( always keep your line of forward movement straight ahead) then you can: turn at that point where you can go no further, or you can come to a stop.   What is outside of you is not you, it is not related to you. The other (performer, wall) is independent of you as you are of it. Always accept and explore the nature of what is outside you but in contact with you. Contact is a decision about distance. You can turn at any point before you reach the critical point of stop or turn. If you turn 180 degrees what was in front of you has now gone. If you turn 180 degrees again it is in front of you. In this way something can appear and disappear as you turn and turn again. Explore the sameness and the difference of appearing and re-appearing by repeating the movement and the turning many times.

A performance in Alexandria, Egypt. Early Spring. There are five spectators moving around the space with the three performers. They are all young, having fun, and showing it. A voice is becoming audible above the sound of the movement and the muffled din of the North African street. Another spectator is on her feet. She is standing in front of the percussion player. For some reason she wants him to stop playing. Stop it! Stop it! Finally she takes the rattle that is making the sound she so much wants to silence and holds it firm. Drummer and spectator are locked together, both holding the long cylinder of the rattle and looking at each other. I turn away to find the performers: everyone has gone. Through one of the open doors all eight have walked out of the theatre and into the noisy dark night outside. The rest of us sit and contemplate each other and the empty space in silence.

Two months later. I am watching this event on video. The camera had gone with the performers when they had left the theatre. It has found two of them, a performer sitting on a stone step, and in front of him, staring at him intently, one of the female spectators. It is dark. Neither are moving. In the distance I can hear the sound of the performance I am actually watching, a soft persistent drum beat and a baby making loud noises with its voice. In the film a stranger happens upon the couple at the steps. It is another young woman who stops and lets out a laugh. She approaches gingerly to get a closer look. Suddenly the spectating female breaks her stillness and pushes the other woman away forcibly, determinedly, before resuming her contemplation of the performer before her. The stranger has backed away, wary. But she is not going to leave. She looks from performer to spectator and back again. She lets out another laugh with a sudden jolt that contracts her stomach, her arms around herself, hugging her body. She waits. Suddenly the girl spectator has turned and is returning to the theatre. She doesn’t look back. The performer is right behind her. The camera stays, looking at the stranger who is now alone, looking around her.

When aligning with another person remember that unlike an inanimate object, a person is dynamic. They can move forward, or away from you or stay where they are, in any sequence of these things, at any time. This dynamic potential belongs to you too of course. The relationship between you and other people in the space will be inter-active, non-linear, complex. But at any moment you are only concerned with your own position, your own possibilities. This is not achieved by closing down. At all times you must be as open and responsive as possible to the stimuli around you. Independence is hard.

Observe your alignment in relation to others using the grid lines: the one that runs directly ahead of you from your centre, and the other that runs from the centre again but outwards to your right and to your left.

Be aware of the pattern you are in, formed by the mathematics of 3, 2 + 1, 1 + 2. Work independently but do not work alone. If you stand still and the other two are moving you are creating the pattern of : 1 [still] + 2 [moving] . Wait. Observe. Listen. Explore this pattern. Just as your stillness is a proposition for the others to stop moving and become still, so the others’ moving is a proposition for you to leave your stillness and move. There is no conflict here. You can do whatever you want, and whatever you do will be accepted by the others. The pattern is always looking for 3: 3 [moving] or 3[still].   This natural pull in the pattern can be used by you. You can resist it. Stay as 1 [still] in relation to the other’s 2 [moving]. The 2 [moving] is resisting the pull to stillness. You are resisting the pull to 3 [moving]. If one of the 2 [moving] joins you to create 2 [still] then the pattern has changed completely to 2 [still] and 1 [moving].   Use this sense of patterning, and the resistance and going with its pull to explore your own dynamogenesis and resolutions, the beginnings of an impulse and its life cycle to decay and disappearance.    

Berlin. Spring. A performance at Tacheles. I am observing a spectator on the opposite side of a space, some seats down from me. She is agitated, moving in her seat. Looking from side to side quickly and back to the something in the space that is occupying her whole attention. She gets up and places her hands on the shoulders of a performer who is running on the spot. She pushes down. She stops the running. As her hands leave, the performer waits. She resumes her seat. The performer resumes running on the spot – the impulse has re-surfaced, not gone away. The spectator is caught now. She must give up or continue. Everyone waits. She decides to continue. She returns to the performer.   A hand on each shoulder. The performer is tall. She has to reach up. She presses down. The performer accepts the contact. This give rise to an unexpected frisson of intimacy which catches her and us by surprise. The performer stops running. She releases but stands close, waiting. The performer waits. They wait together. Her head is lowered, looking at his feet. They are about to move again, shuffling and squeaking in one shoe for some reason. For the spectator this squeak has become the most irritable sound in the universe. It threatens to destroy her sense of reality, of when and where things should happen. She has to bring it and the person responsible, the performer, under control.   A split second before the feet move again she has crouched down, grasped the shoes, and is untying the laces. She then ties them together again, locking the shoes together. A complete stranger, another spectator, races to the woman almost before she has time to stand up. He picks her up off the floor and carries her unceremoniously away. She is taken completely by surprise. She is yelling. The performer is trying to run forwards this time and is falling down at each attempt. Another spectator comes to untie the laces. I watch as people go back to their seats. I notice that the three performers are moving together in a line slowly down the space toward the far wall.

Move when you want to . Stand still when you want to. Try to separate the decision to move or stand still from the wanting to move or stand still. Wanting to move is recognition of an impulse to move. Executing the impulse into the space, or keeping the impulse internal is a decision.   Desire and decision are different.   Always accept the desire of the other. You cannot stop someone’s desire, but you can explore creating a want or desire in another. You assume complete responsibility for what you want to do, and accept this condition for others. You are utterly independent, and yet not alone.

An orchard near Gardzienice, Poland. Early winter. It is morning. Misty, cold. There is one stranger present: a girl from Manchester who has joined the Gardzienice Theatre Association as a performer. Simon the percussion player is holding coats and shoes. Terry is filming. I and the girl are watching. The performers are alone. A burnt crucifix dominates the orchard space. A small house used to be on this site but was destroyed by fire the previous year. The performers start to move, to create the patterns of three in the wide expanse of this Polish landscape. One performer sets off in the direction of a distant group of trees. On the way he passes branches which scratch his skin. Another lies face down in the damp frosty grass, while another walks up and down repeatedly between the crucifix and a tree. I watch the performer who is heading into the distance. There is no obstacle in his path. He keeps walking. I can hardly see him any more.



Optik Performance Phenomenology

First published in the proceedings of the Arts on the Edge Conference Perth Western Australia 1998

The development of performance from POSITION   VELOCITY CONSCIOUSNESS (suspending all assumptions about existence and why things happen).

Key Words





























duration dynamogenesis


















instantaneous intensity









release repetition














symmetry synchronicity
















A Performance Witness

A letter handed to the company by a spectator, ES, after a performance in Germany.   Translated from the original German.

I am able to make very precise observations, look with a new intensity at the relationship between the performers and the spectators.

Optik’s performing develops a mood of sensitivity which lets me listen, watch, respond to private, to public sensations. The performers raised for me the whole questions of what makes a ‘successful’ piece of theatre. We all have the capacity to experience worlds of feeling and possibilities, of potential. We often marginalise these, block our own selves, ‘sectarianise’ areas of ourselves in order to control and manipulate. Tonight, Optik offered us a theatre which opens up the ‘ no go’ areas, which entertains, which heals.

The movements are not based on virtuoso technical ‘gimmicks’ They are at once elementary and deeply innocent: an opening up of the performer as him/herself and as link to the spectator’s self, too. The sequence of movements is impossible to predict, and can come at an extraordinary pace. A performer moves here and there in the space. Stands runs and then stands again. Breathes, lies down. The performers sometimes do this very close to one another, or very close to a spectator, sometimes ‘isolated’. Suddenly one of them goes diagonally across the path of the others. A ‘hindrance’ is created, and with it a performance koan of contact/ non contact.   The communication is intense, inexplicable. Buried in such moments is the continuous ‘flow’ or pulse of the performance. This deep underground rhythmic score surfaces as shattered silences, as long held sequences of repeated actions, as sound.

Each spectator seems to perceive fragments of story in some of these moments.   But as soon as they are recognised (and sometimes even before then) the moment has passed, the stage dissolves.   There is no story, no meaning.

This performance has left me awash with impulses, sensations.   I have spent an hour in the company of a large number of people, acutely aware of watching and being watched, of bodies sitting, moving. It is a strange and peculiarly exhilarating experience.   Simple things fill your mind: how people walk toward one another, how they meet, have contact, leave one another. Postures, movements become startlingly clear.

I am left with a feeling that is absolutely precise yet impossible to determine exactly. I settle finally for this: I have been watching what people are.

Written by performer LB after a performance in the Czech Republic

How does it feel when the group have come together at the other end of the space leaving you completely isolated and alone ? I felt so alone the tears just flowed.   I could not control that feeling. Not that I broke down and cried because I was still in control of myself and my body. Yet there was no doubt that the vast space between us had brought about a very strong emotion within me.

performer AW-B talking at the Optik Live Art Performance Symposium London

I just had this idea that I was coming down this line and that we three performers were just going to be kicked off as it were… into the universe and completely… just never come together. And that would be a failure. And I was desperate to… Because I remember, we ran round the space before, really strong. And we were so together. It was a real buzz.   And suddenly… it was shit… where are they? And I was desperate to get back to them and I thought I never would. And then I just walked the other way. And I thought oh, that doesn’t matter… that doesn’t matter…



Performing Presence

Originally published in ‘Performing Presence’ in Consciousness Reframed Ascott R (Ed) Intellect Books 1999

A written commentary on the question and nature of ‘being present’   How presence is determined and experienced. The nature of human movement. The bilateral symmetry of the human body and the consequences for presence arising from the nature of movement. Presence, movement and the presence of others.

 Keywords:   Presence. Movement. Decision. Lines. Position. Velocity. Contact. Bilateral symmetry. Bio-mechanics. Turning. Wanting. Consequences.

 Last year I attended a symposium at Riverside Studios London as part of the Digital Dancing programme (Digital Dancing 1997). Quite early on in the discussion attention focused on the work of the dancers taking part in an event that had been performed live at Riverside Studios and seen electronically at The Place. The matter of hardware, modems, cameras, cables and the like was handled relatively swiftly, and then the dancers themselves began to talk about their physical bodywork. They talked about the feeling of distance between them, about contact and non-contact, about the direction of movement in spirals and lines, and about the implications of spontaneity and pre-planning. I was surprised by the language used. I recognised many of the words. They were words that I also used to articulate my own performance-making process (Optik 1991-). I concluded that we were both talking about the same thing, namely the performing of presence. I would characterise the performing of presence as the engagement with physical live performance without pre-planned notions of significance, meaning or the desire to communicate. If you are not communicating, what are you doing ? This is the major hurdle for the performer, who normally needs an objective. It seemed to me that in the dancers’ case the ‘objective’ was the experiment with tele-presence, which in a strange kind of way ‘liberated’ their live work from the strain of significance, and the constraint of meaning. In my own case I have been attempting to work in just this state of non-communicative presence but without the tele-transport of image. In fact one of the intriguing aspects of the work has been the absence of image-making altogether, tele or otherwise. The engagement with presence as a performing process is not a matter of assembling images for others to see. Marcel Jousse (Jousse 1925), arguing that movement is a basic building block, used the phrase ‘images don’t exist’.   What is performing if the recollected or reconstructed image or significance of what you are doing is not used as the trigger for physical impulse ? What is the instigator for movement in this pre-conscious state. Is it pre-conscious ? More accurately, what is it we are conscious of ?   To which we can also add, what is watching under these conditions, what is being watched?

These kinds of questions have led me to attempt to define some structural elements of presence as process, and its relationship to consciousness and to doing. Such elements as corporal perception, duration in time, fractal scale and distance, dynamogenesis and the origin of impulse, proprioception and the phenomenology of personal location.

Performing presence is a matter of understanding action and action potential. I describe it as a quantum bio-mechanics. What might be the fundamental constituents of this essentially dynamic process ? I have developed one possible formula. In this formula the three fundamental constituents are position, velocity and consciousness. Position relates to space, velocity to time. Consciousness is linked to position and velocity via various layers of decision processes that constantly negotiate change in one or other or both of these elements. Together position and velocity create space-time and decision making in either constituent element becomes decision making in the dimension of space-time. In the dynamic model opened up by the integration of consciousness this space-time dimension becomes fluid, uncertain, unpredictable. These characteristics then apply to such normally fixed elements such as duration of time, location in space, distance, scale. The proprioception sense is enhanced in this process, and seems able to create and / or deal with paradoxical states of somewhen / everywhen and somewhere / everywhere. This quantumised bio-mechanics also handles the phenomenal paradox of being simultaneously singular, a unique biological event, and universal, a part of a category of connectedness, such as species or larger.


Position is where you are at any particular moment, ‘what is under your foot’. In addition to our feet (two of them) human beings have two forward looking eyes, an ear on each side of the head, in other words a bilateral body symmetry. From this are generated six basic co-ordinates of position: in front, behind, to the right, to the left, above and underneath.   We generally understand these co-ordinates in one instant as a single point, which is ‘being there’, but in the performing work it is possible to isolate and work on each one.

We have a very wide eye focus, but is has limits. Our forward looking eyes are adept at detecting the slightest movement, particularly at the edges of our field of vision, and at focusing on a particular point directly in front of us. Where we cannot see any more is a critical boundary that separates seeing from not seeing. This line defines in front and behind, extends out from each shoulder to right and left. It is a key transitional line in our understanding of position. In front is visible, behind is invisible, but audible. The relation between hearing and seeing is critical, and the desire to turn and look back at what is behind us is always strong. It appears in several mythical narratives. You can never see what is directly behind you, since as you turn to look, the position of ‘directly behind’ moves with you. To be in front of another, front to front, has the dynamic of ‘opening up’, of starting, meeting. Turning your back on another is its opposite, closing down, ending, departure.

The vertical line, up and down, gives us our height, the distance from the hair on our head to the soles of our feet. It can be explored by the vertical movement of the head, which allows us to look up, and look down. The vertical line is also engaged by standing upright, and this can be explored by dropping the pelvis so that the body goes to crawl and then to lying down, and from there back to standing upright.


Velocity is the rate of change of position. We know our position and also simultaneously know that it is not fixed but has constant potential for change. We engage in movement which takes our body through different positional points. and at different speeds. Rhythm is one of the spin offs of the dance between position and velocity. We walk, run, stand still, lie down. We can turn, and roll.

In my own work I ask performers to use quanta of velocity states. This is so that they can concentrate on the change from one state to another, and work with duration. It is a very simple structure that is based on a precise doubling of velocity to effect a change. If a performer engages their slowest walk, then the options facing that performer are to continue (at a constant velocity), stop walking and stand, or to double the velocity of the move forward. And so on up the scale until you reach your fastest possible run. Using this structure it only takes four velocity states to go from slowest to fastest.


In my work each performer has an independent decision making process. This is my way in to the exploration of consciousness. Each performer can at any time change their position and / or their velocity.   This is not consciously dependent on any other structure. It is a performer’s way in to working with uncertainty, while being certain of what they are doing.

When we are walking what decisions do we have ? We can stop walking and stand still. We can turn and keep walking, we can not turn but continue walking on the line we are on at the moment. What makes us choose to stop, or change direction by turning ? What is stopping ? What is turning ? How do these changes occur ?

The process is a binary, or digital one. That is all decisions are based on taking one from only two options. The options may change, but there will never be more than two. At every moment the performer is therefore juggling the now with the what next ?   They know what they are doing, but not what they are going to do – no pre-planning. And when the decision is engaged it is an all or nothing process, no maybe or perhaps. Like the body muscles, you move or you don’t move, one or the other, there is no in-between state.

Moving forward, turning, consequences

If you move in a line forward this will take you for ever onwards unless you turn or stop. A turn produces different positional consequences for the move forward. This combination of line forward and turn is not the same as spiral. A spiral movement is fixed by its centre and so does not actually move forward.

Turning is crucial. It is inbuilt, a kind of homing instinct. I can illustrate with an example from performer work. In this particular exercise one performer is asked to stand behind another and give a physical impulse with their hand to the other by pushing slightly at the base of their partner’s spine. The performer moves forward on this impulse and then eventually comes to a standing position. When first doing this work the moving performer will almost always turn at the stopping point of the movement and walk back to the other. Out on a limb in this way they feel uncomfortable, stranded, strange. The performer has to learn how to resist the impulse to turn and go back, how to remain facing forward, somewhere else, waiting for a new impulse to move forward again. It would seem as if the default decision as it were is to turn round 180 degrees and go back to where you started. Even when that starting place has only been in existence for a few minutes. Turning is a key to stability. Turning keeps us more or less where we are. If we didn’t turn then we wouldn’t have communities, we would just keep walking. Turning turns space into territory.   In performing, we can see that actors, dancers and others keep themselves on the limited space known as the stage by turning frequently, and by restricting their forward movement in this way so that they are contained within the boundaries of the set stage space. If you get a group of performers in a space and give the simple instruction move then they will move in spirals around the space, not in lines forward.

Does this link presence to a consciousness of containment, and a resistance or acceptance of that ? What if you decide to move forward until you meet an obstacle ? What happens then ? Is another person an obstacle ? Do you turn then ? What happens when one person meets another ?   What are the dynamics of this meeting, this contact ? Other people are disturbing, exciting. For where as we can exercise some element of control (if we want to) on our position in relation to static objects, we cannot do this with people because they are capable of changing position, as we are. In these conditions I have found that presence becomes felt. Physical actions involving change of position such as moving, turning, resonate with feeling states such as being accepted, or being rejected.   When two or more people are in close proximity to one another then there is a strong desire to synchronise changes of position, a desire that can be followed or resisted. Moving together feels good. We want it to happen. When another allows this to happen, or when they resist this and move independently we sense this emotionally.

When we change position, at whatever velocity, we are not alone. Changes in position initiate the possibility of contact with others. We are in a constant state of coming into and going out of contact. When we move, change position, do we do this in order to make this contact, or is contact simply a consequence of moving ? How do we know the people we know ? Is it because they keep re-appearing as we move and turn back the same way.? Turning 180 degrees is to reverse the direction of the line you are on and so maintains something. Turning 90 degrees along the right or the left axis of the body is to make a major change. Moving is a fundamental human activity. Presence, it seems to me, is intimately connected to it.


  1. Digital Dancing for further reference see Kozel S Reshaping space: focusing time Dance Theatre Journal Volume 12 no. 2 Autumn 1995
  2. Jousse M 1990 The Oral Style. New York Garland Publishing Page 27 (Translated from the original French: Jousse M 1925 Le Style Oral Rythmique et Mnemotechnique chez les Verbo-Moteurs. Paris. Archives de Philosophie Beauchesne.)



Presence and tele-presence: one map of non-linear performance process

Originally published South African Theatre Journal SATJ 12 May / September 1998

It is now possible to create theatre and dance movement by computer. The new technology that creates ‘a world dematerialised by digital media’[i] in the emergent cyber-realities of tele-presence, also opens up new opportunities for live performance to (re)-discover the nature of its physicality, its materiality. This re-energising process is rooted in the re-discovery of performance itself, and the ways in which live performance can explore and (re-)present human experience and consciousness.

This is an outline one such process – my own, as a creator and director. It is not a conclusive statement, but an attempt at articulation – a translating into words. It is an account of how a director and a group of performers – OPTIK, have explored this new sense of material presence in the company of spectators.

The performer’s process.

Work on the energised presence of the performer is both an ancient as well as a contemporary practice and movement is a key element in this process. Image is replaced by movement in real space. This shift from image to movement, from perception to impulse, is fundamental. The performer becomes ‘split’ into the observer of action (consciousness) and the initiator of action (impulse), aware of themselves as the source of everything they experience at any moment. This is a holistic framework: the performer is at the centre of everything that they do, they are the whole. In psycho-biological terms the performer is engaging with their faculty of proprioception, the sense system that gives you the awareness of occupying space, of simply being present, being there. And of its opposite: being absent, not there.

This principle is central to any notion of a material presence and to its ‘application’ in live performance. The question is how this can be applied or ‘known’ since it is a faculty associated with right side rather than left side brain function. It boils down to this: the performer must know that they are physically present and that this physical material presence is charged with resonance.

The (re-)discovery of material presence is about working with the dynamic nature of human movement and its potential in real space, a question of acceptance of fluidity and unpredictability, of a lack of overall control.

The basic principles of this dynamic potential lie in the absolute original moment of movement, a rich and revealing territory for exploration. This is an ancient practice too of course. One of the underlying principles of No theatre is that movement is generated from ku – a word that implies both space and emptiness . Movement is not an ‘adding to’ the ‘excess’ of what is already in the world[ii], but is given into the emptiness, coming from the performer as an impulse, an explosion that releases physical movement into the space. The terminology of explosion, or dynamo-genesis was articulated much earlier in this century by the French anthropologist Marcel Jousse, who argued that movement was the most basic and the first response to stimuli.[iii]

Dynamic alignment is a technique developed in Optik to allow performers to work with each other but in complete independence: no control. It enables each performer to engage in a constant play of position and speed of their own choosing, while remaining as sensitive as possible to the stimuli around them (which would of course include the movement of others).

The basic principles of dynamic alignment are.

  • Working from the binary nature of the human body the performer combines an exact sense of position in space, with the ability to change that position by moving.
  • The key lines of alignment cross the body along the line to left and right from the shoulders and along the line that splits the body exactly in two and that runs directly in front of the performer and directly behind them.
  • The right-left line is sensed physically and is also in the extreme edges of the visual field of the performer.
  • The front / behind line. In front of the performer, looking ahead, head always relaxed, lies the potential arena for movement. The field of vision is precise on this line, picking out details with precision. Behind the performer is out of the field of vision. The performer can turn to face what was previously behind them, but behind is not to be tampered with. ‘Don’t look back’ is the mythic injunction that the performer must heed too.


The performer must be aware of what is outside of them but must also be capable of undertaking an inner journey, a journey inside themselves. Understanding the origin of movement is part of this inner journey. The performer can thus travel between the internal and the external, and work with the relationship between the two. Again, ancient performing practice works with this principle, talking of ‘outer, visible movement’ and ‘inner movements generated by the spirit’[iv]   For a performing practice working with the physical properties of materiality, the inner / outer binary has even more significance. In conditions of live presence the body becomes a critical boundary between the inner and the outer. The skin defines the edge of this boundary and becomes the site of physical encounter and contact. From this potential flows experience of contact that is near, contact that is far away, introducing proximity, scale, and distance.

The body activates the divide itself, and some have argued that this is one of the crucial issues in the existential response to late modernity.[v]

The performance process

 What happens in performance that is generated using these techniques and principles ?   How is this kind of performance structured, how is it made?   ?This question is re-invented for contemporary live performance by the developments in digital imaging. The computer has generated the science of complexity and chaos, it has enabled the development of understanding of non-linear dynamics. When describing the screen imagery developed by new technology words have been used such as ‘It is a fluid   phenomenon’, ‘It is a process that cannot be stored. It is a process running in the moment. It is a happening.’[vi] Similar terms can be found in any description of complexity and new technology.[vii] But this is analysis of the phenomena of nature, and as such must apply to ourselves (as genetics and the biological sciences have found) and therfore to our performing. The challenge for contemporary performance making technique is to go beyond the linearity and closure of representation, and to enter the very different world of non-linearity.

These are some of the elements that characterise non-linear performance structure:

  • All processes are opened up, become fluid.

Notions of performance space and non-performance space disappear: there is only space, inside and outside, identically present from the inside/outside of the body through to the galactic scale. This is a fractal phenomenon, whereby an element is identical from large scale down to small scale. For example, taking one step forward remains identical as a performance movement, but taking a hundred steps forward is going to produce a walk. It is still, however, one step followed by another.

  • All other statically defined notions become fluid also, critically the notions of performer and spectator. Rather than being defined as one or the other, as a condition of status, performing and spectating become processes, and so can shift in each person during the performance. Thus ‘the performer’ can also ‘spectate’ and vice versa. This fluidity in the performer spectator relationship can be compared to the wave particle phenomenon in quantum physics. It is essentially both at the same time, collapsing at critical points to become one or the other but having the potential to be either, being both simultaneously. What this sets up is a field of excitation between the two poles of performance presence: performing / spectating.

Performance is constantly emerging from this process. Participants in the event are not passive recipients of pre-planned image or meaning, but are present as active agents in the process. The role of the performer (that is the catalytic agent) is to work the critical line between flow and moment without formally ‘collapsing’ into one or the other. This is very hard. As with ancient forms of performance, the key to this is the highly codified set of movement options. Within this the performer can concentrate on the physical dynamics and has no freedom and therefore no pressure to ‘invent’ the form. In this way, the performer can become an adaptive agent in a process that is larger than any one person.

This restricted code not only releases the performer but also enables complex events to emerge. As chaos theory states, the set of initial conditions is critical: the shape of the space, the number of people and so on. Every tiny detail has the potential to contribute to the outcome in performance. The performer is therefore never looking for significance, or looking for ‘dramatic’ events. Somehow or other these emerge, and then disappear, like the energy fields (for this is what they are) or instantons of quantum physics.

Released from the need to interpret the pre-planned intention in a performance (that is the linear representational model), it would appear that the spectator is unable to store what they are seeing in memory, cannot ‘read’ it in the way you might follow a linear performance. There is a linear sequence of events, (the arrow of time), but no pre-set order of this sequence. This generates a powerful surge of activity in the imagination and in the emotional response system. ‘Seeing’, like ‘reading’ is also changed. What is under consideration here is how the human responds to movement. This is more than just a matter of ‘seeing’ . It can also involve a physical response that can initiate the generation of the same movement impulse.

Finally, in this technique, the decision making of the performer (and the spectator) becomes a critical part of the performance process. Decisions in this context are the binary kind: move/ stay still, stand/fall, turn/stay still, walk/run. They are in a way the ‘digital code’ that creates the structure of the performance event itself. They are not confined to a pre-performance ‘rehearsal’ period, but must occur in the performance itself. This can be illustrated by reference to the movement cycle. Once a movement has been initiated there is no resolution to that movement fixed in advance. If it were then the whole movement sequence would become linear, travelling toward the resolution moment. Non-linearity demands that the performer is constantly faced with a resolution that may come at any moment. It is a koan in practice, a paradox, again well known to ancient physical disciplines. Patanjali, for example, in the Yoga Sutras talks of the ‘irreducible moment’ in the flow of moment to moment.

This produces the sensation of waiting, and engages performance making with duration in time. Duration in time is one of the key conditions of live performance. It is unique to live work and cannot be re-produced. It is a powerful feeling associated with real materiality, and generates real physical responses, often of wanting to control (to stop the movement) or of release (having to run).

The performer in all of this process is the one who knows, who has developed a knowledge of the process which can then be translated to others. In this way the performer becomes very powerful, but is also extremely vulnerable too. Like others this performer must know what they are doing at any one moment, but not what they are going to do. They must know, but not know. They must explore this not knowing, this future, as their own potential. Like us all.

[i] Introduction to Multimediale 4 Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe Germany May 1995

[ii] see Auge M non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermordernity Verso London 1995

[iii] See Jousse, M Le Style Oral Rythmique et Mnemotechnique chez les Verbo-Moteurs   Paris 1925 Translated The Oral Style New York 1990

[iv] The Inner World of The No Naohiko Umewaka Contemporary Theatre Review Vol 1,2 1994

[v] ‘The larger struggle we are witnessing today is not between conflicting moral beliefs, between the legal system and individual freedom, between nature and technology: it is between our inner and outer lives, and our bodies are the area where this belief is being played out.’ Bill Viola ‘The Body Asleep’ Pour La Suite du Monde Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal 1992 Cited in Rites of Passage, art for the end of the century Tate Gallery London 1995

[vi] Cited in Reshaping space: focusing time Susan Kozel Dance Theatre Journal Autumn 1995

[vii] E.g. Mitchell Waldrop, M. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Chaos and Order Simon and Schuster 1992




Originally published inTotal Theatre Vol 7 No 4 Winter 1995

Tacheles is no ordinary theatre. The outside of the building looks as though it is falling to bits. It is huge, made up of at least three blocks in one of Berlin’s main streets, with rusting ghost-like reminders of its origins as a department store and cinema. In real estate terms I imagine it is worth millions. But although it is surrounded by the cranes and concrete of Berlin’s current building frenzy it appears to be safe. It is famous. Tacheles is now on the tourist itinerary : a shrine to a past that could leave ruined buildings untouched for decades, and to a new contemporary spirit embodied in the artists now inhabiting the shell and breathing their own vision of life and art into the place.

It is about as far removed from an eighties model of up market arts centre as it is possible to get. It is dirty, dusty, bare.   At the back of Tacheles is a large sculpture park. But with a difference. This park is constructed from half a bus, the top part of a rocket and various other fragments of industrial machinery. It appears to be in a constant state of flux, fed by the noisy metal and sculpture workshops that are part of the Tacheles complex.   Smartly dressed young Berliners, some with toddlers and babies in pushchairs, sit on the seats drinking, talking, eating.

You can look down on the park and its people from the window of the dressing room on the second floor. The skyline is dominated by the massive silver globe that towers over Alexanderplatz a few blocks away.

The theatre itself is on the first floor, the site of the original cinema.   It is an amazing space. Not by virtue of its architecture particularly. More because of what has not been done to it. The signs of its past are imprinted all over the space. Its current existence as a performance space is maintained with a sophisticated fragility. This is no heavy handed conversion from ruin to theatre. More a proposition for the building itself to mull over.

The floor of the performance space is a mixture of concrete, remnants of flooring, and above all, dust. It is so dusty that it has to be sprayed with water before each performance, a kind of ritual lovingly performed by the technician. Its status as ritual is confirmed by the fact that this watering makes little or no impact. It does, however, create small patches of dampness turning to mud, as well as giving some of the seats a good soaking only minutes before spectators arrive. Two metal skylight windows allow shafts of sunlight to pierce the atmosphere. The walls are a patchwork of crumbling plasterwork, patched up pillars and various degrees of decoration. There is a random motley of colour and pattern. The back wall looks like a map of the world.

Two large metal doors guard the entrance to the space. At the beginning of each performance, as the last spectator enters, these doors are shut. The noise of metal on metal is harsh but there is no sense of the theatre walls keeping a hostile outside at bay.   The public ‘outside’ seems to flow in and out of the building without let or hindrance. Tourists wander in from the street and find their way into the theatre. Guides give talks to camera clicking groups as we are setting up.   It is unnerving. In the open, turbulent and above all public atmosphere of this street, this building, this place called Tacheles Optik was going to find a unique arena for its work. But then, as they say, that was why we were there.

Over the course of the week’s five performances spectator and performer responses varied wildly, each performance very different. As expected there was a volatility in the air that often spilled over into direct physical response. Sometimes people responded spontaneously, running, laughing, smiling. At the end of the first night’s performance, for example, this resulted in about fifteen people   moving around the space in chaotic contact, dyonisiac and daft at one and same time.

Other responses were more deliberate, clown-like. A woman, after vainly trying to stop two performers from running on the spot, a few moments later tied one of the performer’s shoelaces together. Another spectator, finding this presumably too controlling a move, rushed in and picked the woman up and walked around the space with her screaming and yelling to be let down. In the mayhem that followed someone else came out to untie the laces after the performer had tripped and fallen several times in an attempt to run down the space.

On one occasion the relationship between spectator and performer took a particularly provocative and it has to be said, tense turn. A man suddenly jumped up and started to demolish the row of seats in which he was sitting. He picked two seats up and headed towards the performers who had been standing still and in silence for what had seemed like a self immolating eternity. Luckily he did not hurl them at the performers but placed a seat directly in front of each one and then stormed out of the building. Evidently encouraged by this another spectator folded his programme into a little tent shape, placed it in the middle of the space and set light to it. As I was sitting by the lighting board at the time I felt I had no choice but to dim the lights. We all sat there in the semi-darkness watching the programme go up in flames. This seemed to calm people down.

By the end of each performance the performers and several of the spectators would be covered in the Tacheles dust, or a kind of mud, where the dust had mixed with sweat, water or drink (from the spectators). The space did not feel like an interior at all, it was like performing outdoors. At each hard turn of the feet, or fall, a cloud of fine dust would be created, covering everyone and everything in range. Once the performance was ‘over’ (never a precise moment) people from outside the theatre would start to wander in again, curious as ever to look at the space and what was going on there. This also took on a kind of ritual dimension, with people returning to see just how the performance had ended that particular night.

At the weekend we gave a short sequence of performance work in the street outside the space. During this performance Alison stopped still, not quite on the tram track but near enough for the tram driver to take no chances. The tram slowed to a halt a foot or so away from her and waited, rather like the elephant in front of the mouse. Eventually Alison moved a fraction forward and the tram edged gingerly on its way. Oranieburgerstrasse got back to its business. But in a way this is its business, Tacheles its headquarters.

About a month later Optik performed in The Roxy in Prague as part of the Next Wave Festival. Both spaces have striking similarities both in background and current feel. Both are conversions from former cinemas. Both are raw unpretentious places without any trace of prettification. This may have something to do with money, but there is much more to it than that. Like The Roxy, Tacheles has chosen to create itself in a very particular way, juggling a self imposed simplicity verging on crudity, with forward looking ambition. It is a very special mix, unique to those spaces and their cultural histories. Ten years from now will Tacheles be newly painted and floored in wall to wall carpeting ? Who knows, but cleaner though it may be, it would be a shame for the dust to settle too soon.


Visit to Egypt

Originally published inTotal Theatre Vol 6 No 2 Summer 1994

It is the middle of the night, and we are on the desert road from Cairo to Alexandria, a journey of about 250 kilometres. We are travelling in an old Peugeot estate driven by Tony, an Egyptian, a talkative and genial man of about 60, who is also an authority on this particular part of North Africa (as we gradually discover). He speaks fluent French, is a Christian (one of the five percent in Egypt) and he has sprained his wrist earlier in the day. This is now a major problem since we have a puncture. Terry Tiernan is a film maker, and with us on tour as he was in Poland last November and Germany just three weeks ago, takes his camera out for the first time, filming the actors struggling to change the front tyre in pitch darkness.

A few hours later and we are on our way to Damanhur to get our first glimpse of the outdoor arena where we are to give our performance. As we leave Alexandria’s city boundary we pass through an army check point. We want to take thousands of photographs but it seems inappropriate. Terry films nervously from inside the car.

Suddenly we are in the rural landscape of the Delta. The town is about an hour’s drive away from Alexandria, well off the tourist track (though these have all but disappeared). Water buffalo plod through the fields, a camel is snoozing, a man cajoles a herd of sheep over a small bridge, scenes with a history of thousands of years. It is clear to all of us that we have left Europe behind, and that we are now in Africa.

We are to learn later that this whole region has been altered irrevocably by the building of the Aswan dam. Now, instead of flooding annually, leaving behind a nutritious silt , the fields have to be given artificial fertiliser.   Crops that were once plentiful now have difficulty in growing. A small worm, once flushed into the sea by the flooding river waters, now remains behind in the river. It burrows into human skin and launches its eggs into various parts of the body.

We pass a group of women washing their clothes in the river. Tony our driver shrugs his shoulders and observes that unless the Israelis blow the dam up first (which would put the whole of Cairo under six feet of water) the Russian built edifice is crumbling away and will collapse anyway in about ten years time.


The space at Damanhur is large, very large. In the centre is an empty swimming pool. We discuss technical details. What depth of water in the pool ? We decide on 12 cm. Enough to walk in, but deep enough to immerse half the body if lying or rolling.   The seating arrangements begin to sound daunting. The Sports Centre President wants us to give him a plan for 600 seats. We oblige, but there is consternation because an Egyptian traditional dance company will follow us on the night and they want all the seats facing the same way. It is Egypt, but just for a moment it could be any theatre space anywhere. We hold out, but compromise a little. I am beginning to realise just how significant this event in Damanhur is. Arrangements are confirmed over cups of Turkish coffee (my third in the space of two hours). There is no bar in sight, people are drinking tea, coffee or fruit drinks.

Later that evening in Alexandria we are guests at a reception given by the Alexandria British Community Group. It is my first experience of such a tight knit expatriate community. Almost unable to control his excitement is Gordon Entwhistle, a water engineer who has put up the money and done most of the organising for our visit. He has worked in Damanhur for several years and an international event of this kind is something he has dreamed about. He is a genuine romantic, but also very down to earth. We will want to make this work for him.

A group of young TEFL teachers includes Geoffrey Smith, a tireless collaborator during the development phase of this work. When Gordon Entwhistle talked of his dream, Geoff knew just the company that could do it.

Two elderly sisters talk to us. They have lived in Alexandria all their lives. The town was once a thriving centre, with a large international presence, Swiss, French, British and German in particular. The architecture is evidence of this cosmopolitan past. Now though this is all over and the international presence is minimal.

Many of the European style buildings are crumbling away, most have squatter housing built on to the roofs and into any nooks and crannies that are available.   The trams are old and seem Eastern European, as do the taxis, evidence of President Sadat’s courting of the Soviets.

On the day of the first performance, Friday, we arrive at Damanhur early. Seating is already being put out according to our plan. The pool is filled with water (to 12 cm depth in the shallow end). But more is happening that was not on the plan. Four large strips of pastel coloured fabric now hang down the centre of the main building. Flags are going up all around the space. Large coloured flowers are being nailed to walls, and pride of place is given to a poster with the face of President Mubarek inside a flower, and on either side the title of our event. The English title reads: Welcome at Home. I wonder what the Arabic says.

Concern rises when around twenty five very posh looking seats are brought out, upholstered in red. These are placed at the far end of the pool and are clearly for the dignitaries in the audience. We start to set up technically, and to rehearse the possibilities in the space itself. By 2pm we have to stop, the temperature is around 110 degrees F. Jerry, one of the actors has been rehearsing bare from the waist up and he is now very red. We are all concerned that he will be suffering from sunstroke before the performance has even started.

Now we can only hang around, and wait, and worry. Failure here would be unthinkable. We learn that the Provincial Deputy Governor is coming, and that as a result the British Consul General will also attend. More chairs are being put out constantly. The actors are beginning to get very nervous.

The event is scheduled to begin at 6.30 pm. By 5pm the space is half full with spectators. Whole families are present, children are running everywhere. Fifty balloons, neatly tied together, have mysteriously arrived in the swimming pool.

I go through the starting sequence: Simon Edgoose the drummer will be given the go, and will walk out and start the whole thing off with a percussion solo. I remark that this is how Peter Brook started his performance of the Mahabarata, and that the drums have tremendous power to concentrate the moment and the spectators’ attention. The actors will enter the space in those fragile but precious few moments that follow the sound of the drums.

At 6.30 daylight is beginning to fade. Before we can begin there has to be an introductory speech from the Sports Centre President, Said Feratem.   I have helped to write the English version and listen as the PA distorts and booms his words over the thousand or so people that have now arrived. He finishes. Simon walks out. I hold my breath, standing well back, next to Terry who has set up a permanent camera mid way down the space. He is surrounded by excited and very curious spectators. The actors walk out onto the green carpet that now surrounds the whole pool. I admire their courage, their skill. At moments such as these I know why I am a director and they are performers. Despite the numbers the space is quiet, all attention on the English performers.

After a few minutes their initial sequence brings them to a halt, and they stand very still, very visible. At that point the whole audience erupted into applause, and I was stunned. I realised very quickly that they were seeing the performance in a way that sequenced it via the held moments of stillness. At each subsequent held moment there would be applause, cheers, whistles.

I knew that soon the performers would break away from the stage area at the far end of the pool and start to work the whole length of the space, running directly in front of and towards the spectators. It was the going to be a dangerous moment, a gamble. Would they be able to hold the whole event together from then on? As I was thinking this I heard hoots and whistles, cheers and yelps of delight and astonishment. One of the actors had broken away and was running the length of the pool. I look round for Terry but he was gone. I caught sight of him, running, camera in hand, towards a crowd of spectators that had surrounded the lone actor. From then on the event seethed with interaction and bursts of clapping and whistling. The noise was constant. Young men were climbing the lighting posts to see better, to see the English woman who was by then climbing out of the swimming pool soaked from head to toe. Simon the drummer was no longer by his amplified set, but had run round to more drums, this time acoustic, placed in the middle of a group of spectators. I couldn’t see him, I could just hear the sound drifting over the water.

What I could see was heads and bodies gravitating towards a point, and moving rhythmically, smiling and laughing.

Suddenly I notice that heads are turning, there is a different buzz in the air, something must be happening, what, where? I look to see where people are looking, and follow their gazes upwards, towards the flat roof of the Sports Centre Building. There, standing in the middle and right on the edge, overlooking the whole event from twenty or more feet up is Jerry. More and more of the spectators notice him. Is there no end to the madness of the English performers ?   A whoop goes up from the other end, Alison is lying on the floor right in front of the young men up the lamp post.

I decided to glance at the Consul and the Governor. Relief, they seemed alright, smiling even, as they sipped tea from the elegant tables in front of them.

I was aware that I was the focus of attention as a group of young students gathered round me, eager to know what was happening, who were we, why were we here ?

It was intriguing and great fun to hold a discussion on the performance while it was actually taking place. Like spectators at a sporting event we would all stop and look around whenever a cheer or applause happened, then we would resume the debate. One student in particular was beside himself: ‘I am happy. Why am I happy?’

The two actors Jerry and Patrick were standing still, together. Alison was in the pool taking the balloons apart and giving them one by one to the children who by now were thronging the pool side. Surely some must fall in.

They don’t. The last balloon is carried away into the audience. She gets out. The men have gone. She walks towards the doorway that leads into the building, turns and walks back out towards the spectators. They cannot take their eyes off her. Suddenly she breaks out into a fast and determined run, people backing away as she flies past, she goes through the door, and she is gone. The whole space is empty. The performance is over. It had lasted just over one hour.

The Egyptian performance follows. Traditional dance, beautifully costumed. The dancers are amateurs, local people from Damanhur. The musicians are accomplished, and all male. A singer, a viola player, a keyboard player , a traditional flute and a string instrument looking rather like a mandolin. All amplified to distortion levels.

As they perform I reflect on the uniqueness of the event, and on the chance circumstances that led up to it. The whole evening is a one-off, unclassifiable and utterly memorable. Who knows what its consequences may be, or why fate determined that it should happen.

A coach is laid on to take us back to Alexandria. As it is a new Mercedes with obvious tourist connections, we have a military and police escort. The atmosphere is tense, since the escort is good in one way, but with its flashing blue light is also making us just about as conspicuous as we could be. We all decide that Terry must film the escort from the coach. It is too good an opportunity to miss.

Who knows when we will next have a military presence accompanying us on tour? Minutes into filming the coach stops. What’s going on? Someone whispers to Terry that it is forbidden to film the army.   Panic. If they confiscate the tape then the whole of the evening’s performance is lost. Terry unloads the camera fast, passes the tape to me, I put it in my bag. Tension rises. We wait. Nothing happens, suddenly we are on our way again. Relief, despite the lack of explanation.

On the Sunday we are to give an evening performance in the theatre of the Schutz American School in Alexandria. Tony is to take us again, and we do the rounds collecting members of the company. Alison is staying at the British Consulate. When we arrive she is waiting outside, the centre of attention for the young soldiers, all armed with Russian machine guns and smiling broadly.

At the School we lay out the space quickly and efficiently. We know that this performance must not be an anti-climax after Damanhur. The British Consul is making a return visit, and bringing his family. Our approach to setting up a space is simple: everything that can be removed is removed, so that the theatre is as bare and empty as possible. This may sound straightforward but rarely is. In this instance it is not so difficult. As we take down or roll up the stage curtains we discover three sinks, a toilet and three taps on the back wall. Finally revealed after years of being hidden ‘back-stage’ we comment on how some companies spend huge amounts of time (and money) to make sets that could never look better than our black wall, three sinks and single brass taps.

Similarly we explore the potential for use of the outside of the theatre. All doors leading anywhere and everywhere around the space are opened and reconnoitred for the pathways they open up for the performers. The lighting is minimal and is all pointing onto the stage. This is the only real headache. I manage to turn some of them round to light up the whole area.

At 1.15 we meet the senior drama class of the school and their American teacher. I talk briefly about our work and decide on a practical demonstration with them participating. We only have twenty minutes. They are very responsive, only one of them is American, the others are Egyptian. It is a weird mix and I don’t even begin to try to make sense of the cultural interaction going on here.

After 45 minutes in total a bell rings – it is time for them to go. They seem to have got a lot out of it, the teacher is intrigued, trying to grasp the implications of what we have been doing for performance.

Her husband arrives carrying a six month old baby. They are all coming to the performance that evening.

The acoustics are excellent. Simon is eager to play, this time completely acoustic. Around seventy have turned up, some school kids, families, members of the international community, Tony our driver and a friend, the Consul and his family.

The actors start moving into the space, exploring the line on the width of the theatre, passing spectators, heading towards others. I notice a movement to my right. One of the drama students from the school has got up and is walking with the actors. It must have been a pre-determined decision. He looks concentrated, alarmed, taut. The drama teacher has her head in her hands. Within minutes there are four people moving in the space with the performers. Clearly they are a determined bunch.

The man with the baby is about to leave as the baby is becoming vocal. I ask him to stay, and not to worry what sounds the baby makes. There are in any case children of all ages in the audience, some of whom are now standing up to get a better look of that is happening. The man puts the baby down on the floor of the stage area. It immediately crawls off, Alison begins to follow. She returns holding the baby, and stops on the edge of the stage area, just next to the two actors. Jerry is standing close behind Pat and holding his outstretched hands in his own. All are looking straight ahead.

Woman, baby, men: it is suddenly an action, an utterly unpredictable image of extraordinary power. Afterwards, but only afterwards, I try to imagine the action without the iconography of Christianity. A member of the audience said it brought to mind Abraham and his son.

I can’t even remember how the action and image dissolved. By now the event was moving all over the space. Jerry was outside. Others had followed him. I turned to catch sight of him on a wall, being looked at by a group of spectators. Pat is now lying on his back in the middle of the space. The taps have been turned on and water is everywhere. A spectator puts his head under the running tap and comes to Pat and drenches his face by shaking his wet head and hair over him. He repeats the action.

Some late comers are trying to make an unnoticed entrance through one of the doors. Two girls. Alison is running towards them and clearly is not going to stop. I turn to look at the girls. Their faces have expressions of utter bewilderment, close to terror. They run off and watch from a distance, creeping closer as their curiosity increases.

The performers sense it is time to leave. They form a line, experienced and professional they begin to walk out. They’ve gone. One young spectator remains, aware that he has a once in a lifetime opportunity.   He stands in front of the seated spectators, breathing quickly. We all watch him, knowing that we are in his hands, as he is in ours. We let him do what he wants to do, unknowing, innocent, preposterous. He sits on the floor finally. The performers have all returned, changed and are seated. Everyone begins to clap, and then begins to talk, and talk. The baby’s father explains excitedly that he saw the event as a performance simulation of life, moving dynamically all over the space, organising suddenly into patterns here, dissolving and settling somewhere else, always changing, never still.

As always we listen, careful not to offer our own explanation, letting them and ourselves down gently as the event turns into memory.

Before we leave for home Tony wants so show us the tourist sights of Alexandria. At the Roman Catacombs there are only six people: us and one lone Japanese tourist. Otherwise it is deserted apart from soldiers and security police.

At 5 the next morning we have made the return journey on the desert road and are near Cairo Airport. We ask Tony to take us to the Pyramids. Disappointment.   We are met by police who tell us we can go no further. Tony starts to turn the car around, it is getting light, dawn arrives.

Out of the back window of the car a huge shape is suddenly visible in a faint hazy light. It is a Pyramid, massive, looming, silent. We stop the car and look, amazed, surprised by this sudden appearance. Still looking we head for the airport.



Towards a Fundamentalist Theatre

Barry Edwards interviewed by Paul Allain

Originally published in Arabic in ABWAB No 4 1995 Publisher Dar Al Sadi

Edwards:        Our visit to Egypt came in between our tours of Poland and Germany and included a major event, a big outdoor performance in Damanhur, Alexandria. Our work had been geared towards Europe, particularly Eastern Europe and this was the very first experience, certainly for me, of going somewhere completely outside of the European tradition. Our first reaction was to the environmental change i.e. towns, villages and cities were not organised in the same way as in Eastern Europe with its Communist footprints. An immediate sense of change came also from the noise, the population difference and the boundaries of interaction between people. It took a long time to discover what those interactions were, for example the constant movement of people in a very public and very nosy way. The impact of that was enormous to begin with.

Allain:              At that time the Foreign Office would not support your visit, advising Europeans not to travel to Egypt. There was some risk involved.

Edwards:        Not only was the Foreign Office saying that, but the British Council Office in Alexandria were ambivalent, suggesting that our work was ‘not appropriate’ to the region. In Western arts terminology it was an unofficial visit so there was in advance a feeling of physical and creative risk which was a powerful mixture. Once we got to Egypt that risk seemed to disappear completely. It was clear that we were not there as tourists but that we were visiting to make contact and exchange. However, treading in European footprints we were implicated here in a way that we weren’t in Eastern Europe. Certainly the number of Westerners we saw were very few so we really were isolated as well as being obviously implicated in the history of the area.

As we leave Alexandria’s city boundary we pass through an army checkpoint. Suddenly we are in the rural landscape of the Delta. Water buffalo plod through the fields, a camel is snoozing; a man cajoles a herd of sheep over a small bridge, scenes with a history of thousands of years. We are now in Africa.

 Allain:              How was the performance informed by this context?

Edwards:        I would answer that by translating the word fundamentalist from its regional context. In theatre terms the work does not seek to entertain by adding to a satiated arts market, but by contacting more fundamental human desires for fulfilment, purpose and interaction. I feel the visit drew out the values at the heart of the work in a surprising and quite powerful way. The creative risk remained as a strong force, but gradually a sense of deep purpose began to settle on the company. The alienation and ‘provocateur’ status that the work generates in the western context began to dissolve to be replaced by a feeling of necessity, of being wanted, located which is a surprising feeling for western performers. I put this down to our growing awareness of the history of Egypt. It is a rare feeling for western artists to be ingénues, the newcomers and for the first time our simplicity of approach, our self imposed naiveté and vulnerability were right. It was entirely appropriate for a performance taking place in a country whose cultural tradition predates Europe’s by centuries.

In a western context, the work tries to put in place a technique that engenders risk or looks at unpredictability and spontaneity in performance, the ability to make theatre a live event. There is an exchange or a contact that goes on between people at a simple level either as a spectator or performer actually in the event and in the space itself. The company is not coming with a pre-packaged thing using tricks and techniques to make it work. What was evident the moment we got to the sports centre in Damanhur where we were going to perform was the sheer scale of what was going to take place. How do you put that vulnerability into the scale of an event where maybe a 1,000 people will turn up? In those circumstances, it is quite another thing to start talking about risk and vulnerability! We therefore spent quite a lot of time working on ways of pinning down the event so that it would not simply vanish and yet could retain key aspects of its unpredictability. That led to interesting results. Certain aspects of the opening section were recognised by the spectators as a sort of dance-theatre. When one of these sequences came to an end the audience started to applaud. That was very reassuring and from that moment on there was contact.

Arrangements are confirmed over cups of Turkish coffee. There is not a bar in sight, people are drinking tea, coffee or fruit drinks. We start to set up technically and to rehearse the possibilities in the space itself. By 2.00pm we have to stop. The temperature is around 110 degrees Fahrenheit and Jerry, one of the actors, has been rehearsing bare from the waist up and is now very red.

 We asked for the swimming pool to be filled up with 12cm of water and the seats to be arranged not completely end-on but around the space. Every time we turned around something was added; lots of flags, bunting, big pictures of flowers and of the President, then a huge green carpet. We had no option but to involve all of these in our performances. You are offering yourself at that point, you are a visitor, you’re strange and you’re not coming to throw something at them but to be there, to offer contact.

Allain:              The performers don’t have any decoration or choreography or costume to hide behind and in this context the European performer, in particular I think of the young woman, Allison is very visible and vulnerable. It inverts the historical pattern of colonial dominance. You are putting yourselves forward in a weak way whilst at the same time presenting yourselves as something to be watched and observed. It can be very intimidating.

Edwards:        Indeed, the Egyptian company were very richly dressed; rich clothing with a whole array of colour. You could say there was a kind of irony in the fact that as western performers we were almost impoverishing ourselves in the event, but this irony is double edged. The force of the western ‘poor theatre’ aesthetic somehow evaporates in the Egyptian setting. It is pointless, as western performers, to claim a poverty even in theatre terms. There was only the reality, our presence, the human drives and desires that make people want to make contact, observe and interact with each other; a kind of fundamentalism in performance. It was a work that offered nothing but itself.

One of the actors had broken away and was running the length of the pool. From then on the event seethed with interaction and bursts of clapping and whistling. The noise was constant, young men were climbing the lighting posts to see better, to see the English woman who was by then climbing out of the swimming pool soaked from head to toe.

 Allain:              A richness comes in allowing the audience to participate rather than sit and watch.

Edwards:        It’s important to talk about the flow of energy between the performer and the spectator. What I’m doing is trying to reverse that flow. You are not saying, right I’m a performer sending everything towards you and you take it or not; I have got everything you need and here it is. We try to generate the flow both ways. That became quite apparent during the performance. People at first sat quite still and only slowly began to move forward; the younger ones especially, began to run and walk with the performers, timidly at first and then inching forward. People allowed themselves to watch in a more and more obvious and animated way. There was a moment when Alison, the dancer, came out of the water and stood on the edge of the pool. What on earth can you say to three or four hundred people who are looking in bewilderment at you? She was presenting herself as saying nothing and everything. She had got out of the water and was standing there. Then at that very moment rather than moving away, and this is part of the technique and training, she actually walks forward into that very vulnerable moment. The people then see her in that weakness and strength heading towards them. It’s a mixture of delight and horror at the same time. She comes very close to them, engaging that moment of contact between them, asking for that to be explored. Then when that moment is over, she moves away and something else is happening. That unique moment is over.

I was aware that I was the focus of attention as a group of young students gathered round me, eager to know what was happening, who we were and why we were here. It was intriguing and somehow great fun to hold a discussion on the performance while it was actually taking place.

 Allain:              What was your perception of the performance?

Edwards:        The noise was constant throughout so it was very different from the performance that we had just given in Cologne with a very intellectual audience, who were attentive in a very respectful way, which led to long held moments of introspective silence. Here it was a huge communal turbulent event. In the western context we stress the individuality of each performer, challenging the debased western myth of ensemble or collective. That was reverse in Egypt; the performers were faced with a terror of being alone in such a huge event but also faced with an obvious communality that rendered provocative individuality meaningless and pointless. The three performers worked together a great deal in order to stabilise the event but also to connect with the pleasure of that other communality.

Allain:              How will the Egypt experience inform what the performers do from now on?

Edwards:        The Company has remained together through the Polish, German and crucially the Egyptian tours. I think the Egyptian experience had a fundamental impact, particularly on Alison. She said that she discovered the humanity of the work when she was in Egypt; it was a very moving experience for her.

A coach is laid on to take us back to Alexandria. As it is a new Mercedes with obvious tourist connections, we have a military and police escort. The atmosphere is tense, since the escort is good in one way but with it’s flashing blue light it is also making us just about as conspicuous as we could be.

 The danger with our work is that faced with an alienation in the western order it will try to validate itself in terms of the avant-garde or western notions of technique. That leads you to a kind of sterile meta-theatre, a theatre about theatre. The Egyptian experience really did test the work by probing its fundamental basis; I keep coming back to this fundamentalist idea that simplicity isn’t just a theatrical notion but a very powerful force in terms of human nature and desire. If western theatre even in its avant-garde statement is just another product that it is ‘westernised’ anywhere else, it is immediately involved in a kind of trade off, and so you attempt to work constantly against the consumerisation of the human being. That is what Egypt taught us.



Optik workshop background notes

Originally written for participants in the three day workshop at the Varna International Theatre Festival Bulgaria 2000


The workshop will explore with performers the ways in which Barry Edwards and the artists who work in Optik currently engage with technique and composition. It will be an intense physical, practical session through which the participants will be able to experience as practitioners some of the conceptual material outlined below which is an attempt at articulating the core elements of the work.

Bullet points:

  • Dynamogenesis :the origin of action, the impulse to movement.
  • Two polar states of action: the desire to move and the desire to rest
  • energy conservation and the expenditure of energy
  • movement and stillness
  • Performer as a centre of experience and origin of action
  • Experience of action is personal. I can feel it but I cannot see it.
  • the moment before action, before the decision moment
  • continuum of potential moments.
  • the body as an immediate and felt presence

Dynamogenesis (Jousse 1925) refers to the precise moment that is the origin of action, the impulse to movement. It is a key point of transition between two polar states of performing, between the desire to move and the desire to rest, between energy conservation and the expenditure of energy, the trophotropic and the ergotropic (Turner 1986). It is the fundamental dynamic in the performing process (Grotowski 1985).

The performer is both a ‘centre of experience and origin of action’ (Laing 1967). The engagement in action is not the same phenomenon as the experience of action. Engagement in action is a matter of decision, to move or not to move, it is a simple binary choice. The performer takes this decision, though how this neurotransmission works is not certain (Greenfield 1997). Experience of action is personal. I can feel it but I cannot see it. The most we can say is that there is ‘signal in and signal out’ (Stelarc 1997).

There is the experience of the moment before action, before the decision moment, in a space-time that is close to or at the origin.   This is not a single moment, but a constant continuum of potential moments. In this dynamic arena, which is an inner space, the performer can attempt to wait. At this liminal waiting moment, which is a simultaneous experience of movement potential (change, the will to life) and rest (equilibrium, stillness, end) the body appears, not as an image but as an immediate and felt presence, an experience of ‘direct and primitive contact’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962).

 Starting points

the search for:

– a performer-performance process in touch with spontaneity,   unpredictability and uncertainty

– a process that releases its participants from any mechanistic notion of causality

– a practice that invests the performer and the spectator with full creative potential.

Complexity, chaos, mathematics, the new re-alignment of natural forces in terms of quantum indeterminacy: this work explores the human involvement in all of this. As a practice it is experimental, liminal rather than marginal.

The approach builds on a fundamental shift of practice, a practice that engages with fields of energy, and explores the differences between material substance and apparently empty space.

The real challenge lies in finding a concrete and experimental technique that is capable of understanding and engaging with this new dynamic order.

Warning: the technique is only the means of engaging, not the experience of the engagement itself. It can only be described by discussing its different parts, its ‘local’ conditions of engagement. And yet, as a dynamic system ( performance), it can only be understood as a whole (that is in performance) The sum of the parts (a breakdown of technical aspects of the practice) does not add up to the whole (the experience of the performance).

States of perception

The performers must work in a heightened state of awareness. They must become exquisitely sensitive to the initial and developing conditions of their working process. To any sound, any movement, any contact, whether these originate from other performers, themselves, material of the space, or spectators.

I move forward. I find myself very close to another. This proximity produces sensations, nerve activity which will be experienced in a very particular and personal way. Any motor decision that follows will have an impact on the individual’s sensational environment (e.g. by moving closer, moving away).

The performer is asked to concentrate more and more on these processes.

All decisions the performer makes must be reduced to an all or nothing level. Only the next moment must be considered at any one time, so that it can be fully explored and engaged. Move or stay. Stand still or take a step, and so on. All decisions must now operate at this binary level. This enables the performer, faced with a constant unfolding of possibilities, to keep themselves from being engulfed. It allows them to act decisively.

The decision for the performer is always the same (throughout the performance): move, or stay with what you are doing. The decision is constantly present (throughout the performance).

When exploring the next moment, the performer is also in the present moment (of action). The performer must not leave the present action to anticipate some future one. They must work in the irreducible moment of the here and now. The process is a mystery, but by some means or other the performer must transform one action (the present one) into another one (the next one). This then instantly becomes their present action, and so on.

This process occurs too fast for normal perception, but is apparent in a performance state of heightened awareness.

It is not significant whether the performer moves or stays.

There is no right or wrong decision.

Life force

Breathing is critical to the performer’s experience and engagement . By concentrating on the breath in and out the performer can work on the boundary of being and becoming. Excessive control or tension in breathing can prevent the performer from doing this, since breathing physicalises space-time.

The breathing must at all times be as full as possible (not shallow), working with and through the relaxed readiness of the muscles. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. It can be both seen (in the muscular movements of the stomach and diaphragm etc.) and heard (particularly on the out breath through the mouth). After running for example, the breathing, working through voluntary and involuntary (i.e. heart) muscle, will deepen the performer’s engagement with the running moment, its intensity, its duration. Held breath (on the in breath: full, and on the out breath:empty) is a means of exploring decision moments. Breathe in, hold this breath, run. Breathe out, hold, run.

Through this breath work each performer has access to the process of being in and moving from one moment to the next.


Each individual performer must engage independently with the space.

The principles underlying this practice are:

– energy always moves forwards

– movement in the space is explored as a four dimensional continuum.

A trace picture of the movements during any given performance would start with simple lines but would soon proceed to an increasingly dense grid of patterns.

This has been described as an ‘impossible choreography’ (Melrose). The spectators sense both the choreographic impact and its impossibility since such patterning could never have been planned (learned) in advance of its happening. The paradox follows that no single performer plans (or even knows) the pattern of movement, yet the work of the three performers has uniquely created it.

This has profound implications for the creation and experience of performance.

Imagine people moving at varying speeds, or standing still at varying points in the space. Imagine also this occurring as a result of a continuum of completely independent performer decision moments.   A performer is moving slowly, step by step along a line across the space. This line is only capable of being perceived however, as a trace of the action. It is not present in front of the performer.

The performer has no intention ahead of the next step.

The performer is creating their own distance, creating a notion of distance itself, measuring the distance constantly between the point they leave behind and where they are at any moment.

This unique texture of spatial and temporal matter was not there before the performer’s actions occurred.



Three replies

Responses to questions and correspondence with workshop participants

First reply

Third Question (first- it will help with the others):

When talking about purpose, (or anything for that matter), it is important to state that: one can only talk from one own point of view. So: if a performer (and I was talking as a ‘voice’ of the performer [how or if I can do that is another question]) has no purpose (so I say) this does not mean that the spectator can have no purpose in being at the performance, seeing it, responding to it etc etc as you describe. Indeed I would say that the spectator does judge constantly, and this has to be dealt with by the performer.

‘If it is designed, it shows an intention.’ This is an interesting sentence, and one that opens up a whole question. I do not want any spectator to be able to see the intention in whatever a performer in optik does. On the other hand, I do want the spectator to feel that there is a design here. After all, it is not anarchy. What I am after is randomness, or unpredictability, which means there has to be an element of constraint in the process, but only an element. There also has to be an element of complete independence (which is what the performer has on an individual level). And so design is there, but it is a self-designing process – a design that emerges as it goes along. This is still a mysterious process – to me. It means that the performance is a self-organising system – not a system organised/designed in advance and reproduced.

Now in all of this, there is the human question – which is where ‘will’ comes in. I call this ‘want’. What after all does a human being ‘want’.   This is why in the rehearsal process each performer is constantly asked to operate on an ‘do it if you want to’ basis. Because the actional options are so restricted this question can be focussed on very acutely. For example, it can be as basis as move or not move – move if you want to. What does that mean? When a performer does move (because they want to) are they moving with intention ?

I am wary of the zen reference. We are dealing with ordinary human beings here. I only talk about specific things – never in general. So although I talked about mu in the Conference – this was my personal thought. I have never used this concept in rehearsal. In rehearsal everything is related to concrete things – the weight of the foot, the proximity of another performer, the turn of the body, the movement of the head etc. And yet – from the spectator’s point of view, I think that sometimes there is a nothingness, an emptiness. This is not for the performer to fill. The spectator must fill it for themselves, or contemplate it.

First question

Again, another perceptive question. Just to take that particular period – the sixties – there is a considerable amount of work that Optik relates to: Judson Dance, Happenings, Situationists etc. Between now and then has been a period of post modern development. Now a set of conditions exist which reaches beyond post modernism but in a period radically altered from the sixties. As Auge states (Non-Places- The Anthropology of Supermodernity), our current state is characterised above all by excess (of information, referentiality etc). This has to affect such a notion as the happening in a drastic way. The happening was generated in a period of cultural solidity/stasis. It aimed to fragment this. It succeeded (in some ways). We now have the worst of both worlds: the stasis of fragmentation within the condition of excess. Where does this leave performance? This was what I was trying to refer to in my lecture. The performer no longer has the luxury of the ‘anti-stance’. Existential angst is the norm. Where to pitch your work? What to do? WHy do anything? (And only add to the excess of image, information, statement etc).

It is to this dilemma that Optik attempts to address its work. Hence no attempt to ‘add’ anything (in terms of image, information etc). No ‘collage’ technique in which fragmented discourse is presented (to be ‘made whole’ by the spectator). The performer is whole to begin with. There is no fragmentation. And yet there is no whole picture either (except in the perception of the spectator).

As in the happenings / situationists there is a strong sense of the ‘now’ of the performance. I referred to this in my lecture as the ‘future’ present, as distinct from the ‘past’ present of most performing. As the future is unpredictable, so in performance anything can happen. And following chaos theory, simple actions and events can eventually have quite complex consequences – and each performance is completely different in this respect.

Second Question:

I think I have answered this in my first email. But just to repeat: the question of polarity (in individual cells) is something that I only read about (Richard Dawkins) a few months ago. My own work is not based on Dawkins’ work. What I find interesting is the connection between my own insistence on the primacy of polarity in the performer, and the existence of polarity in individual cells. I don’t know even why I find this interesting – but to me it seems to connect into a larger picture. And in this sense, my performance work is an investigation of human action when left to its own devices (‘nature’?). I am not using science to justify my own work. In fact I would call my own work ‘science’. The Soviet work you quote had a particular reason to invoke science – and there is always the danger of art latching on to the favoured discipline of the age -but in my case I did not mean to imply that my work is based on science. I did not discuss this in my Erlangen lecture, but I believe that performance is an epistemology in its own right – a way of knowing. And Schechner puts this very well in his opening page of Future of Ritual (which I did read out in Erlangen).


Second reply

On the notion of risk in performance

All my comments in relation to this relate to my current work with Optik. They are not general comments, and so may at times short cut a point assuming a knowledge of Optik’s work (which you may or may not have!) So I hope these jotted down notes are of some use. I should say that risk is not something we discuss a great deal, although I know that it does play a large part in the performers’ work, even though it is not formally articulated.

The first thing I would say is that risk does not seem to be something that can be engaged voluntarily. Risk is either present or not – it is not a matter of decision.

This means that risk is something that has to be inherent in the structure of the performance itself, not in the attitude of the performer.

This is important because a lot of performer discussion centres around the notions of risk and security. To a certain extent all live performance is risk based (hence nerves). But there is a world of difference between the risk element associated with live work in general, and the specific attempt to engage a contemporary notion of risk.

So what introduces risk into the structure of a performance? I would say that predictability and risk are mutually incompatible. Risk entails a degree of unpredictability. By this I mean a future course of events that is not known until it happens.

Traditional acting techniques are actually based on the elimination of risk (quite understandably). That is the performer knows what is going to happen (or what is meant to happen) and the technique of acting is geared towards the generation of the illusion of spontaneity in the moment of repetition / recall (Barba’s decided body?)

The illusory technique of spontaneity is based on the moment of resolution. Resolution of the cycle of action.

That is the end of the action is already present in the beginning, and the performer’s job is to time the resolution in line with rehearsal decisions. In this way the work is less to do with starting points than with end points. A sequence of work is split up into action cycles in this way. This is not a matter of length of time either. The famous solo in Einstein on the Beach (Wilson) lasts 30 minutes – but that is the point: the ending is present the moment it has begun – however far away that moment may be it is still a finite, and a predictable moment. This may be considered a risk in purely aesthetic terms but I would not call it a risk for the performer, who knows when it is going to end, and hence what is going to happen (ie the future).

In this example you could say that the future is not present, only the past, which is recreating a fictional future via the technique.

Is it possible to work with the future in a non-fictional way? This seems to me to be the central question regarding risk. In social/existential terms this also seems to be crucial. Giddens for example (Modernity and Self Identity 1991) says ‘modernity is a risk culture’ and goes on to argue ‘the future is continually drawn into the present’. As a sociologist he sees implications in social organisation and activity: ‘To accept risk as risk, an orientation that is forced on us by the abstract systems of modernity, is to acknowledge that no aspects of our activities follow a pre-determined course, and all are open to contingent happenings..’

It is strange to contemplate the thought that a great deal of performance does not comply with this and so might be considered in some way to be a relief, or an escape from the existential dilemma of modernity (however much the performance may try to ‘represent’ it). This is of course quite a legitimate aim, and culture generally has always had by and large a conserving role. What is odd about the present conditions is that the conservation may be taking place in the very name of change or transformation, because the conserving elements are embedded in the deep structures of the work, not in its surface statements.

For this reason I believe that contemporary conditions place a particular challenge to performance, which is in some way to go beyond representation, and to engage with the nature of the contemporary in a different way. The dilemma is that the very decision to perform seems to negate the essence of what is required – uncertainty, randomness, complexity. And so it seems to me that you have to take the decision not to perform. And yet still place yourself in front of spectators, in a space. Here we are embedded in what I would call the heart of the risk question. Under these conditions, performance may or may not happen. Either result is actually out of your control. You can hope against hope that it will occur, but you cannot make it happen. Under these conditions the performer is critically not in control of the performance event. Again, a central aspect of risk.

Perversely, once liberated from the responsibility of making performance, the performer can also feel very powerful, independent, in control of him/herself, if not of the performance event. Here we touch on a deep question of a performer’s (and a spectator’s for that matter) relationship to their presence / being there / being in the world. At this level also the performer can again release a notion of control – indeed has to.   You cannot keep yourself independent and cut off as it were – safe somehow. So this introduces the notion of critical edge, or boundary. The performer has to get as close as possible to the critical edge of performing, without performing. And since this edge is not fixed but fluid, this is matter of constant attention / engagement and never a matter of certainty. You can never be sure you are at the actual edge or line. So this removes the idea of risk taking place at any one particular time, or in relation to one particular action. Risk is constantly present, and the only respite from it occurs at the moment of resolution of the performance itself, at the end.

Third reply

on rules, boundaries and other things:

Rules / Neutrality

As you expressed it, there are no ‘rules’ laid down in advance of actional possibilities. Workshop, rehearsal: the same. So we need to be clear that what you perceive in the performance situation is a performer behaving by a set of ‘rules’, by which you presumably mean that their behaviour potential is limited or constrained in some particular way. There is an immediate mis-match here. Are these ‘rules’ really there, or do you perceive/create them? Does the ‘explanation’ of the performers’ behaviour resort to the rules system because of an expectation of a menu of action possibilities? Consider that in most performance that actional possibility only arises in the creation of the work, ie in the rehearsal process. In the moment of performance the work is not being discovered, but re-enacted. If you like there is one big rule governing the overall behaviour system of the performers (the rule of performance itself), mediated by lots of smaller ones (ie what has been learnt in the rehearsal process and has to be repeated). There is an illusion of variety since we are not looking at the performer’s choices at that moment but at the selected repertoire developed in rehearsal. Selection becomes the key factor. Now in an Optik performance selection is not a factor since the performer is not being asked to present actional sequences to spectators. There is therefore nothing to select. The performer is however constrained in what they do by a constant barrage of impulse information which they have to fine tune both to receive and to respond to. They have a choice with regard to their responses but only in so far as they feel they are determined or not determined by the information they are being subject to.

In this way the performer is not therefore neutral in the traditional sense, but active.   Again, neutrality is a particular selection for a performer, one of the places they can ‘inhabit’. In an Optik performance the performer is not selecting, is not presenting a position to the spectator. They are in a ceaselessly changing stimulus environment, and have to concentrate very hard to explore it fully. So it would not be strictly accurate to say that rest and motion are ‘unpremeditated’. The shift from one state to another is not planned in advance, and is not initiated to produce an external effect. But each performer can ‘know’ which state they are in at any one time (rather than losing themselves, they find themselves more acutely), and can use this knowledge, and the capability they have to change their state, in order to explore, fine tune, respond to impulse fields.

Game / Boundaries / Grammar

In that there is a game, it is the game of being human. Performance itself as a game is too limiting. So performing cannot limit itself to its own boundaries – as you rightly suggest. The useful thing about the notion of boundary is the way it creates inside and outside fields. If you then, as is attempted in Optik work, explore the notion of fractal boundary, you begin to understand the complexity of the whole affair. It is possible to feel oneself, as a performer, ‘inside’ the performance with every-thing/one ‘outside’, but this can shift to a position of being ‘outside’ while every-thing/one is ‘inside’. I use the word ‘feel’ since I think that understanding of this sort cannot be disassociated from emotion. Therefore the analogy with language and grammar is not appropriate since language always stands ‘outside’ the phenomenon it is describing, and is linked to reflectivity and to expressivity. There is no Optik ‘grammar’ of movement, since none of the movement is pre-scribed. There is though a systematic attempt to work with the released weight of the body, and without uncontrolled tension. But this is precisely because those ‘knots’ of tension and habit are little ‘grammars’ of individual body movement, encrusted ‘statements’ of expressivity. It is when these are removed (as far as is possible) and the performer starts to work that the ‘individual differences’ that you describe start to glare out.

Barba / belief / form

[I have spent quite some time working with Barba, and initially was particularly influenced by his frame by frame breakdown of rehearsal/training actional sequences in order to collage performance sequences. I sometimes think that what I am doing is taking Barba’s frame (his notion of smallest actional sequence) and going beyond that to a ‘quantum’ field where frame (‘particle’) also exists as constant dynamic flow (‘wave’). As a wave function of course, constantly emerging actional possibilities cannot be re-created since once fixed they ‘revert’ to non-dynamic actional moments, ‘frozen’ (Barba’s term) in time.}

The problem with Barba’s term pre-expressive is that it creates the need to invent the expressive. I would not describe Optik’s work as a search for the ‘origin’ of movement, which would suggest that movement starts somewhere and develops. Barba has an end point in view – his performance. His work on bio-mechanics is therefore teleological – its purpose is to produce performance. I have no such purpose, therefore there can be no ‘pre’ or ‘post’ state, indeed no ‘expressive’ state at all. So there is a question of course which is what do you do, or how do you start?   Grotowski invokes the language articulation of the impulse: ‘do it’.

The key here is the attempt to explore non-purpose driven movement/action. Notions of form and content are the casualties in this experiment, since one is ceaselessly flowing into the other. As far as I am concerned there is no content, no form, but they seem to emerge nevertheless, in performance. They are never discussed in rehearsal.

The audience can never believe in the performers. Generally audiences believe they are being conned in some way, which is why traditionally performers spend so much time in getting the audience to ‘trust’ them. This is also a con of course – we are back to the ‘game’ of performance. Outside of this limited game, the audience must think/feel for itself, or more accurately each individual must think/feel for themselves. Or do you think that this is always ‘transferred’ onto the performer? Your questions seem to imply this.


I have done a lot of work on this in the rehearsal process. In practice the performers are encouraged to see no difference between the two. This can be dangerous, lethal even, as when a stillness of ten minutes or so can happen (as at Union Chapel). This has to be taken as just one of the hazards of the enterprise – if it is a hazard at all. I do not use intention-led movement. This has strange consequences which can be explored by the performer. For example, the performer can be walking toward a wall (observer’s description) but engaging the feeling of stillness. This will produce the sensation of the wall moving toward the performer (performer’s description). This becomes even more critical in respect of other performers/spectators, where it can be reversed. A performer is walking toward another performer (observer’s description). The ‘still’ performer engages the feeling of movement (but remains ‘still’) thus producing the feeling that they are moving towards the other performer (who is actually moving). This shifting of perception parameters is constant, and becomes just one of the impulse generated elements of information that the performer has to deal with.

Openness / possibilities / objects

Performers, spectators are not objects, they are humans. The range of potential each has can be restricted by others, both physically and somehow ‘conceptually’. In the Union Chapel performance a spectator dropped her sheet of paper (the programme) and it floated aero-dynamically onto the floor in front of her, but far enough away from her seat to be ‘out of bounds’ in some way. She lowered herself in her seat so that her foot could reach out to get it but it was too far. So she moved the other way, curling up and extending her arm so that her hand could grab the paper and instantly recoil. This action in itself, as this description implies, produced far more interest than a deliberate, relaxed standing up walking forward, picking up would have done.

So without question there are constraints and possibilities opened up during the performance, for everyone there. The spectator (like the performer) can spend a long time feeling/dealing with the impulse to enter a space (like the woman with her programme) or to leave the space completely (like those who left before the end). And many points in between. What seems to happen is that people feel the impulse information physically, and this means they must ‘have’ the impulse (no difference between performer and spectator here). It does not mean that they must ‘action’ the impulse, but they cannot just wish it away either. The performance as a whole is very much centred on the fact that people are not objects (and that objects are not people).

 Space / lines

Space is what lies in between (people / objects). According to Richard Gregory we do not look at the matter ‘filling’ the space, but at the ‘gaps’ in between. If this is the case it has many implications. It must be the case that at the very least we are matching occupied and unoccupied space in order to perceive. What happens when the performer is occupying both fields (potentially)? There is no certainty for a spectator that the performer is going to occupy that area and not that one. The boundary between (another boundary) filled space and unoccupied space become fluid. This is where de Certeau is inadequate. The uncertainty, or fluidity between filled and gap (linked to Freud’s fort/da which Blau is fond of quoting?) is mediated by time, which is also relativised (and so linked to space). The de Certeau framework is linked to territory, to space, to image (?). There is no prohibition as far as going anywhere is concerned. In Optik there is not an obsession with ‘pathways’ or some such notion (though a spectator may develop such an obsession – even though it will be apparent it is a pathway to no-where/everywhere). The performer is not making a selection.

The question of straight lines is very puzzling. I do not talk about straight lines in rehearsal. I do talk about moving forward, facing forward, and about Jousse’s notion of symmetrical body (in front/behind; right/left). The option seems to be very straightforward: circles or lines. Of course the line is a fiction. It is in fact a part of a (very large) circle (around the globe). This is why I don’t talk of lines. But for the performer who impulses forward, and faces forward the direction will always be straight ahead. What we perceive as straight lines is actually an accident. [Or is it? The visual cortex of the brain has specialist cells that deal with orientation in space, including straight lines. These cells respond to alignment and to orientation. Certain cells also respond specifically to lines of orientation in motion, while other cells specialise in movement away and movement towards.] It also comes back to this question of selection. The performer is not making a selection: therefore to move off the line of forward movement deliberately would invoke an infinity of choice (one degree? 31 degrees? etc) – ie no choice. It is also linked in some way to the forward movement of time, and to the properties of light. But the feeling association of city grid lines is understandable, though accidental.

Centre / consciousness

Each performer is asked to work with themselves at the centre. I think it goes beyond the subjectivity of each individual (which Cage proposes and which is beyond dispute). Going back to the performer consciousness of inside and outside, the notion of centre allows these boundaries themselves to become fluid. We could be moving from a notion of collective outside (the traditional notion of audience and single meaning), through a transitional notion of individual outsides (your proposition) and towards a notion of collective inside. In this condition the performance is not ‘composed and created’ by individuals (the individual outside) but the whole notion of an outside performance disappears to be replaced by the currents and signals of impulse recognition and response (and what does that ‘look’ like: can it be seen? or is what we see nothing to do with this at all? or is it related in some way? we don’t know).