Given the extent of the collective and individual experience at play in this project, it perhaps comes as scant surprise that I’m led to note the significance of the ‘presence’ of these performers. This is a a slippery term relative to performance, but I like it. At the very least, it’s a useful shorthand for describing the energetic relationship you feel with performers, and for the sense of that special, extra-qualitative ‘it’ or ‘something’ that personalities and circumstances can sometimes bring about. Other people might talk about power or energy in similar ways, and I suspect that we’re talking about a similar sort of phenomenon. Bearing that in mind, one might wonder whether (as I’ve sort of inferred), older and experienced performers are apt or able to bring a presence to play as a consequence of that age and experience, and whether or not there’s a different quality to that presence itself. Does age give you a qualitative edge?
Watching Betsy sinking low and sweeping her arms up in a graceful swan-like sweep, her movement has a beautiful, almost plangent presence about it. Or is that quite right, there’s a quality to her movement that gives her presence, that draws the eye, and makes you feel that sweep, the subtle articulation of a line from the ground up that flexes through fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, shoulder blades and spine. I’ve watched her make this move repeatedly, and have been taken each time by the dynamic quality of her movement that gives it and her and the moment of its performance, a presence I can feel in myself. It’s a sense of a body hangs upon itself, and plays against gravity. Certainly, with age, and possibility of feeling that ‘I ache in the places where I used to play’ as Leonard Cohen puts it, such movements do not have the ease that they do with youth. With ease comes, if not indifference, then inattention. It is in difficulty that we return to our bodies. I’m not trying to suggest that Betsy is moving with difficulty here, far from it. However, one is aware of effort, that it takes ‘more’ to produce these movements now than in younger years, and that that effort is here an aesthetic quality. There’s no sense in which Jonathan and Matteo are trying to push the performers’ bodies into places they no longer can or wish to go. Rather, the choreography and Jonathan’s process of directing it seems to be more about opening up spaces in which the performers can play through and with this sense of effort. There’s a vitality in the way that Betsy presses the weight of her torso down over her flexed knees, and draws her arms upwards that isn’t the explosive or expansive stretch one associates with dance as its ordinarily practiced (i.e. by those under 35), but is a way of putting a presence there. The movement is so inhabited by, and so belongs to her that it’s hard to imagine someone else making it in quite the same way. It is not hung upon the technically trained, almost abstracted body in the same way that one often hears of choreographers putting their work on their dancers. That said, it occurs to me not only that we might often tend to assume a loss of vitality with age, but also of how short the English language falls in terms that might otherwise describe that.
The psychologist Daniel Stern identifies what he calls ‘vitality affects’ as a means of trying to describe the force, speed, flow and temporality of shared or intersubjective feelings. Thus, although I don’t feel myself making an ‘inner’ sweep of my arms as a sort of mirroring of Betsy’s, in feeling it, I experience force, speeds and flow along the temporal line or contour in correspondence with that that her movements carry through space. What makes the movement achieve its presence I think, is the attention to the detail of line, forces, flow and so on that she brings, and that I feel, tangibly, in myself.