Jacky Lansley ABOUT US
Jacky Lansley is an acclaimed choreographer, artist and writer. Here she writes about her performance work ABOUT US which will be performed at Modern Art Oxford on 19 February. Book your tickets now.
The episodic structure of my performance work ABOUT US has developed slowly over 3 years and explores a collage of personal stories the performers brought to the studio to share. These stories, while unique to the individual artists involved, foreground the everyday choices we all make around loss, joy, anger, pleasure, fear; choices which may feel ‘free’ but are in fact often determined by our personal histories, the economic system and by societal expectations. As a team we are asking how these experiences (not all painful and melancholy) might resonate with audience members because of the way they reflect contemporary life in the UK.
I have always been interested to develop dance that was beyond the theatre and explore a conceptual clarity that does not deny the emotional embodiment of the performer/dancer. Structurally I work with fragments, interruptions and episodes, which I can move around, repeat and change, like portable art objects. These choreographic strategies can be seen as something separate from the performer – who of course is not a portable art object. Indeed the variations and vulnerability of live performance can seem to place the artistic intention more with the performer, who is empowered to improvise and respond to the idiosyncrasies of the live event.
In ABOUT US the performers sometimes work with objects and clothes – yet we stay away from the terms props and costumes and the idea that these materials are subsidiary to the primary language of the work; in our work a hat, coat, microphone or chair is part of the form and a conveyer of meaning. We filmed Esther Huss in the lane behind my studio, ‘wearing’ a simple wooden chair, which seems to provide a home. We reflected on how the chair, if covered, could in fact provide shelter for someone actually living on the street. The technique of the dancer and cricketer Fergus Early’s spin bowling is enjoyed and scrutinised on film by a woman in a perky fascinator hat. Both women and men wear this same hat at different moments throughout the performance, playfully deconstructing gender stereotypes and asking questions about performance and perspective.
In 1977 I collaborated with the artists Sally Potter and Rose English on a performance project titled Mounting which was commissioned by Modern Art Oxford (then Museum of Modern Art Oxford). The surface form of ABOUT US may seem very different from Mounting – more ‘choreographic’ – however, many of the same performance strategies are there: playing with a juxtaposition of visual and theatrical languages, drawing on ‘high’ and ‘popular’ forms, deconstruction of archetypes and intimate dialogue with audiences. In my recent book ‘Choreographies’ I say of Mounting “… the audience was invited to share in the process of making performance, which at times felt very uncomfortable. Their attention was used to create energy and effect, they were in the ‘spotlight’ – we explored their presence in relation to the woman performer.” * I find it interesting and somehow affirming that, after all these years, I am still working with the same intentions.
The artist Penny Woolcock was in the audience of the performance event Mounting in 1977 and it seems such a serendipitous and wonderful opportunity to be presenting work at the gallery again, within the context of her exhibition Fantastic Cities at Modern Art Oxford, 40 years on!
*From Choreographies: Tracing the Materials of an Ephemeral Art Form by Jacky Lansley [Intellect Books, 2017].