It starts—a man shuffles on stage, his head tilts down so we see his knit cap. He kneels, then flips onto his back, nudging his head under a camera attached to a ladder. A monitor shows his face now, a man in his early thirties. There’s a brief silence as he swallows to relax his throat, and he welcomes us. There will be three exercises: the first on weight and movement; the second on speed and movement; the third on angles and movement. With each title, he raises the appropriate number of fingers, then unbuttons the pocket on his cargo trousers.
Exercise 001. Nuts and bolts rattle out and he stretches his body to flatten the arc of his back. A man enters with a rucksack, shoulders down. He takes off his shoes, dark grey socks lightly test his body. Another gulp of anticipation in chorus with others in the audience. And quickly, he’s on, one foot awfully close to the first man’s neck, and the other close to the groin. There’s a moment where they re-balance, feet brought into the abdomen. A bolt is thrown towards a snare drum to the right of the performers, it misses, another bolt is thrown. It hits, and everything goes dark. Tapping of feet accompanies the squirms made by the two on stage. A flash, everything’s illuminated for not even a second, followed by the rolling of film. More darkness. A sneeze, and the light comes back, we catch another man returning to a torn cardboard hut at the back of the space. The rucksack is emptied of books and tossed, another performer brushes it to the side as he enters. A nut hits the drum and darkness again. Flashes picture the agony, each time a slight delay is caught by livefeed from the monitor. A sneeze, then lights back on. The new performer holds a cement block. He dips his toe against the torso on the floor, feels for a spot. Another communal gulp, and he mounts. The balancing is much harder this time. Against the knit cap, a face gets redder, wetter, breathes faster. They struggle to hold a static position, and the fist unravels to a hand, throwing a bolt over at the drum. It misses again, and again. We’re with him, there’s release when that light goes off. Finally it hits. One final photo, struggled noise, a sneeze, then light. The group slide painfully together towards the hut. The two men crouch, as all three, the books and the cement block squeeze through the tiny door.
Exercise 002. Twenty metres of cardboard is rolled out to the longest dimension of the room. At one end, an elasticated catapult. On the other, three performers take tiny steps towards it, sixty seconds equal to one metre. A fourth performer makes their way to the catapult. Positions themselves with a plastic bag of oranges, leans forward to grip the slack elastic, placing the orange in the tension. And takes aim. Elastic taught, shuddering; the counting wobbles. 56, 57 the pitch goes up, 58, trembling inaudible, 59, and a pounding whack as the orange punches air, misses and slams the tarpaulin behind. Sighs. The counting stabilises and resets to: 1, 2, 3, 4. Our marksman dismounts, heads back to the firing line, meeting the first in line as they swap positions. Again: 56, 57, 58, 59, shuddering 60. At seven metres of measured tension, there’s an almighty thump and wail as the orange strikes one of the performer’s thighs. It repeats again and again, always punctuated by the rise in pitch, the wincing, the relief or the agony. The room smells like orange flesh mess as we cower behind bubble-wrap.
Exercise 003. A pile of timber is dropped and an alarm set for thirty minutes. A performer blows through a wooden flute, instrument grasped with one hand. Very basic notes pass through. One of us is asked to stand opposite; and then a piece of timber is held by the pressure from her hip and the flautist’s thigh. Another audience member is chosen, a length assigned and a pose maintained. Everyone is part of the network, poses becoming more exaggerated and painful as the timer counts down. Occasionally, timber falls and everyone’s eyes dart to the noise. There’s disdain for those responsible. I share six lengths with others, with the back of my knee, inside of my wrist, nape of my neck, palm of my left hand, my forehead. The one from my belly button extends to the flautist’s convulsing stomach, as he sweats to push tones through the flute. My gaze runs away from the pain, catching other rapid eye movements as we imagine how long until we can release.
Choreography Concept for Untrained Amateurs 001-003, is a work written by performance group, contact Gonzo. The piece is a set of instructions performed by the group at BUoY, Tokyo, on October 28th and 29th, 2017.
Gordon Douglas works in close conversation with organisations and groups towards deconstructing the acts of collaboration and performance. He is a performance artist and curator currently based in Glasgow.