SPARAGAMOS or THE TRANSCENDING BODY

By Moventi Collective

Joshua Berrington, David Bica, Cassie Dickson, Aspasia Dimou, Chloe Hoey, Emily Ibbott, Vilte Milciute, Lauryn Pinard, Chloe Snelgrove, Heyang Song, Hannah Wales, Rumer Wonnacott.

The doors open.

House lights.

The audience and participants are invited to take their places. Six decks of different levels are located within what appears to be the designated performing space: one low platform is at the centre, two pairs of decks placed together to form L-shapes in opposite corners, a single medium-height platform downstage left. This is where the performers will be – at the centre of our piece, or at least this is what members of the audience think, as they stand on the edge of the performance space. The adherence to having a theatrical “fourth wall” was an aspect that we were aiming to challenge, seeking to ‘[erase], like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’ (Gotman, ‘Coda’, p.298) the strict relationship between viewers and those being viewed. On this basis, our set design acted as the first step towards engaging our audience. Visually, it created a polarity in the space; however, it was made porous as the performers interacted with each other and the audience to merge them into one. The Boiler House Theatre was also stripped of any hiding place for the performers: there is no area that is not being looked at and performers cannot fully retreat from either the action or the audience. The mass cannot escape the watching eye. By organising the space in this way, we initiated the first step into bringing the audience and performers together as a single unit: no one is safe, we are all both witnesses of and actors in the events which will unfold. The physical manipulation of the spatial aesthetics assisted the shaping of a collective awareness and mindfulness of the space and its occupants, rendering the audience active.

As makers, the set design mapped our journey to generate a physically captivating movement vocabulary, with the aim of initiating an impulse from the audience to join in. While workshopping our material and research, we always allowed reflection on the audience’s perspective and possible experience. The spatial arrangement (with mattresses representing the audience during rehearsals, as can be seen on footage) became a useful direction for us as makers and performers as it made us actively mindful and aware of the intention and direction of our choreography, movement, voice and text scenes. The multi-layered and diverse range of perspectives (different experiences made available within the same space) enhanced our search for the most engaging way to convey body sensations. Extensive preparatory work was carried out throughout the rehearsals to condition our bodies, voices and minds. For example, one exercise was based on a mindful internal organic journey, voicing through your breath the different organs of your body like your liver or stomach. The use of the breath connected to inner small pulses was discovered through various practices as highlighted in the notes. Different points of initiation for the shaking were explored, facilitated by the Gaga movement language in which the shake relates to release and pleasure. The use of this technique facilitated the embodiment of the readings and research, and therefore the enhancement of our embodied cognition. Contemporary Greek director Theodoros Terzopoulos was also a key inspiration, playing with the shaking sensation initiated from the pelvic area. In the exercise we workshopped (showcased in our portfolio), the artist invites the students to emancipate the trapped energy as well as the voice. From the footage of this exercise, the rawness and the physicality of the movement and its sexual underlying connotation (movement initiated from a sexualised area of the body) is striking. When performed for an extended duration, we experienced a de-semiotisation of the previous reading: the loss of self within the collective energy shifted the attention from the sexual to the endurance of the performer and his or her flow. However, throughout the development phase, we agreed that such a phenomenon was relying too much on the subjectivity of the viewer to be fully effective. The use of these exercises was adapted and the voices layered on top, to create a collective atmosphere at the beginning of the piece (the shaking was initiated from the knees for a more uniform and less overwhelming collective energy). This “inner-to-outer” delivery pattern can be observed throughout our work and methodology. Such introspection enabled us to engage our bodies and voices in such a way that we would feel comfortable going beyond our original personal limitations. Furthermore, we sought to explore the idea of release and loss of control moving us to a “cathartic state”, thus, we were required to possess this degree of awareness for a safe and in-depth practice in order ‘to fully commit’ (notes of rehearsals). In these sessions, the text operated more as a medium through which body and voice interweave, moving us towards this idea of surpassing the corporeal form to reach a form of collective consciousness.

A moment that highlights the dichotomy of the Dionysian spirit is towards the end of the first piece of text. During this sequence, the ecstasy of the collective is presented through the delivery of lines and the use of the ensemble as a chorus, echoing certain ones. Although each person is moving individually, their delivery is directed at one another, as well as to the audience, thus creating relationships through a lack of physicality. As the text nears its end, the atmosphere shifts and the horrors of the Dionysian spirit are hinted at. Two members of the ensemble creep from the audience towards the speakers, moving sensually as they try to lull them into a state of complacency. They use their bodies and hands to silence the speakers, which is a very striking image of how tempting the collective can be and how a Dionysian frenzy can quickly overcome someone. At this point, the speakers realise the negative effects of the collective, that there is no escape from it, and eventually they succumb to the ensemble members’ bodies and hands, becoming silent. They no longer have individual thought or speech; they are part of something larger and uncontrollable.

Another concern from our supervisor (please refer to the slide ‘Conversation’ of the portfolio) that provoked reflection, was the question of accessibility of the piece and where we wanted to bring our audience, what we wanted to say. It came across to us during the making of the choreographic structure, when which we encountered some struggles. We referred to the original text The Bacchae and evaluated the intensity of the storyline alongside our pre-existing material gathered in the months of preparation. As we stated in the portfolio and during the formative assessments, Moventi Collective’s aim was to produce a non-narrative piece of work from an established Greek tragedy. Therefore, it was important that the arrangement of our individual and collective fragments of movement, text, and sound, whether as separate entities or combined arrangements, threaded together into one seamless and coherent piece, as well as being strong enough by themselves as it was stated by a supervisor during a sharing. As our piece is non-narrative, this meant that we needed to ensure that the emotional arcs throughout the piece were seamlessly placed within specific points chosen within this thread of performance. Therefore, we decided to track this arc via the method of using sketches and headings on separate notelets. This enabled us to look over different orderings and structures of the individual scenes, to then pick the most suitable composition. This was vital for communicating our aims and objectives, particularly considering our use of the post-performance ambiance. A moment of reflection and relief from the intensity of the concluding moments of our work which we wanted to use to communicate as a settling of the ‘coming down’ from the collective ecstasy, mirroring the original play. Furthermore, to support this event, we focused on the aesthetic journey of the lighting to marry the emotional arc that travels through the performance. The lighting scheme and the intensity of the colours were created to complement the action of the performers for a captivating and precise design. The mapping of the lights complemented the performers’ change of action and also highlighted the action of Aspasia and her presence on the stage. Constant walking at a slow pace was used to display an unchangeable perpetual sense of power. Aspasia’s presence could be assimilated to the godly figure of Dionysus who acts as catalyst for the action to take place within Thebes, but also to Time as she represents a physical marker throughout the performance. The performers both interact and react to Aspasia’s presence within a fluctuating interpersonal space. We deliberately made the interaction with the character of Aspasia non-physical in order to allow the audience to make their own interpretation.

About Us: Moventi Collective

A twelve-member artistic collective, driven by a practice-as-research based approach.

Taking inspiration from Gaga workshops and cognitive embodiment to create work which challenges the audience experience.

Our mindful practice enhanced our mutual respect on decision-making and directing, as well as for the body as a space of action.

About the piece: Sparagmos or The Transcending Body

Sparagmos: to tear, rend and pull to pieces

A kinaesthetic approach, exploring the human being as a social entity in a constant battle against its Dionysian nature.

Moventi Collective delves into the flux of Identity through immersion into a collective ecstasy.

Mapping out:
An adaptable score and choreography

The marriage of light and sound:
A striking dual composition supporting the emotional arc

Use of warm colour palette

Emphasis on memory and perception

Embodied imagery of fever, ecstasy, sweat

Set Design

Costume Design

A perpetual becoming :
From choreographic element to costume design

The sheet as an element of the early-stage choreography, later discarded.

The essence of its use (shape-forming material, as well as fascinating quality with lighting design, creating texture and relief) was kept in the thought-process for the costumes.

Script

Voice and Text : medium bridging the inside and outside world

Script from original text The Bacchae, edited and delivered with a deep physical engagement.

Voicing the internal raw quality added to delivery of the text.

Exercises

Soon we will dance again…