Emotional Dramaturgy: Part Two

In this section, I ask Fides Krucker for more details about her role as collaborator on the dance piece, locus plot by Peggy Baker Dance Projects, and about the implications of breaking the sound barrier in a dance piece.

What is a vocalographer?  

Me! Peggy made up the word. I love it and don’t know why I never thought of it myself given my love of world play. When I started URGE (a music driven women’s collective founded in 1991) I always wanted us to create as if we were choreographers – on our feet and from our bodies. So the word really captures what I have been doing in different ways for quite some time! The largest cast I have done this on for full evening works is eighteen (Humber College graduating class) and the smallest is three (3 singers opera in Chicago).

I trust Peggy and we get along very well in rehearsal, without much conversation, actually. We just do things with the dancers passing the ball back and forth. I definitely consider her the lead artist and find it easy to flow with that. But at times I would make the dancers take on certain sounds and then wonder if I had wrecked Peggy’s choreography. But mostly she understood my impulses.

If not, she was not afraid to ask for something to be changed and I never felt threatened by this. I don’t remember the dancers ever resisting things but I really worked hard at making sure that it felt possible, through my body’s identification with what I was seeing them do, even if the ‘idea’ of a certain sound seemed a bit out there when I first proposed it.

Hopefully a lot of people reading this will have seen and heard the show, but if not, could you give us a sense of the sound palette you drew upon?

The sounds I use are not verbal. To some people, groans, roars, keening or sighs could appear illogical, but I find this ‘body tongue’ poetic and communicative. I think many dancers choose to dance so as not to speak. They are eloquent through the body and words can betray. So my non-verbal preoccupations might actually be a very good fit! The sounds l am moved by have a very first-degree in-the-body pleasure similar to what I experience watching a dancer move, and imagine they could be feeling too. Both movement and sounding extend in a way that can become artful, artistic. So maybe these sounds are more natural than words and don’t involve switching gears? I know that an extended, sung vowel is to a word what an extended arm is to the idea of reaching. Something mundane is magnified.

I think I caught sight of some gestures familiar from voice classes with you. Were there any other times when one discipline spilled in to another?

Yes. Peggy loved a few of the gestures I would use when teaching them the vocal principles. The gestures use our Peripheral Nervous System to foster new patterns in our Autonomic Nervous Systems. She found it beautiful that they were making such great sound and growing each and every week. So some gestures touched her and she encouraged the dancers to incorporate them as part of the performance language.

The voice drew me in, and created an emotional line that was compelling and easy to follow. I have to admit I often find modern dance pieces too long. Not this one. Fascinating, for a piece that inhabits the seemingly abstract world of math. Math and emotion … care to comment?

I think math and emotion make sense together. I am not good at math but I have a daughter who is. I think there is a sincere logic to math that includes imagination and expansion. I like to think that there is a sincere logic to emotion that includes imagination and hope – which is a kind of expansion. I think math and emotion are both real and a part of being human. So Peggy’s sticking to mathematical principles when making the movement patterns (macro and micro) came across to me as original and fresh when I first saw it in the rehearsal space.

Watching human beings is emotional for me. And a performer invites the external gaze. I breathe along with whoever I am watching (it is also how I teach) and so I felt like I was inside the dancers. Peggy’s invitation to set vocals on them let me want to reveal more about my own kinetic experience while watching and identifying.

The work seemed to hover on the edge of “story.” The vocalizing gave it a strong emotional line without many of the traditional elements of narrative.

I love the men’s duet for that – performed by Ric Brown and Sean Ling. They are busy doing some very precise arm movement that incorporate these huge lunges to the floor, while moving in and out of 4 squares taped out by two crossed lines on the Marley. I could feel that their throats were closed due to the demands of the movement. This led to the opening stuttering sound…a glottal stop repeated over and over again…coming from their throats as if they were trying to get someone’s attention, about to speak, but stopping themselves. Unable to communicate. Between these segments and linked to the movement pattern (sometimes they engaged with each other’s negative space and sometimes they did not) I had them close their mouths very obviously as if any avenue for communication was being cut off. That was usually when they were more ‘on their own’ within the squares.

As the movement intensified, and they interfered even more with each other’s negative space and finally had physical contact, I asked them to increase the voiceless ‘ah’ ‘ah’ ‘ah’ until it broke into a full fledged non-verbal roaring fight, the two men clasping each others’ arms, face to face, leaning and pulling away from each other, and finally falling back to the floor.

Then the vocal fight resumes with the two of them moving through these unusual embraces…based on math! Because the movement was so particular it could not become sentimental even though the emotional sound-thread might have on its own.

When they finally break apart Sean is left with these little high peeps and the opening arm work but is now alone – no longer interweaving with Ric who has stormed away. It is heartbreaking. Are they brothers, lovers? Just what were they ‘wrestling’ over? We don’t know but the underlying math somehow makes having that answered less important. It affords us a kind of ambiguity without a distancing effect.

What we do know is that they are two humans who want to communicate, end up fighting, and then despite their attempts, become isolated. We’ve all been there and get the story. And yet it is not at all predictable in its form and so for me it was not obvious or pat. I can hardly sit still when I watch that segment. The struggle feels real.

Did you have any concerns going into it?

Actually I was nervous when we went to the Canadian Opera Company with some excerpts and again on opening night. I did not question the art making – but I had no idea how an audience would react. Would it be too audacious? I thought I might get booed!

Why?

We take our forms seriously. They help us relax into a new piece. So breaking a form out of its mold is a bit risky. I am also asking an audience to take sounds we typically repress as serious and beautiful and communicative. And we love our mouths to make reasonable sounds like words. We think it represents the best of us…our minds…clarity. But I find these other sounds more trustworthy. I did not know if the audience would go on that ride. I did not feel the sounds as an imposition on the dancers but I really did not know if the audience would get into their own bodies while watching in a way that would allow them to appreciate this. Let’s face it, sometimes when a groan or roar has happened in real life it has meant bad things. So we would have good reasons to want to block these sounds.

I work hard to make the context for these sounds, within any piece, really well crafted. I now say, “Singing is impolite.” This thought helps me and as an instruction it helps those I work with.

What’s next?

We will work together again next fall for the piece Peggy is making to present in January. I have suggested that I make vocal portraits of the dancers as a point of departure – as part of the process – to learn more about each of them and develop what is so unique about each of them a little further through voice. I am really excited to take this hybrid work further. Because Peggy believes in creating as much of a company as possible – despite the economic difficulties of doing this right now in Canada – I think this will be wonderful ongoing development for all of us.

Also in June 2016 we will remount the AGO show – land/body/breath – at the National Gallery in Ottawa. I want to give the dancers a bit more to do with their voices! And of course Ciara Adams and I will be singing the hour-long score.

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