The perfect size of two?

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I’m back after a week’s detour so to say, working on a performance project elsewhere in the city.

But nevertheless, I’ve also had the opportunity to reflect on the performance program at this year’s edition of Works at Work – and here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, I’ve been pleased to experience such variety in terms of form and substance. During the few days of the festival, the audience has experienced works ranging from the very minimal, slow performance with a stripped scenography, leaving the details of the body movements to be the main element to the technically advanced performance with a jungle of props and use of video and music. Also, some of the works involved the audience – or actually built the performance piece on the contribution of the audience – while others operated with the audience-as-spectator-from-the-darkened-rows model.

As such, also this year the performances have drawn upon a wider perspective of fields like dance, theater, visual art and even comedy – which is fully in line with the festival’s blurry positioning of itself somewhere between the white cube and the black box. An advantageous position from which traditions related to production within the various affected fields can be revealed and questioned.

Common to the seven performances is the fact that they have been produced and performed by duos – a great diversity of duos in fact, despite them all (except the students) being male-female composed.

In Quast & Knoblich’s sympathetic Fortune Teller, Hendrik Quast and Maika Knoblich complemented each other in a warm, entertaining and partially improvised hot chokolate fortune teller session with the audience. In Jee-Ae Lim and Pijin Neji’s Reprise there was on the other hand a tightly structured relationship between the two performers, whereas in deufert&plischke’s Niemandzeit, Thomas Plischke was practically the only one of the two being visibly on stage as Kattrin Deufert was inside a tent-like structure to which only few of the audiences had access during the performance.

On the train to Malmø Friday before the festival – heading to the warm-up performance by Lisa Östberg and Kim Hjorthøy at Inkonst – I asked the two curators, Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt and Ida-Louis Leclerc Larsen, about the curatorial fundament at this year’s program – besides the fact that they should all be duo performances.
They replied, that they had stressed it should be about duo practices more than merely duo collaborations – meaning they had an interest in the professional and established duo-identity working together over time.

As such, we did not talk much about the single pieces or about how the performance program is linked to the festival on a more thematic level so to speak. It seemed somewhat less important – both during the informal chat on the train and as such throughout the festival. This is not in itself a critique, but it struck me several times, that the performance works themselves fell into the background during the talks, where the main focus was on the production circumstances. I felt a notable lack of references to the works, which had just been on stage moments before – and vice versa; the works didn’t clearly reflect the ongoing discussion about production circumstances related to the duo practice.

In a way, it was easier at last year’s edition of the festival to find the link between the performances and the talks program. Perhaps that’s because the solo performer to a greater extent than the duo reveals the circumstances behind the work. At least it seemed easier to track key issues related to work production and solo practice – such as economy and precarity – in the works themselves, than it has been the case at this year’s festival.

And this is not uninteresting – for how come the duo seems to succeed in establishing and maintaining a distance between the work and the production?

Obviously, being two means shared work load and thereby also shared handling of all the issues there may be during a production period. While a solo work is somewhat more transparent, the duo seems to be able to blur the production conditions preceeding the work. Often, it’s no secret that a solo work has been produced with help from others, and if that’s not the case, the precarity related to doing everything alone sneaks onto stage – perhaps the size of two is perfect in terms of the illusion of the autonomous work. At least the conditions of the work production are somewhat less clear in a duo work.

It shall be interesting to follow up on these reflections in light of the group works next year! Will the group share the transparency with the soloist or the ability to blur with the duo?

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