Relish May 9, 2014
by Dylan Ward
It’s almost been two years now since my brief encounter with Herbert Blau. I was a student of his in his last class; it was my only claim to know him besides a scattering of articles and chapters I had read. Within that 10 week class, we were meant to uncover the thread defining the lineage of the Avant-Garde. Indeed, the threads were many, and academic. Threads were described as inscriptions upon the body, as threads within a group memory, and this was all very nice and tied up by wandering wistfully through history and calling things very big names with lots of letters in them, but I remember once, particularly, when he answered a question I had made with his own: “Then why do I have to die?” Bellowed furiously. Across the table.
The drama in watching a performer is very literal; as mentioned in the program, Blau had “a very famous idea” that the performer dies onstage, and to me, this was a very simple reflection of the nature of time. We are born, kicking and screaming, or we are beat on the bottom until we do, and from that moment we are dying. The clock has begun ticking. It really is just a matter of time. In the black box, which to Blau, I think, was like the mind, the lights suddenly focus upon one person, or many, and those before the audience are squarely focused on over an hour or two or three or seven, during which time, yes, the performers are literally dying before those they perform for.
This all seems very grand and important.
I had no context for Alain Buffard’s work outside of seeing the trailer. But once it opened, I knew exactly what was happening. Several performers scattered about the stage, enacting scenes of low class life, struggling to the top by any means necessary. It was a simple story, a man chosen by the upper class to be groomed, pounded, in ways sexual and psychic, into the mold determined for him, into the role of an exalted prostitute.
But the relish with which the performers completed the task, the absolute abandon of their voices and their bodies upon an enormous play structure, this is what was enjoyable to watch.
It is an odd thing to watch performers enjoying themselves enacting cruelty and struggle. But indeed, that is what the audience does.
The performers even turn to the audience, enticing them, demanding them to watch their next move.
This is interesting.
If to perform is to die before the audience, then the entire communication gains importance because of the fact that it is cordoned off, set aside. The lights go out and on; they determine that we will watch, or will be very strongly invited to watch, something.
Death, maybe. Or just a show.
Because it brings the performers pleasure: intellectual, physical, social. They seem to be friends, or at least friendly. They carry on the tasks designed by a dead man in the hopes of elucidating something, perhaps a fleeting nature. Perhaps death. Perhaps a terrible class cycle.
And so why not consider that we too are dying before the performers? Their gaze is upon us as well, as they sing. They are watching us; or at least, are aware.
I answered Blau’s bellowing question with a long and confused term paper, which attempted fancy language and did pretty well by his generous editing. Time and its pull upon the human towards death is not physically malleable; it will kill us. However, within a context wherein we can slow things down (the mind) death stretches infinitely forward; it is stretched out, and therefore so are its preceding moments. Death is only important because of the struggle which precedes it.
Within Baron Samedi, we see cruelty, anxiety, rape, but there we also can see, stretched out, the touch of a hand upon a chest, an arm, tenderness extended infinitely as we are given the gift of the performer’s lives, even a fraction of them.
A slow march towards death contains many steps; it could be argued that each can be as beautiful and important as this terrible and mysterious climax. Each step, as it gains importance, each bellow of the question of “why,” this is what makes it all so complex, misunderstandable, and beautiful.
For me at least.
Go see the show.