Changes (concept and choreography: Nikolina Pristaš) is a hard piece. And with those horrible chairs in the front row of Sophiensaele it is double so. It took a little while for me to get anything out of it. In fact it took until the Q&A aferwards. I didn’t so much listen to the talk then used this time to think about what I had just seen.
The performance starts with a short lament on how sound and music have become so ubiquitous to turn them meaningless. Throughout the piece a narrator reads texts, sometimes live, sometimes recorded documents such as a documentary about ants or pieces from the BBC airing of John Cage’s 4’33”.
In fact the narrator (Goran Sergej Pristaš) can be seen lying on a pillow in the back of the stage, while five women (Sandra Banić, Ana Kreitmeyer, Nikolina Pristaš, Zrinka Šimicˇić, Zrinka Užbinec) perform a dance that evokes the idea of remote control or robots. It’s not that the dancers don’t dance with each other but each seems very distancend. Throughout the dance what looks like little missteps keep the performance off-balance, which prevents it to ever create the notion of anonoymous bodies on stage and reconfirms the idea that these movements might not be voluntary. In short, the choreography creates a space that does not seem purposeful, but neither empty.
Meanwhile the narrator reads a fable about a grashopper and some ants thus introducing the main topic of the piece: the notion of work and it’s relation to living a life. In the fable the grashopper stands for a hedonistic approach, while the approach of the ants more closely resembles that of the everyday drudgery of modern (and not so much contemporary) life. From the fable the text moves on to speak about the need for ‘laziness’ in art. Next in line is John Cage’s “4’33”“. The fable is then revisited and here – the only time in the piece – one dancer speaks in the first person as one of the ants. Her speech is Marxist-Leninist in discourse but dystopian in content: work will always be there and it will always be a burden.
This little description hopefully gives an idea on how much is going on. And how incompatible it seems. The piece lasts a bit more than an hour and my first impression was: this is too much. Too many different things mashed together. The dance does not seem to reflect the words, merely using the drowning speech as soundtracks for inexplicable movements. The texts itself don’t lend themselves easily for a combined reading. A fable, documentaries, marxist discourse simply don’t mix. All this creates an excessive demand on the audience. In fact so excessive that some of them left the piece. (As an aside: I thought it was hilarious that BADco managed to re-stage Cage and illicit some of the same reactions from the audience as when it was first performed by musicians: disbelieve and anger.)
But the piece exposes its qualities afterwards. The discordances of its building blocks is stark enough to prevent easy consumption while still retaining enough congruence to make for food for thought. The biggest problem I had with it was that it seemed to talk less about contemporary conditions but somehow about times past. Not that there was any nostalgia for the good old days. Instead it didn’t seem to address the present. My life certainly has it’s moments of ant-like drudgery but it certainly seems vastly different from the sterotypical life of the semi-automatons of the industrial age.
‘Changes’ is the first piece of a trilogy, so maybe my concerns will be addressed in one of the later pieces.
If you are interested in reading a follow-up to the discussion below, please read this three-part series by Maria Technosux on Damoclash.