Thursday, July 12, 2018

I Miss Doing Nothing at Left of Main

Hard to believe, but plastic orchid factory turns ten this year. Rather than marking this milestone with a bold, forward-looking new production, or throwing a celebratory party, pof principals James Gnam and Natalie LeFebvre Gnam are using the occasion of their company's anniversary to intervene in what theorist Elizabeth Freeman has called "chrononormativity": the yoking of time and bodies to a neoliberal emphasis on productivity through work schedules, appointment calendars, deadlines, even show opening and closing dates.

In I Miss Doing Nothing, James and Natalie, together with collaborators Nancy Tam, James Proudfoot, and Vanessa Goodman, attempt to interrupt the serial- and output-oriented logic of time and labouring bodies in two ways. First, rather than using their rehearsal and development process to make a "new" work, they have chosen to play with the kinetic repertoires that continue to linger within their bodies, re-calling over the course of this piece bits of choreography from past works, and seeing how this movement in, through, and across time can create different kinds of affective rhythms and flows. Watching James and Natalie feel their way into how something felt, the slow and often surprising real-time discovery of where an arm was positioned, or in what direction one is meant to be facing, imbues time with a layered, ludic quality, in which the past and present can be made to touch. As with the reverberating echoes and feedback loops of Nancy's live mixing of sounds--a combination of field recordings, rearrangements of old pof music scores, and miked noises from outside the Left of Main studio--such uncanny perceptual relays are also available to the spectator, as an energetic bounce up and down by James or a bit of subtle finger work by Natalie will trigger flashes of memory for those audience members familiar with the company's repertoire.

And it is in their invitation to audience members to self-curate how they wish to be with them in this space experiencing this work that James and Natalie and company have made their second intervention against the organizational march of time-as-usual, not least in terms of how dance and performance works are often shoehorned into hour-long presentation slots. As with Digital Folk, there is no obvious beginning or end to I Miss Doing Nothing. Subtitling the piece "a lived retrospective installation for experiencing time differently," the work unfolds durationally over a three-hour period. Upon entering Left of Main, the first thing one is invited to do is pause: sitting down on the steps up to the studio and affixing a pair of headphones to listen as Natalie gives instruction in what it might mean to open up an interval--even a small one--in the routine pace of our daily lives. Thereafter, and with a lazy mid-afternoon spritzer mixed by David McIntosh in hand, we are free to watch and linger with James and Natalie in the studio for as long as we like, lounging in various states of languorous repose against a chosen bit of wall (as I and most other attendees yesterday opted to do), or moving freely about the space, or coming and going as we see fit. In this respect, it is not as if time stops completely. Whether or not we choose to look at our watches, we are made aware of time's passing via the movement of sunlight and shadows in the space, a choreographing of natural illumination that is slowly revealed via James P and Vanessa's expert manipulation of a set of louvered vertical blinds on the west-facing windows, and the successive removal of the shimmery panels and wooden frames initially covering up the south-facing windows. These panels and frames, together with additional rolling screens, are moved about the room and configured into various architectural formations by Vanessa and James P, whose purposeful--and purposefully timed--activity contrasts with the seemingly more unplanned and aimless progress of Natalie and James G.

And yet it is precisely in the different kinds of attention solicited by these parallel movement scores that we discover that being "in time" together does not have to be reduced, if you'll forgive the boy band metaphor, to being "in sync": with each other, or with the prescribed rhythms of daily life. At different moments yesterday I was alert, sleepy, bored, stimulated, contemplative, anxious, worried, bewildered, absorbed, distracted, and transported. At no moment, however, did I think there was anywhere else I would rather be. Watching Natalie move in and with the last slat of light from the middle of the west-facing windows as its slow disappearance marked the approach of six o'clock (yes, I stayed for the whole three hours), I thought of how productively this time doing nothing had been spent.

In arguing for a more longitudinal approach to time, especially as it relates to the historical survival of different collectivities, Freeman invokes the term belonging to refer not just to identification with a group, but to denote a way of "being long," of a group persisting over time. Artistically and affectively, pof and its extended family of collaborators are definitely peeps I want to grow old with.


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