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Explore the Convention Used in the Threeperformances.

In: Other Topics

Submitted By timelord2
Words 2927
Pages 12
The aim of this essay is to show how the three performances in dance, music and drama were influenced by Brecht, Lea Anderson and the various artists involved with the musical genre of minimalism. This essay will also describe the process the ensemble went through while devising and rehearsing the performance as well as the similarities between the art forms, such as the significance of characterisation within dance and drama when portraying stereotypical characters.
For drama, the practitioner the ensemble studied was Berthold Brecht, an early 20th century German theatre practitioner who pioneered the theatrical movement of Epic theatre. Brecht is of particular interest given the similarities in subject matter, as the groups subject is about the detention facility Guantanamo Bay; thematically similar to Brecht’s work which also dealt with topics involving the abuse of power, institutional corruption, the effects of war etc. The ensemble initially did a great deal of research into Epic theatre and the techniques of Epic theatre as well as Berthold Brecht and his life. Following that, they then made a mind map of the problems surrounding Guantanamo and focused particularly on the issues that garnered the least attention publically yet posed the greatest threat to the liberty and rights of everyone. Based on this we chose the unlawful kidnaping, imprisonment and torture of individuals without trial, the implementation of secret courts, and the propaganda published by networks such as fox news and the Daily Mail. With such an encompassing issue, the piece focused more broadly on how the acceptance or apathy of allowing democratically elected governments to use totalitarian force may eventually lead to the use of such force on its own people to weed out unwanted political dissidents or to scapegoat minorities (Muslims, gays, black people etc.)
The techniques used in the piece were mainly focused to enhance the didactic quality of the performance, incorporating a substantial quantity of background research, facts, statistics, and the adaption of real life stories into the plot. This was done with the intention of allowing the audience to review and think about the implications of such extensive governmental control. One of the most important elements of Brechtian drama is the estrangement effect or Verfremdungseffekt. Brecht believed that the suspension of disbelief through emotional manipulation in typical bourgeois theatrical productions blockaded critical thought, forcing the audience to emotionally identify with characters that are completely removed from the reality of what was a typically working class audience. Furthermore, Brecht saw first-hand the effects of uncritical emotional manipulation through the speeches and charisma of Adolf Hitler, noting the distinct similarities between the two. The performance attempted to apply the V-effect through a number of Brechtian techniques. This could be observed through the transition between scenes as the movement of props and furniture were made in full view of the audience by the actors. The scenery and costume were also fragmented, mostly using a single piece of furniture or costume to represent the characters or locations.
The performance was split into six sections of various lengths. The episodic structure of the Brechtian performance created a montage of the different aspects of the political topic. The first scene begins with a whistle-blower reporting to the audience the existence of secret court acts and how the legislation will undermine the individual rights and freedoms of everyone. Following that, the character is shown to be abused, beaten and tortured by agents for the crime of exposing corruption as one of the agents recites the words of the American comedian Bill Hicks. ‘Go back to bed America, your government is in control….’ This first five minutes of the performance is laden with various techniques. The opening of the performance breaks the fourth wall with the whistle-blower acting as the narrator, directly addressing the spectators watching. The main purpose of this was mainly to relay the information about secret courts, this was done as the character of an actual whistle-blower who went to a us military prison for leaking a video and documents relating to the cover up of us marines slaughtering native civilians. There is also juxtaposition between the two halves of the scene, the first with the whistle-blower demonising the actions of the government while standing free of restraint; and the second block with the whistle-blower largely silent and placed below the secret service agents. The manipulation of proxemics creates the effect of status, describing the power relation between the whistle-blower and the secret service. The combination of physicality and dialogue is extremely important for the characterisation of stereotypical characters. The physicality in first scene with the Secret Servicemen in particular had to show the sadistic pleasure the agents took from torture while also showing how it’s concealed by the agents’ professionalism. This also reflected how such agencies are quite obviously two faced with this in public, attempting to look as if they are here to protect us from those who would undermine our civil liberties while simultaneously undermining our civil liberties. Dialogue was un-naturalistic at times, breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience. Dialogue between antagonistic characters was at times ironic such as the Bill Hicks quotes and often exaggerated for comedic or sinister effect. This created dramatic tension at points in the performance to highlight the seriousness of current governmental actions. Characterisation in the piece was portrayed through stereotypes. For example, the American news reporter character was stereotypical of the American right wing press, displaying a loud albeit bombastic reporting style typical of reporters such as Bill O’ Reilly or Sean Hannity. Characterisation would also change instantly, in the case of the switch between the prisoner and the news reporter. Not only did it make that particular transition extremely smooth, but it combined the effects of multi-role and the inherent juxtaposition of the two characters and their characterisation to enhance the V-effect. The characterisation used in the drama piece was similar to the characterisation used in the dance piece, though the intended outcomes differ greatly. In Music the performance was based on the style of Minimalism. The Minimalistic style began in the 60’s with roots in experimental and process music. The ensemble initially researched some of the major minimalistic composers, listening to the likes of Philip glass, Steve Reich and Mike Oldfield. The group also researched into the origins and techniques of minimalism before devising the performance. The main songs we focused on were Reich’s Clapping music, Come Out and Terry Riley’s In C. ‘In C’ was particularly influential on the piece as some of the more simple melodies consisted of few, extended notes with a steady rhythm to the other cords, similar to how Riley’s instrumental had sections of few notes with a full sound. Clapping Music was also of particular interest as Reich used two male performers to create a variety of interesting sounds by having them clap or slap different body parts to create sounds with different textures. The ensemble considered possibly integrating something similar, unfortunately what we tried didn’t really fit with the tone of what we wanted. The sections of the musical composition were split into three, with a transition to different musical instruments between each section. The first section of the performance began relatively light hearted and tonally pleasant, with the most harmonic melodies. The music then becomes gradually more ominous and fragmented. The longest section was the middle, with a more transitional tone between the other two sections. The middle also had the greatest change in dynamics, going from piano to fortissimo. The performance had a variety of textures to the sound, with multiple different instruments. The segments used a Tuba; keyboard, piano, wooden xylophone and a metallophone. The Variety of instruments had different ranges of preferred tempos, so the performance had different dynamics as we cycled the instruments. For example, the ensemble used a piano to create a simple repetitive melody in the first segment and was then played a continuous pulsing drone in the third segment. Over the whole piece, the tempo was rather fast with a consistent dynamic; though the elements of the performance were used to create different moods by changing the thickness of the texture. Canon is another feature used in the minimalistic piece. The group repeated melodies in some segments with different instruments in turn. This was used similarly (and more prominently) in dance, as the dancers also used canon by repeating the same movements. There was especially prominent as the dancers played the same characters at points.

The dance performance was based on the work of Lea Anderson, the 20th Century contemporary choreographer. In particular, we based our performance on the site specific performance performed by ‘The Cholmondeleys’, Car (1995). During the divisional segment of the performance, the group researched into the techniques that Anderson choreographed and how it differs from conventional techniques. Anderson’s Car was an episodic performance, showing different scenarios that could happen in a car. The first part of the performance was based on the assassination of JFK, with all the dancers playing the part of Jackie Kennedy, emulating the dress style of her. The choreography of the first segment had two main parts, the first part the dancers waved out of the window, similar to how Jackie waved to crowds when she was the first lady. The second segment occurs after a break in the music and the dancers start to move as though they were being repeatedly shot by the same shots that killed JFK. For the historical context of the performance, the ensemble chose the Great Train Robbery. Research included both that of the great train robbery and some of the dance and musical styles common around the time. Because of this, the music chosen for the performance was an electronically styled rendition of the Thomas the tank engine theme song, and jail house rock, fitting with the theme. The dance was eclectic, cannibalising a number of techniques from the two other art forms to create the performance. For instance, the performance includes a number of dramatic techniques to create characterisation. The police officers used exaggerated gestures to portray the stereotypical ‘bobby’ type police officer that would have been involved with the investigation. Another feature that enhanced the characterisation of the dancers was the use of everyday movement; a variety of movements typically seen while waiting for a train were shown and used repetitively in unison. This worked in showing both characterisation and interesting visual dynamics Characterisation was so important because it effectively created dramatic tension at points where the relationship between dancers are shown; Such as the relationship between the bobby’ and the train robbers. The dramatic relationship between characters was important; but not as important as the proxemics relationship between dancers. One of the problems the ensemble found at times was the lack of visual focus during rehearsal, as the stage looked too crowded as the dance become overly complicated. This was remedied by moving dancers to give individuals more space so the audience could focus more on the more central area of the stage. The rehearsals for the three performances were competed in a relatively short time, only a few ours over a couple of weeks. The remainder of the time between the performance and the complete division of the performances was spent polishing improving unsatisfactory elements of the performances. The performances were treat as a collaboration with each performer influencing the political and visual aspects, although they were mainly lead by the performers with a forte for their specific art form. This set up was rather effective, speeding up the progress of rehearsals. The rehearsals of each piece differed greatly due to the parameters and limitations of the art forms, as well as the creative differences within the group. The creative differences were mostly due to the fact that the group hadn’t worked together before, so each individual had to adjust and accommodate for the difference ways everybody worked. The most successful of the rehearsals was in music. The rehearsals time was probably the most limited of the three, however the ensemble managed to create and sharpen each section rather efficiently, having completed and refined the first third of the performance within the first few weeks. There are a number of reasons for this, the main being the ease of improvisation in the style of minimalism; this allowed the group to quickly build upon the steady beat of the drone layer by layer. Each performer could quickly improvise multiple accompanying repetitive patterns, experimenting with the timing and phasing of their instrument independently. Following each rehearsal of the song, the group discussed how they could improve as a unit and how the different ways each performer phases in and out and how each element could be altered to more effectively enhance the mood of each segment. The largest problems faced were that of timing and transitions. Sections of the music performance were either too long or too short and the proxemics of each instrument had to be optimised to improve the transition between the multiple instruments. Overall, the composition of music was far more successful than that of dance and drama, suffering from relatively few of the problems that drama and dance shared. Drama rehearsals were rather problematic at some points; the creative, political and aspirational differences between performers posed a number of problems. In particular, with such a strong focus on the political aspect of Brechtian performances, the differences in political opinions sometimes lead to disagreements that slowed the progress of development, leaving less time to refine scenes. Drama didn’t suffer from the spatial problems that dance dealt with due to its lack of rigidity, although some alterations had to be made as the amount of on stage rehearsal time was extremely limited, leading to rather slow transitions between scenes. One of the other problems that exclusively plagued drama was the stunted time constraint due to division. The group spent a considerably long amount of time devising as the group spent far too long questioning the direction of the political aspects of the performance; this was partially due to the political differences with the group but mainly due to the sheer number of ideas between everyone. Because of this, some scenes devised independently contradicted the tone and intention of the performance as a whole, so extra time had to be spent amending scenes so it fit within the tag question of the performance. The dance rehearsals were by far the most problematic. While the initial division of it went rather smoothly, the group having decided what event the dance would revolve around within the first few week, the main problems occurred in the creation and rehearsals of the performance; the main problem being the over complication of routine. With Lea Andersons work, the dance should take more of a focus on the characterisation of the dancers, in combination with pedestrian style movement. The group, (comprised of mainly performers that focused on dance) had more of a focus on intricately choreographed movement with more rigid unison, leaving less of a focus on characterisation and pedestrian movement. This left areas of the dance disjointed with some sections more pedestrian and other areas that were more typical of conventional dance styles. This did lead to some frustration from some of the dancers and slower progress. One of the possible reasons for this was that the entirety of the dance was rehearsed in a single extended session, rather than shorter intense chunks, leading to less productivity and more frustration. The later stages of the rehearsals did pick up once the dance was fully choreographed, as did the ease of refinement towards the end. One of the other problems that faced the ensemble was the lack of space. This was due to the greater quantity of space during the division and rehearsal time in school, but less space in the actual performance space. This lead to a number of adjustments having to be made as the lack of space effected the timing and movement. Conclusion The three performances all had their positive and negative features. There are some aspects that could have been improved, especially if there was significantly more time to compose the pieces. In particular, since the drama performance, a report on FBI torture in Guantanamo was recently released by a whistle-blower. The comprehensive report, were it available prior to the division of the performance would have been significantly different to the actual performance; with a greater focus on the more brutal information and how it compared to some of the torture techniques used in antiquity. The dance performance should have also had a greater focus on pedestrian movement and more simplistic canonical choreography. I have two main criticisms of the music performance; the first being the transitions, there could have been more variation in transition as both reduced the thickness of the texture to a single instrument before fading into another set of instruments and melodies. The second is that there could have been more subtle changes; so instead of a change of notes once or twice, there could have been a variation of tempo or rhythm. Overall, it was the most effective of the three. In conclusion, I think that all three performances were effective in portraying their super objectives through the use of a variety of techniques, some of which crossed multiple art forms. While they were effective in this respect, execution could have been significantly sharper in some areas with more attention and focus on the consistency of quality.

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