RW: En Trance

Yumi Umiumare.

It is very rare that I go out of my way to write a reflection on a theatre piece I didn’t enjoy. Particularly considering that this was one evening I had spent in the theatre purely for pleasure, not for work in any way, that I was a paying customer in civilian clothes, and that what I am going to do can fairly be called a deliberate act of meanness. The only answer I can offer is that it was dance, that dance cannot speak for itself, that if we do not speak out for good dance against bad dance than there will be no one, no one at all. Bad theatre can cannibalise itself, you can let it sit in the corner until it collapses into a pile of hollow words and badly crafted phrases, I am happy to let it compost into the fodder for better theatre. No problems there. But bad dance still looks fairly mimetic, still kicking and contagious, an untamed disease.

So I went to see Yumi Umiumare’s En Trance, excited because I had never seen Umiumare’s solo work, because I still possess a half-baked interest in Japan, because I love butoh, because I love cabaret, because it’s been a year of skinny cows in dance in Melbourne. The excitement lasted – En Trance is not bad enough to be immediately outraging – but it was dishearteningly quick that I began to unpick its flaws, composing sentence after sentence of annoyed self-righteousness while still in the audience.

Umiumare, to give credit where credit’s due, is a fantastic performer, not merely a crafty dancing body but a soloist with that unmistakable stage presence of a cabaret performer, able to pull you in and keep you there, genuinely interested in what she may say or do next. Umiumare employs her skill frequently, and some of the most mesmerising moments of En Trance are also the simplest: Umiumare painting her body white, singing a J-pop song to karaoke, or explaining different Japanese onomatopoeias for crying. Good stage presence, it occurs to me, shares something ineffable with the skills of a good creche child-minder: the ability to keep an eye on a large number of other human beings while doing your own work. (Do observe kindergarten employees some time, you will see.) However, the dramaturgy and the choreography, two fundamental building blocks of dance, are so horrifyingly underdeveloped, that it did not even feel like a draft most of the time. It felt like a brainstorming session, like flicking through someone’s scrapbook, like the disconnected and half-baked notes in travel notebooks in which one may have written ‘boy – jeans’ back when it meant something amazingly profound, but unfortunately now it doesn’t anymore; now one reads ‘boy’, then ‘jeans’, and tries to find a bit of meaning, anything really, to restore one’s faith in one’s own brain.

In a succession of steps downwards, like descending down a ladder, Umiumare sheds layers of civilisation and descends into death, madness and animal-ness; that is, becomes less human. So far, so good. After her cat runs away, she undergoes through a series of transmutations, so to speak, her body subjected first to the de-humanising city (please hear the irony in my voice here), then the violence of pain, and so forth. The first problem is that each scene is monotonously overlong: each had an interesting premise and could have been cut by half. Nothing was gained by duration, except that each dance had a moment of the audience waking out of the spectatorial trance, and drifting away. The second problem, much graver, is that Umiumare makes ample use of her local folklore: from the Japanese cityscapes, through the samurai physical vocabulary, to J-pop, to different oni (most signpostedly shiroi hebi); all her costumes have vague shapes of kimono, there is tea-drinking, there is a white parasol, and visually the entire thing looks like the transcultural theatre of the 1980s, a naïve and ridiculous, if not offensive and essentialist, fusion of gestures and motifs. There were parts, notably the cityscape dance, when I entertained the notion of En Trance being poor man’s dumb type, but even that seemed excessively generous, and I eventually settled for something approximating Mats Ek’s orientalist Sacre du Printemps in intent, and similarly failing in execution. Why? To re-interpret Stravinsky’s dance of madness, the horrific and erotic sacrifice of a young virgin, by pushing it through the sieve of bushido and love suicides is somehow so logical that it loses all sense. The beauty of Sacre, if you want, is demonic and repulsive and close; the moment this is outsourced to the Far East, it has to become elegant not to be insulting (because Ek is Swedish, and probably knew fuck-all about bushido), but then what was supposed to be just a system of signage overweighs and engulfs the entire work, turning it into a hollow, nice-looking facade. Whereas Stravinsky’s and Nijinsky’s ballet was a punch in the gut, Ek’s was just a bit… camp?

I wonder if Umiumare is aware of the two hundred and sixteen problems associated with performing a descent away from being human through her Japanese-ness in Melbourne, the distance her audience already has towards this culturally specific material, the way she herself reinforces the exoticity by merely explaining it to us (the didactic moments were interesting, but one felt instructed thus made into a better person, a little like at worst political theatre), the creepy spectacle of a re-orientalised body willingly turning into an animal; as if it was 1986, and all people of colour who spoke LOTE could embrace their inner savage and find answers to all their riddles. To speak of other cultures is only a problem, I would argue, if we parcel the world into ‘cultures’, if we choose to see the globe as a patchwork, rather than a teeming mass of people all slightly different from another, our codes only surface ripples on a deep sea of shared humanity. When Kundera talks about Stravinsky, Kafka, Carlos Fuentes and Majakovski, you are convinced that these people are important to you, to your life, that their lives, thoughts and actions say something important and meaningful about your life, my life, everyone’s life. That life is lived in particulars, not in generalities, does not contradict this point: ‘culture’ is a generalization in itself, while nothing is more universal than a detail. (This is why types of crying in Japanese onomatopoeia were a fantastic motif that, instead of looking at crying, dissolved into a sterile catalogue of exotic difference.) After all, there is a motif in Slavic fairy tales akin to that of the white snake: a man marries a woman, but she is actually a snake, and the evil thoughts in her mind leave a mark on her body in the form of a snake tongue. Like all good stories, so is this one universal. The truth is not to be discovered in Japan alone, not on its surface at least. Like Ek’s Sacre, so is this snake in drag a bit camp; a bit ‘look at my national costume’; and a bit dated as well.

Stranded between cultures, I do wonder what an artist can do. Like Kundera, he can retreat into greater and greater abstraction, comparative abstraction in his specific case. Like Nabokov, he can employ all his gifts to beat the natives at their game. Like Shaun Tan, perhaps, he can make his own world, a private place that could be anywhere at all; or he can simply be so brilliant at his work that his locus does not matter the slightest. But can he also hold onto his old culture and remain a specialist translator? Is there not something cloying, something dishonest, something fermenting and oxidising about this movement into self-replenishing, privately-grown culture? Kusturica’s ever more outrageous claims on what his people are comes to mind. To make a catalogue of your private world, like some sort of overgrown shrine to ancestors, and try to explain it all to your audience, yet always leaving them out because communication is a fine median between codes, not some fluency in a set language, strikes me almost as wilful retreat into the island of cultural self. Like the proverbial expat ordering Vegemite online.

En Trance. By Yumi Umiumare. Dramaturg and collaborator Moira Finacune, media art by Bambang Nurcahyadi, installtion artist Naomi Ota, costumes design by David Anderson, lighting design by Kerry Ireland. With Yumi Umiumare. Malthouse Theatre, until September 13.

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15 thoughts on “RW: En Trance

  1. Jana – I’ve read this twice, and I still don’t understand what your objections are. And I find what you’re saying rather troubling. Was the trajectory of that dance really a “descent”, becoming an animal/less than human? I certainly didn’t read it that way. (And it sure isn’t a poor man’s Dumb Type – they’re doing something quite different. Think “Butoh”, a word missing from your review). It struck me that the meld of Indigenous dance and Butoh might be controversial – but only if you thought traditions were pure and couldn’t be hybrid, which is certainly not the case with Butoh, which is anarchic from the start. That question feeds into the vexed question of the appropriateness of appropriation (fwiw, I think all culture is appropriation, and I thought Umiumare’s take an original and fascinating take on what happens when you’re stripped of cultural certainties). But that’s not what you’re objecting to anyway.

    The characterising of Indigenous dance – or Butoh – as “less than human” in its “animalness” or “madness” is deeply problematic. Human beings are animals, and dance, in its physicality, is something that potentially acknowledges that dimension of our being. Maybe you should read Agamben’s book (The Open – drawing on Heidegger and Rilke) on how humans have traditionally defined their humanity as not-animal? And how – which Agamben does not talk about, but which is obvious to any woman – how that bifurcation of our “human” and “animal” aspects feeds into hierarchies of humanity, with non-animal androcentricism being the normative centre?

    I don’t subscribe either to the idea that human beings are all basically the same, with minor cultural differences. That’s rather a pan-westernising view (the assumptions you make are all comfortable euro-centric) and sure isn’t borne out by anthropology. There are species similarities, sure, but I think you fatally gloss how mind-blowing those cultural differences can be. Try getting your head around kinship relationships in Central Australian nations, for example.

    Anyway, I read the dance as an exploration of the many ways of being human, the malleability of our humanity. And rather than a descent into animalness, as a journey towards transcendence, an ecstatic state. I didn’t find it a hermetic experience, refusing communication: rather the reverse.

  2. Sorry, saw the butoh word on a third read. Excise that bit.

  3. Gilligan says:

    I’m glad someone said it. Sorry Alison, but I (mostly) agree with Jana. I was very excited before seeing En Trance, having seen her unbelievable performances in The Burlesque Hour earlier this year. I was very disappointed with this show though.

    She is undoubtedly an unbelievable dancer and artist. However, sitting in the audience I felt like I was watching a confused show; underdeveloped and ultimately rather aimless and pointless, probably boring as well. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Umiumare, she is fantastic, but this show seemed underdone.

    The other couple of reviews I’ve read have suggested the shows great strength is the way it evolves through different trance like states and out of body experiences. However, like Jana, I found the different states dragged and went on too long, and the transitions were extremely jarring.

    I spent most of the show trying to piece together the sections of the show, trying to see a whole, and to find the experience I hoped it would achieve. The whole never came, and at the end of the show I was left bored and confused and I think worst of all, completely unaffected.

    I also found the aboriginal section at the end somewhat offensive- could a white Australian performer do this? It’s an intriguing question. I think I found it offensive because it seemed unwarranted, almost as if she was playing with it as a style, instead of it being an essential idea or element of the performance, which I think it would need to be if you’re to venture into aboriginal dance as a non-indigenous person (or any religious based art form for that matter).

    Also, I feel that beneath culture, experience and tradition, human beings are essentially the same all over the world. They yearn for the same things, and fear the same things. However, that’s not to say the importance of culture, experience and tradition should be ignored by artists. But I think it’s wrong to suggest differences in our customs make us completely different at our cores.

  4. Jana says:

    Hi Alison, hi Gilligan, and I will immediately apologise for all the lack of clarity in that review. It deserves a number of big edits, by a lucid and awake writer that I have rarely been recently.

    I’d like to continue talking, because I find myself barely able to articulate how this show infuriates me: it is clearly one part aesthetic outrage, and one part something personal I cannot put my finger on.

    The problem is not butoh, Alison. Butoh, even in Umiumare’s performance, is a humming, powerful and beautiful thing. What dance there was – what dance didn’t spin on itself paper-thin, trying to add substance through repetition and failing – was beautifully executed; but there is more to dance than loving craft, certainly more than thinly stretched loving craft. I don’t see a problem with it melding with indigenous dance – on the level of physical performance – that gesture was among the more generous.

    But dramaturgically the entire show was constantly tripping over its Japaneseness, its need to employ black robes and white parasols and karaoke and cups of tea; whenever it threatened to make a point, a dramaturgical point, it withdrew into a catalogue of Nipponic commonplaces, of frills we should by now no better than look for truth in. What sounds great on paper – the exploration of extreme states (which, again, is butoh par excellence) – turned into some sort of dictionary of Japanese extreme states, and a badly executed one on top, which is what Gilligan may have in mind when he says “playing with [aboriginal dance] as a style”. I felt everything was taken as a stylistic fragment: the samurai motif; the karaoke; the crying woman; the cityscape; the mythical, savage woman/animal. And each one of these, so full of potential, turned into a dance for tourists (which reminded me of the anecdote about Peter Brook touring India when researching for Mahabharata, spending 5 minutes in each village to watch their traditional dance, and then usually leaving because the dance wasn’t traditional enough). We ought to be above the employment of exotic gesture as a key to deep meaning. It is simply too offensive not to.

    I don’t disagree with you, Alison, on any point regarding humans and animals: and what I called a descent down the ladder could be a rising up the ladder, moving left or right. However, there was a movement away from quotidian body, quotidian human, into a more and more extreme, primal, more energetically filled and less articulate body. I do believe Umiumare herself, in the programme, mentioned death, and possibly animals. I do believe many strands of butoh have been interested in the same. It seemed clear. I was not making a value judgement, except to say that it’s a troubling thing to do through a catalogue of Japanese props.

    And I am not sure that indigenous Australians have the monopoly on complex familial relations. East Asians have them too, Africans do (says Kapuscinski, whose Polish mind seemed fantastically vexed by this), and so do Italians. We’re talking degrees, not absolutes. The whole thing moves, on the one hand, into an informal network of aid (mostly in places with scarce resources and uncertainty of returns) and into formally structured societies (which, paired with protestantism, sometimes result in democracy). I believe I am paraphrasing anthropology too.

    I understand that the woman is connected to a snake; that grief disfigures; that rage disfigures; that society (or whatever the city stood for) is also madness by disorder; I don’t think we need to learn how to do tea ceremony first, before we can get on with the deeper meaning of it all. I was waiting for the deeper meaning, and it never arrived.

    But, on this note, I am very intrigued by your idea, Alison, that Umiumare’s work is a “fascinating take on what happens when you’re stripped of cultural certainties”. It never crossed my mind, and I can’t quite make it fit, but I’d love you to elaborate!

  5. Once we enter subjective emotional experience, it’s hard to argue. The show had an impact on me, and certainly on my co-theatre goer (who was in tears at the end) so it can’t be claimed that it’s universally affectless.

    Maybe what moved me – and this is speculation, since the problem with the subconscious is, as Freud said, that it is subconscious – was my own deeply formative experience of being stripped of cultural certainty as a child (twice, he first time from a place that had no certainty anyway – but that’s another and very complex story). The very fripperies that you object to seemed to me an expression of what happens when when one’s culture is displaced, when there is no more generous cultural context in which to place those signs they become parodies: one is defined by difference, and the difference is these signals, that are read in terms of (yes) stereotype, with none of the fuller meanings that they carry in their native culture. What does one do then, if the idea of “home” matters (and it does to all of us), or one has the desire to be more than a collation of these empty signs that mean nothing in this other place? One possibility is to return to the body, to nakedness, and attempt to start again where one is, with a sterner attention to truthfulness and the present. Which is what the Indigenous dance melding with the cat dance meant to me: the creation of a feral hybrid. And then Umiumare steps into the unknown, through another door. How is that empty? So that’s why it didn’t seem to be at all a merely formal exercise, an indulgent adoption of style. For me, the dance was refulgent with meaning.

    Jana, I don’t know anything about African kinship relations. But the skin name thing blew my mind. It has absolutely no similarity to Italian family relations, or anything we understand from a European point of view, and is vastly more complex. Aside from anything else, it’s a brilliant adaptive strategy for a small gene pool in the middle of the desert to prevent the perils of in-breeding. Yes, there are things we all want but it’s a bad mistake to asssume that in all cases we know what they are. That’s a mistake, btw, that white Europeans have routinely made in dealing with the colonised world, largely because it’s convenient, and I can’t say the result have been edifying/

  6. Jana says:

    I didn’t think about the show as pastiche that distorts, rather than confirms the meaning. It’s an enlightening observation! However, I disagree that the return to the body was a return to nakedness, and then a ‘feral hybrid’: the references to the shiroi hebi, the oni, were too strong – it was not a cultural hybrid that was created, but a hybrid of human and non- (a motif which has a fairly solid place in Japanese mythology, and others). If you say the piece found its point at the end, I saw just more frippery, as you call it. The equivalent of a dance about the essence of Australianness that finishes on the point of Vegemite.

    Is it not valid to argue personal experience? I mean it as a genuine question. For how much more have we ever got? A theatre piece must work with the assumption of these personal experiences as the murmur of the audience, and any ‘universal’ meaning it may attempt to create will be a conversation with the sum total (or the median) of the experiences the audience brings, won’t it? Particularly so dance, which operates on a pre-explanatory level.

    How have we got to the discussion of skin name? I am not sure how it is related, but moiety exists in Hawaiian kinship system too. I am not arguing that there aren’t big and real differences, but we’re not defining policy here. We are talking about art, which I’d like to believe is interesting to the extent to which it makes something everyone’s problem, not just engages in specialist translation (the curse of an artist who speaks firstly to another culture).

    There is a danger, in specialist translation, in either chopping up your difference in order to fill the preconceptions and prejudices of the culture you are speaking to (Reading Lolita in Tehran is a fine example), or essentialising your difference (Kusturica’s work does the latter, proclaiming us all wild, barbaric savages, for French aesthetic enjoyment). Both are readily enjoyed by the First-World, Western, whatever-you-want-to-call-it but primarily culturally-guilt-ridden audience: first because we can say “they are like us!”, the second because we can say “they are completely different!, and we appreciate but won’t interfere”. What I’d like is a more subtle approach of “we are like them”, recognising your own strange, idiosyncratic truth in someone else’s. Marjane Satrapi does this well; so does Kundera. I am intrigued that you felt the same with Umiumare, because I didn’t. The two positions, it seems to me, are at this point unarguable (unless you see a way out).

    My point is, when I read about skin name, I am not saying “ah we have it too”, I am thinking, “OK, that’s similar to the complex East Asian familial system, Russian system of patronymics and the complex way of adding and subtracting surnames that exists to this day in Portugal, and even finds a distant echo in Croatian kinship“, which is a fair bit more complex than the English language allows. Familial structures have become simplified as structured nation-states have emerged everywhere, but I would imagine that even our Australian nuclear family sits atop a deep layer of complex kinship compost. It is not completely foreign to us.

    When you accuse me of Euro-centrism, it seems to me you are talking of some one, uniform Europe that I’m a part of, whereas I am talking from a point of view of someone who got a German-based education, studied Japan for a few years, and grew up in a place that’s usually left out of the definition of Europe altogether. Middle-Eastern Islam, which in Bosnia blends with Eastern-European Orthodoxy, is a complex world in its own right, and one usually not considered to be ‘Europe’, presumably because it does not fit the mould, but one I don’t see as vastly different either (my stepfather is Muslim, I should add, and were I to believe in an essential difference between us, life would be very hard). Since we are not defining policy (ie, doing colonialism), how am I being Euro-centric?

  7. Jana says:

    The usual paradox is that, while we’re talking, En Trance is becoming retrospectively more interesting to me. It is the conversation around it that is building up its meaning in a fascinating way.

  8. Ian says:

    What a fascinating exchange! A few words from an interested outsider. The dialogue only proves the truth of both Jana and Alison’s ‘positions’ (scare quotes because what starts out as fixed is clearly fluid). Not having seen En Trance, but having watched the evolving discussion since Friday’s outing to Per Se´, I can only comment on the nature of the commentary you both offer so far (If I may).

    It seems to me that the ‘problem’ (aka the disagreement) arises because one of you starts arguing an objectivist view while the other a subjectivist one. There is little chance these two can be conclusively reconciled, nor either proved one way or the other, though the exchange is highly productive.

    In the meantime, I’ll offer an observation that may bring both of these ‘positions’ somewhat closer. You both seem to agree in your different ways that at base, dance is about affect. If affect is pre-discursive, pre-cognitive, etc etc, then what comes after is a search for a semiotics that will render those affects communicable. The connections between affects and signs are not universal – they are entirely personal, private. Meaning is always private, if you want deep meaning, that is, though there is always the possibility for commonality and similarity. While we may use shared language, that does not mean the lexicalization process, the construction of semantic bundles that occurs for each individual, is identical. How could it possibly be? Our own sister may be more Other to us than one from the other side of the planet who speaks a tongue we barely comprehend – sharing a language and a culture renders stark the gulfs of meaning in our private systems of meaning and value.

    Objectively, there are material and performative bearers of culture which may or may not be essentialist, very much dependent on context, but there is always the danger that one person’s essentialism is another’s hybridity: Japanese culture, like all cultures, is a hybrid, but Japanese culture is particularly syncretic when compared with western cultural development.

    Subjectively, En Trance has produced strong affects all round it seems (weeping, delight, intense irritation). Clearly, something deep has been stirred and finding the words to share it without appealing to objectivity means that recourse to social science is unlikely to provide a common ground. What’s fascinating is that this piece seems to have evoked such powerful responses – why it has done that surely warrants closer attention.

  9. Thanks Ian – yes, it’s a fascinating conversation! Although I wonder how the argument between Jana’s and my equally subjective responses can be characterised as an argument between “objective” and “subjective”…

    Jana, my point is that skin names and kinship aren’t based on family genealogies in the ways we understand as Europeans. Skin names and kinship patterns intertwine in a complex of relationship that in traditional tribal Aboriginal nations governs every aspect of life, down to who can be in the same room. In its complexity it might be like the Chinese system, but that’s still about paternity and direct geneaologies. The point is that skin names come from a totally different idea about relationship that depends on moiety groups that divide people into different categories, that then inflect familial relationships. Putting a template of European familial assumptions over this system is a minefield, as you rapidly discover when you unwittingly put your foot in it. A useful summary here.

  10. Ian says:

    Alison, perhaps I’m being overly simplistic, but what I mean by ‘objectivist’ is an appeal to categories that are beyond personal experience to justify why one does or doesn’t like something – i.e. of the form that “Culture X is like such and such, therefore this dance Y is essentialist, and so I don’t like it”; and by ‘subjectivist’ I’m referring a mode of argument that draws from a personal experience and then attaches a meaning to it, of the form: “I like it, and for me I saw Z in it, which made me think of A, B and C”.

    The difficulty of resolution then arises because the objectivist form of argument will always contest its case on the the grounds that the its meanings can be objectively decided – the point being that there is a ‘truth’ about its propositions that is beyond the personal; the subjectivist position is merely putting forward what it has taken from the world into a personal collection of meaningful entities which have the appearance of objectivity, but do not rely on being ‘true’ for their meaning.

    All I’m responding to is your line “Once we enter subjective emotional experience, it’s hard to argue. The show had an impact on me, and certainly on my co-theatre goer (who was in tears at the end) so it can’t be claimed that it’s universally affectless.” If the question is the affective power of the performance, then the objective ‘truth’ of any of the associations that its viewers make is largely, irrelevant to the affect. Feelings are never mistaken!

    But I guess, having said that, the fundamental point of difference seems to be whether we’re all more or less the same, or more or less different, whether or not culture is decorative superstructure on top of an essentially similar base – one of the oldest saws in social science.

    Follwing Heidegger, there is no ‘being’ as such, existence is always a ‘being-there’, and the corollary is that there is also always a ‘being-with’ (Sloterdijk) and a ‘being-encultured’ (Modood). Cultural difference is a universal in the same way the body is presumed to be universal – the dichotomy is false. Thus, difference is real and not just an optional add-on. Perhaps all cultures view the world with themselves as the centre in some way or other, but not all cultures have the same ideas of centre and periphery either. Euro-centrism just happens to be the most recent of the world-dominating versions of a standard by which all others may be objectively judged.

  11. Ian says:

    … and on the topic of cultural differences vis-a-vis familial relations, I would add that it is not just the system of relations that may nor may not differ, but the value within the culture of those relations themselves.

    Part of my own inheritance, for what it is worth, is Chinese. Within that culture, the family has traditionally been highly valued (though of course, the one-child policy has vitiated it somewhat for the urbanised in recent decades where it has had most effect). This means that people would not refer to each other by names at all, but via a nomenclature that ascribes relative familial positions. Granted, most cultures have similar systems, but some are more weildy than others, some are hardly ever used. I’ve yet to hear an Anglo-Celt refer to a relation as ‘cousin elder sister’ rather than ‘Narelle'(say), but such forms of address are common among Chinese of even my generation – at least, they are within my extended family when they converse in Chinese. Relations are thus reinforced by such expressions, whereas relations downplayed by the use of names, with the concomitant effect that relations can be much more fluid. For second and third generation Chinese who are acculturating out of their originary culture, the family and its structures loses its importance and while they may still identify as of Chinese ethnicity, a smaller set of practices and material props is used to make such identifications. Hence the problem of ‘essentialism’- the complaint that an entire culture has been reduced to a small set of limited practices and material objects. The problem is that, after a while, all that is left for some that is distinctively Chinese (to exaggerate just a little) are red packets at new year, yum-cha on Sundays and the compulsion to do well at school. These become the place-holders for a sense of belonging to something beyond the anomie of globalised consumer culture. And playing mix-n-match with such symbols is very much the game for many of us whose inherent hybridity leaves us no choice but constant self-awareness that we have to make a choice, every time, about who and what we are.

  12. Hi Ian – Well, really I was distinguishing emotional response, which is incorrigibly subjective, from a more analytical response (which is briefly swung over in my rather shorter review). I don’t think you can argue about emotional response: Jana and I both, I think, begin there, with the experience of the theatre, but then move on to analysing what that might have been. You can argue about interpretation, which may be inflected by emotional responses, sure, but they are by no means the whole picture: analysis involves context, meaning, reading the traditions/stylistic decisions, the text, technical considerations, etc etc, of that temporal experience. By no means cut-and-dried, but it’s not at all a question of the merely subjective. Or maybe, as I like to think, of applying an informed subjectivity, one familiar with the arts and traditions of theatre, to a particular work. Hopefully with interesting results.

    I’m with you on the question of cultural difference, and humankind’s propensity to place itself at the centre of everything….

  13. Ian says:

    Thanks Alison – I can accept what you’re saying, but that leaves me with a question: as a consumer of both theatre/dance etc mostly, and of criticism of these forms less so, I wonder what’s left for ‘informed subjectivity’ if the level at which the work is intended to operate is both above and below the materials used to manifest it? i.e. if, as has been suggested here, the ‘Japaneseness’ is intended merely a signifier of the existence of cultural difference and its mutability rather than of a specific culture and its theatrical traditions, then is there not the possibility that the work may produce its affects in more than one register, thus perhaps explaining why it is that a range of people were so affected, and so differently? I guess I’m following Deleuze here, who asks not what things mean, but what they do. And though I framed it in rather ungainly fashion, this is what I was attempting to point to with the distinction between objective and subjective critique. A focus on lineages of meaning (and erudite arguments over details and facts) becomes objective in appearance, a battle of interpretations. But the only objective thing that seems to have been ‘done’ (performed, enacted) by this work is a series of affective movements. And I’m not sure any of the commentary I’ve yet read goes to analysing how this was achieved, that is, beyond subjective interpretations and judgements about meaning and value.

  14. […] follows a fascinating, if at times painful dialogue that grew out of a condemnatory critique of En Trance, a show that made artistic and dramaturgical choices that failed precisely where A/R […]

  15. Greta says:

    My advise to you Jana – if you want to go the theatre purely for pleasure – as what you said and intentionally do in the first place, then I think you have been to the wrong place to go.

    What you wrote there are purely based on your dissapointment because intelectually you cannot be challenged while, again, what you need is pure pleasure.

    You wrote so many horrible points, and for me It feels like a drunken who is so dissapointed because the bar has closed while the desire to quench the thirst for alchy is still on. Luckily though, you still can get away by writing those things down in somewhat looks cerebral in the naked eye.
    Most notably, you were underwhelemed with the “under developed coreography and dramaturgy”, well, I think you might need to know that En Trance is not purely dance as what you know, because this is where I interprete En trance. It is contemporary performance, with bit of theatre, installation, etc. I will not spend time to explain to you about this, because, I think I will waste my time.

    The fact is, if there is an art-goer and writer as Alison calibre, just like most of people enjoy the show, predictably, there’s should be (at least) someone who become opposition. I think you understand what I mean. If not, well, the bar at Malthouse only open until 11, but go get there soon, so you will have pleasure that you want. Best Wishes.

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