‘A spur to the imagination’ (colinsimonandi.com/blog)
A spur digs into flesh, draws a little blood, it’s just enough pain to galvanise.
∞ this is the symbol for infinity, and in Colin, Simon & I: Because We Care, the performers often return to making this shape, they are linked through hands, arms twisted across bodies, one front and one back, black skin against white skin, (Simon is actually more pink than white, but you know what I mean).
Simon and Colin/Colin and Simon, they are together, they sometimes do the same thing, but they are not the same. The image of linked hands and arms might suggest the continuous flow of energy, but as the work twists, unravels and ultimately gets more knotted, the form accumulates other meanings and it feels more like a state of stasis. This interruption of flow is important in considering the performance, it’s the thing that, in a work that is full of disturbing images, perhaps challenges us as an audience most.
Colin is standing on Simon’s chest, then on his stomach, he is bouncing/Simon is letting Colin stand on his chest and then bounce on his stomach/Colin is allowing Simon to allow him to stand on his chest and then bounce on his stomach.
The thing is though, this is Colin and Simon and me and I know them a bit, half way through the show, my strongest response is to wish that they would stop the game, because while I know that they know what they are doing physically, I don’t want Simon to get hurt and I wish Colin would stop playing the bad guy. There is no quarter here (to use a sporting metaphor), there’s a kind of recess where they share a bottle of wine, later they cheekily suggest they might break out into dance and go ‘the full Troy Games’ (as I believe it’s known in the dance equivalent of the locker room) but, there is always an undercurrent of tension. I know that their relationship won’t alter, there won’t be resolution in a switching of roles; this isn’t how the performance of bullying and abuse works. This is not the kind of show where we’ll feel that a manly fight or a manly fuck sorts it out, and they’ll walk away together (or apart) with their heads held high in a manly way. I described the work to a friend and he suggested that perhaps there was a homoerotic element to the work, I didn’t see that at all, I don’t’ believe that when two men fight they really want to fuck: I think they want to fight.
As the performance progresses Colin and Simon enact scenes that end in more extreme humiliations (Simon’s), the result of what could be described in wrestling as a successful submission strategy. For example Colin spits the word ‘boy’ in Simon’s face, they play master and slave, Colin acts out the aggressor and Simon his victim. This is repeated in different ways with Colin always being successful in getting Simon to submit through physical and psychological challenges and humiliations. The action is ritualistic, they sometimes look at the audience watching them, breaking the frame; its odd, jarring, they make me complicit in the action. As a result, this master-slave dialectic appears the result of an agreement on both their parts, in the play it seems that Colin pushes Simon further, but Simon acquiesces in the knowledge that Colin is compelled to push him further. Physical domination is only one way of having power over someone else.
Now of course that gets more complex because in performance could the image of Colin dominating Simon be read other than the result of a shared agreement? If a black man is standing on a white man’s chest is that speaking to a deep fear, and is this fear going to be resolved in reading that image as somehow the result of a white man granting him permission to do that? If this was WWE or the wrestling that Barthes speaks about in The World of Wrestling (1993:15), the function of Colin and Simon’s performance is the play in a ‘safe space’ of the drama of black versus white, with the black man as an aggressor and the white man as a victim. So to a great extent with Colin and Simon and I….we, the white liberal audience get the chance to also do a spot of wrestling. To this I would add that the wrestling they are doing is not pure WWE, it seems more like classical wrestling and their schoolboy linen shorts and shirts suggest a uniform, maybe the programming for this kind of relationship between men happens early on.
The performance of Colin and Simon and I that I saw at The Place was the diametric opposite of the smooth chains of virtuosic, aestheticized violence that we have become used to seeing in recent choreographic work in that explores a seam of violence in relationships between men. Where Hofesh Schecter has presented a sustained enquiry around identities and is developing a theatrical vocabulary for doing so, he has been the inspiration for a sub-genre that celebrates only the surface values of his work. This sub-genre features relentless ‘metal’ soundscapes and a fast-moving movement vocabulary informed by martial arts and contact improvisation techniques. Here, no one gets hurt, the body is impermeable and the violence alluded to is presented as spectacle in a vague cultural context of ‘male relationships’. Another key feature of this work is a structure that goes on without a break. Unlike athletes, dancers, and particularly male dancers, are not permitted to show the effects of exertion; even in 2012, its all still supposed to look effortless. This flow of action creates a space that offers a safe distance between the audience and the dancers; and a safe distance between the bodies that are hurled against each other, the body’s momentum absorbs the impacts through speed. Dancers don’t really touch and audiences don’t really feel, the paradox of work that deals with weight being shifted and thrown is that no-one ever really gives in.
Colin and Simon and I with its stops and gaps, its pauses and stilled moments, produces a space that is an arena of awkwardness and vulnerability, violence and frailty. From caresses that play out like dares, (but not a dare that will end in a kiss) to the grappling of wrestling that leaves skin marked and both men breathless; Colin and Simon are often not quite in control over their bodies. In this paradigm we see the effects of gravity, the surrender to the other that is not aestheticized; its clumsy and painful, there is no momentum to smooth out the edges. The risk and daring isn’t happening because they are flying through the air at each other, but precisely because they are not; and what is interesting of course is that this is a choice; both are highly accomplished dance artists and this makes their decision to resist virtuosity more subversive. Perhaps in stopping ‘the flow’ Colin and Simon reveal something beautiful, ridiculous, troubling, unresolved, between themselves and in our relationship to them. Here, there is a space to be unsure, to look again, to think, perhaps to intervene, to be conscious and aware of our responses and our responsibility. As an audience this is what we’re often missing out on; this I think is what they care about, and so should we.
Barthes,R (1993) Mythologies, Vintage, London
Blackman, M (2006) Noughts and Crosses, Corgi: London
Suture (1993) (Dir.Scott McGehee and David Seigel ): Kino Korsakoff