Tag Archives: Gabriele Brandstetter

So let’s talk about representation of bodies (1)… richard iii redux

Sara at Cilgerran Castle, Ceredigion. richard iii redux. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

There has been a spate of high profile all-female productions of Shakespeare the past few years – Maxine Peake playing Hamlet in Manchester and Phillyda Lloyd’s trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and last year’s The Tempest, to name just a few. As a woman working in theatre, I applaud any attempt to provide more visible platforms for women practitioners, and believe there is still much to be mined from the classics with cross-gender casting (and I mean male actors playing female roles here, too…). Yet in the midst of all this welcome talk about diversity and parity, I believe there is still one area hugely overlooked – and that is atypical embodiment.

I have spent half a lifetime and most of my career collaborating with and writing specifically for what I call atypical actors in my atypical plays. I’ve often spoken about how I appear to have two careers – one in the so-called ‘mainstream’, writing new versions of classics like Aeschylus’s Persians for National Theatre Wales – and another within disability arts and culture, which has been invisible and seemingly of no interest to the media until recent years. For the past half decade I’ve tried to marry my ‘crip’ culture work to my ‘mainstream’ profile and argued for inclusive casts and the aesthetics of access as a matter of course rather than something ‘special’ to gain brownie points for the venues involved. For me this is my ‘normality’ and it is gratifying to perceive the debates opening up about power, diversity, and the make-up of our theatres and moving image industry – but discussions about disability still lags behind.

Sara digging up her Richard – richard iii redux.

From 2011 I was a fellow at the International Research Centre Interweaving Performance Cultures attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin.It was my great fortune to have the time and encouragement to reflect on my work between disability culture and the so-called ‘mainstream’ and to write a series of published essays about my work.

During my residencies in Berlin, I became fixated on how live theatre – my medium – has demonised, dehumanised, or deified physical, sensory and neurological difference. I began paying closer attention to how fellow dramatists portrayed in particular atypical embodiment, the poster boy being of course that personification of evil, Richard III. And so the seeds for the project richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III came into being.

Sara Beer and director Phillip Zarrilli digging up their Richard III in Llandysul

Out of fear of misrepresenting the production Sara Beer, Phillip Zarrilli, Paul Whittaker and I are in the process of making, I will stress our project is neither high-brow, academic, nor tub-thumping. In order to explore the themes of disability, representation, and the possible ‘hatchet job’ committed by the Tudors on what seems to be historically a fair and popular King, we need to travel light,  fast, and with humour. I am not a fan of dour, PC, or dreary productions and prefer – rather like our poster image – to stick two fingers up at being ‘worthy’. What we hope to do is shake things up a bit, to play with the playing of that ‘bottled spider’ Richard III, to explore elements of the historical Richard with the Shakespearian representation, and deconstruct how this villain has been portrayed in the past.

Videographer Paul Whittaker and director Phillip Zarrilli check the footage. Cilgerran Castle.

.In effect, we want to make a production which is subversive and entertaining, prompting laughs along with the odd moment’s reflection. It’s a challenging mix, but also one that makes me giddy, especially after this weekend’s work, filming (often with great fun and hilarity) in Cardigan and Ceredigion. Sara Beer is a phenomenally versatile performer, who switches from serious to high camp comedy on a sixpence. Her presence certainly enlivened our soggy day’s filming, following Henry Tudor’s trail en route to the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was slaughtered, so paving the way for the Tudors and the current House of Windsor.

The production will be a mix of live and pre-recorded video captured on location across Wales and at Bosworth battlefield itself. Much of the film footage is done, and Paul is currently working on our trailer, which I can’t wait to share, probably in my next blog post.

“But you know I don’t think in words.” An essay by Kaite O’Reilly.

As part of my on-going Fellowship at the international research centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin, I have been reflecting on my work between Deaf and hearing cultures and disability culture and the so called ‘mainstream’ – most notably my recent work with Deaf artists. “But you know I don’t think in words”: Bilingualism and Issues of Translation between Signed and Spoken Languages: Working between Deaf and Hearing Cultures in Performance focuses in particular on my work with actress, visual language director and BSL expert Jean St Clair and performer/collaborator Sophie Stone.

Originally prepared as a presentation at the centre in Berlin on my 2012 Cultural Olympiad production with National Theatre Wales/Unlimited In Water I’m Weightless (read about it here onwards), editors Holger Hartung and Gabriele Brandstetter invited a longer reflection on the processes Jean, Sophie and I embark on when working together.

The long essay included in this new book quotes both my collaborators at length, and includes director Kirstie Davis’s production of my bilingual play Woman of Flowers. I wrote the part of Rose specifically for Sophie, with Jean working as the visual language creative director. Our process was documented on this blog.

 

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’ 2014. Photo by KOR

The title of the essay “But you know I don’t think in words” comes from an aside Jean made when I requested she answer some questions about our process via written English rather than visual language. I didn’t want to have translation from visual to written language, and Jean is fluent in English. Her being present ‘in her own words’ seemed immensely important for the essay.

I’m delighted to be able to share our creative process, and to acknowledge Jean and Sophie, crediting them for this liminal work, this ‘space in-between’ we inhabit when collaborating across spoken/written English and BSL/visual language.

The Aging Body In Dance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Kazuo Ohno's hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Kazuo Ohno’s hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Some years ago I was selected to give a paper at a conference in Berlin, organised by Nanako Nakajima and Gabriele Brandstetter on ‘The Aging Body in Dance’. This emerged from my research as a Fellow of the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, at Freie University, Berlin.

My paper discussed the aging, changing body, and how acquired sensory impairments can bring more to our creativity and practice than they take away. I wrote primarily about Silent Rhythm, a Liverpool International Live Art Festival commission at Bluecoats I received with my collaborators dancer/choreographer Denise Armstrong and visual artist Alison Jones. The description of the project is as follows:

15-19 November 2004. Liverpool Biennial Live Art Festival at the Bluecoats Art Centre
Brief description of  ‘SILENT RHYTHM’.

This ‘work in progress’ is a fusion of live art and experimental performance practice from a Deaf and Disability perspective. ‘Silent Rhythm’ is a multi-sensory exploration of space, smell, text, and choreography. This collaboration between writer Kaite O’Reilly, dancer Denise Armstrong, and Visual artist Alison Jones is informed by their sensory impairments, using them as a source of inspiration for creativity. Utilizing written and spatial languages- ‘what words look like in the air’- combined with Deaf choreography, harnessing the ‘inner tempo; the silent rhythm’ within an installation. The live art performance transforms, and possibly erases, aspects of the original installation.

The essay also touches on the work of visually-impaired poet Alex Lemon and dramatist Alex Bulmer.

The collection of essays is edited by Nanako Nakajima and Professor Gabriele Brandstetter, and will be published by Routledge on January 26th 2017.  Details follow:

What does it mean to be able to move?

The Aging Body in Dance brings together leading scholars and artists from a range of backgrounds to investigate cultural ideas of movement and beauty, expressiveness and agility.

Contributors focus on Euro-American and Japanese attitudes towards aging and performance, including studies of choreographers, dancers and directors from Yvonne Rainer, Martha Graham, Anna Halprin and Roemeo Castellucci to Kazuo Ohno and Kikuo Tomoeda. They draw a fascinating comparison between youth-oriented Western cultures and dance cultures like Japan’s, where aging performers are celebrated as part of the country’s living heritage.

The first cross-cultural study of its kind, The Aging Body in Dance offers a vital resource for scholars and practitioners interested in global dance cultures and their differing responses to the world’s aging population.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Gabriele Brandstetter and Nanako Nakajima

Overview of the Aging Body in Dance, Nanako Nakajima

Section I: The Aging Body in the late 20th century: American Postmodern Dance, German Dance, and Japanese Dance

Yvonne Rainer, The Aching Body in Dance

Ramsay Burt, Yvonne Rainer’s Convalescent Dance: On valuing ordinary, everyday, and unidealised bodily states in the context of the aging body in dance

Johannes Odenthal, Der Tanz ist eine Metapher des Lebens (Dance is a Metaphor of Life)

Tamotsu Watanabe, Flowers Blooming in the Time of Aging

Section II: Alternative Dancability: Dis/Ability and Euro-American Performance

Ann Cooper Albright, The Perverse Satisfaction of Gravity

Jess Curtis, Dancing the Non/Fictional Body

Kaite O’Reilly, SILENT RHYTHM: A Reflection on the aging, changing body, and sensory impairment as a source of creativity and inspiration

Susanne Foellmer, Bodies’ Borderlands: Right in the Middle. Dis/Abilities on Stage

Section III: Aging and Body Politics in Contemporary Dance

Petra Kuppers, Somatic Politics: Community Dance and Aging Dance

Kikuko Toyama, Old, weak, and invalid: dance in inaction

Janice Ross, Dance and Aging: Anna Halprin Dancing Eros at the End of Life

Section IV: Perspectives of Interweaving

Mark Franko, Why are Hands the Last Resort of the Aging Body in Dance? Notes on the Modernist Gesture and the Sublime

Nanako Nakajima, Yoshito Ohno’s Figures of Life

 

Congratulations to all contributors and to the editors. It is a privilege to be amongst such company.