Tuesday 24 September 2013

Quartet for a Microphone – Centrul Naţional al Dansului

[apologies for using a (very short) self-shot YouTube clip in lieu of a “cover photo”]

The basic set-up for Vava Ștefănescu’s Quartet for a Microphone is the following: the three performers (in this case, Mihaela Dancs, Farid Fairuz and István Teglás) are locked into a specially constructed orange-framed phone box-style cabinet. The fourth member of the quartet is the musician/sound technician Vlaicu Golcea. What happens is that the three perform – in this instance – an hour or so’s worth of improvised dance/movement within the confines of the box, to a shuddery, echoing, dance-music.

As the piece progresses, the windows of the box first steam up, then condensation sets in. The performers are getting hotter and hotter. They begin to noticeably sweat – well, as noticeably as is possible through the steamed-up windows, now running with rivulets of water. Their proximity frequently forces them back against the windows, sweaty clothes rub against sopping perspex. More steam rises. More perspiration. More heat.

Watching the piece, I assumed that it had some basic level of soundtrack to which the microphone merely added, but after a while it became clear that (I think) all the music which accompanied the piece was generated within the “phone-box” and treated by Golcea – slowed down, speeded up, looped, delayed, turned into notes, beats, and layered creating at times what felt like commercially available dance music and at other times the musique concrète of, say, Stockhausen.

To an extent, the performers are aware of this, and “collaborate” with Golcea in making helpfully percussive sounds and sequences within the box, near enough to the microphones to be helpfully turned into something to which they can move. On the other hand, the beats themselves dictate to a certain extent how they move in the first place. The fact that the piece will be different every time it is performed (it has also been shown as a more durational piece in a white-box gallery space – here it is in a black-box studio space) strikes me as both immensely exciting, and also a bit sad, since I rather fell in love with this particular incarnation.

So far I’ve just kind of described what happens, and only the basics there. There is possibly/probably much to also be said about the sort of movement undertaken in the box. There’s a lot of contract – perhaps necessarily. But also threatened, implied and maybe even actual (if largely accidental) violence. That there are two men and one woman (in this performance) makes it seem about gender, even if it isn’t. That Dancs, the only woman in the box, often seems to end up lower than the men, sometimes even cowering on the floor, might seem retrograde were the piece prcisely choreographed, but apparently the only instruction is for the dancers to “be themselves, really” and “try stuff out”, then it’d be futile to read an authorial vision beyond the situation itself onto the piece. There is no narrative as such – though we might find ourselves as audience members co-authoring one – beyond ongoing bio-chemical reactions.

The climbing up into the top half of the box is just “something to do to kill the time” perhaps. Something that gets more and more difficult as the piece progresses. In this it recalls the existentialism of Camus’s Sisyphus and the time-killing of Beckett’s tramps, perhaps; albeit replayed as a violent night out clubbing in the city as suggested by the physiques of the performers and the thumping music of the microphones.

I’m not sure if I’ve really communicated yet just how great this was to watch. It was bloody brilliant. Someone get off their ass and transfer it here immediately, please. LIMF, maybe?

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