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ELIZABETH MACKINNON

Getting There is Being Here and Now
- notes from an improvised performance

The dark hush of the audience is broken by the familiar shriek of a modem dialling up.

Waiting….

One figure stands upstage, at a table, in front of a lap-top hands on the keys, while another stands downstage in stillness, listening…..

A computer-generated voice begins to speak of memory, fantasy, geography and time. Bits of phrase, read in a voice that is discordant and cool.

“I am in a basement which somehow escapes this relentless fire.”

“In the doldrums of a deep depression, slugging along,

looking for light.”

“…trapped in an umbilicus maze, navigating cosmic vengeances…”

“…spaced out from a way-relaxed vacation to the wild west…”

“I am in Copenhagen, Denmark practicing water conservation.”

“Getting married in an Apple Orchard.”

“I am here…surrounded by most of my belongings, in the process of selling off what I can, giving away what I can and just throwing shit out.”

Music fades in. The figure downstage begins to move in response to the sound and to the images conjured by the pieces of stories, the tinny words finding resonance in her body. She thinks of who she knows and of what she didn’t know about them until now. She imagines the people she doesn’t know, and what they might look like, where they might be. Gradually, she is joined by the others, each emerging from their corners, becoming part of a changing environment of sound, light and interaction.

* * *

At the end of July 2002, I performed in a piece about “home” in Ottawa, where I live and grew up in (“Where you begin from…it matters” Four on the Floor Dance, Dans/ce Kapital). A few weeks later I went to do a performance about “journeys” in Philadelphia, a city I’d never been to before. What to say about that, except that art is born of reality? Even more true when the art form is improvised performance, where reality is both inescapable and transcendent. You work with what you have in front of you in the hope that it will yield something a little more vivid, more pointed, more thoughtful than whatever it is that passes for daily reality. That what transpires will pierce the membranes of the bubbles we float around in, open eyes and awaken spirits. You hope you don’t fall on your face. You know it will be alright if you do. You know you will go on somehow. That something will happen. And then something else will.

* * *

Created and performed at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2002 by Jessica Dellecave (Philadelphia), Miriam Colvin (Minneapolis), Kenneth Emig and Elizabeth MacKinnon (Ottawa), Agitated Chi, Where Are You Now? was a collaborative work approximately 25 minutes in length, using a sound-score based on a computer playlist of music, live Internet sound-streaming, and e-mails read by computer.

A key part of the piece was public participation generated through an invitation for people to respond via e-mail to the question: “Where are you now?” Responses to the request came from far and wide: Halifax, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Winnipeg, Salt Lake City, Toronto, New York. People wrote fantasies, jokes, poetry, wishes, worries and everyday stuff. In doing so, they became a whole other "audience" - one who did not see the work but whose words and thoughts became an integral part of it. In this way, the project ended up involving people who would not have otherwise participated in or seen the performance.

“ I'm at my computer ... staring out my window ... wishing I was somewhere ... floating on a blue wave…”

“ I am here: a computer, a desk, a chair, an office, where are you now, I am here: a computer, a desk, a chair, an office, where are you now...”

“…I am sitting in front of a computer…”

“ Right now I am looking at a computer screen…”

“ I am sitting at my desk…”

“ Staring at the computer…”

“ I am now in my work cubicle responding to you…”

“ Physically, I am sitting in my studio at home playing on the computer…”

The enthusiastic participation we had in this project was due in part to the immediacy and simplicity of e-mail interaction. How easy, when I am already sitting at my computer, to send off a brief e-mail. How fun to think it might be used for something. But also how nice, in a way, to get to say a little something about where I am, what I am feeling, what I am thinking as I sit at my computer. Very often we are “doing” at the computer – doing some work, most likely, or playing, but in any case some form of writing, reading or typing. How often do we think about our surroundings -the textures, colours and shapes beyond our fingertips - as we interact with keyboard and screen with such focus and intensity? How do we feel inside as we tap away? The font is independent of our hands. Whether our fingers are shaky, forceful, tentative or wandering, no one will know from the shape of the letters on the screen. It is words alone that carry our thoughts, through complex networks over space and time. Breaking up and re-configuring. Flying at speed. Waiting to be delivered.

* * *

“I can hear the creak of the rusty blue metal beach chairs as the waves try to topple them too. I can't be toppled, but am enjoying the sensation of being seduced to do so by the waves….”

I dive onto one of my partners who accepts my weight completely and we are moving, rolling, flying, fully committed to the action between us and to what is happening now. We are aware of the audience watching, reading our movement, interpreting the gestures into a kind of meaning.

Then, as instantly as it happened, the moment is over. I am alone, moving towards the laptop on the table upstage. Breathing fast. Shifting gears. Shifting keys.

shift

“Technology has made me a slave to a chair,

Surrounded by the technology that isolates us.”

“stacked up over penatanguishene and waiting to come in

stacked up over inuvik and waiting to come in

stacked up over wanuskewin (wanuskaywin)

stacked up over vladivostok

stacked up over Helsinki

stacked up over upsaala

stacked up over Reykjavik

stacked up over goose bay and waiting to come in.”

“Off-balance in Minneapolis.”

“Trapped somewhere between happiness and sheer boredom.”


I am now standing behind the table, in front of the computer. Slow down my breathing. Adjust my eyes from the black space of the theatre to focus on screen, cursor and words. Still my hands enough to use the touchpad. Delicate, detailed movement. Wrist, finger and thumb. Slow down. Gently. What I do in this moment will literally change the world we’re in right now, altering the shape of things irrevocably, changing the path of the event. Everything is highly sensitive: the touchpad, the soundscape, my partners, my body, my mind. Any decision I make cannot be taken back, or re-evaluated after the fact. Like pushing the “send” button on a message I’ve drafted a hundred times in my head, the choice I make now is one I have to live with.

Where am I now?

I am in a warehouse that has been converted into a performance space so convincing that you almost forget it isn’t a real theatre. The light keeps changing as the technician plays along with us, framing the action and also making spaces for us to work in, giving us ideas to play with. Here comes the disco-ball. Ah, now what can you do with a disco-ball and “Moonlight Serenade”? An interesting question…

A smile and a wave connect me across space to someone on the other side of the stage. I feel like a queen. One dancer takes another into an embrace that dissolves into a wrestling match, then resolves into a romantic pose.

There are about forty people in the audience. It’s hard to tell exactly, spread out as they are at cabaret-style tables and a few rows of seats at the back.

I am in Philadelphia, and nobody in the audience knows me. This is more fun than I anticipated. I love the freedom of being just another performer in this festival, with no identity in this city, and no obligations beyond showing up and doing my bit. I am amazed at how easy it has been to step off a plane and create a dance piece with three other people, two of whom I met only once over a year ago. Arriving on Tuesday night and doing the first show on Friday afternoon. Focus, commitment, and listening, above all. Figuring out what is possible, and what is desirable. Deciding what should be left for another time and what simply isn’t all that interesting, or funny, after all. Humour, humility and trust.

“You have to trust somehow that this place, this room, this person, this thought, this caress will be home for a while.”

“I am here now. Then, I wasn't where I am now. Now I am not

where I was, then. To be here now is not to be there then, nor to be somewhere else later. If I try to be there now then I lose now.

To lose now, is to be nowhere. Ro if I am here now, then that is

where I am now. I am in now, for now.”


I am slowly making my way downstage, watching as two dancers locked in a duet exchange glances filled with – what? anger? mistrust? longing? They move fast: kicking, lunging, leaping, diving. Another dancer does a solo, her long limbs all organized, articulate, echoing the movement she sees. My path describes a half-circle and a diagonal cut, framing the others, marking a perimeter. I come very close to the edge, my toes curling over the lip of the stage.

Shift.

We suddenly hear a loud punk rock song. One dancer catches the rhythm and begins dancing crazily, burning up the floor. Another just stands there, her expression bored, then flops to the ground. I feel myself react, and before I know it I am running circles in space, soon followed by another dancer who feeds my speed. As we run neither of us knows who will change direction first, or stop cold, or leap backwards suddenly, hoping to be caught. Where am I now?

* * *

Now I am sitting at my computer, two months later, recovering from pneumonia and an injured toe, thinking about it all, cooking up some proposals that might see the four of us making dances together again. Trying to breathe. Trying to write. Trying to remember.

“ you are now where you are standing

firmly on two feet

you are now where you are flying

with two arms outstretched

you are now where you are falling

one leg after another

you are now where you are looking

with wide open eyes

you are now where you are thinking

that you know where you are

you are now where you are feeling

you should know where you are

you are now where you are sensing

that you don't know where you are

Elizabeth MacKinnon


Agitated Chi, Where Are You Now?. A collaborative work, created and performed at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2002 by Jessica Dellecave (Philadelphia), Miriam Colvin (Minneapolis), Kenneth Emig and Elizabeth MacKinnon (Ottawa).