French Institute Alliance Française: “While We Were Holding It Together”.
Ivana Müller’s While We Were Holding It Together is a very still dance piece currently showing at FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française). In this work, the Croatian born choreographer has brought together a cast of five performers whose central task for the piece is to remain immobile, living sculptures posing in a tableau in the middle of an empty, black stage. The minimalistic design for the stage, combined with the stark lighting and every day wear of the performers, is meant to free the imagination of the spectator, opening up interpretation as to what these characters are actually doing. As becomes clear very early in the piece, While We Were Holding It Together centers primarily on the experience of the spectator in the theater and the process of perception involved in participating in a theatrical event. The performers seem to tell us that we, the audience members, are responsible for “holding it together”: without our contribution, there could be no performance.
For over an hour, the five performers involve the audience in a process of constant re-imagination, as they describe alternative scenarios to explain their physical condition. Seemingly caught in the stillness of their bodies, the performers speak: “I imagine we are in a forest”, “I imagine I am sick”, “I imagine we are stored into a large container”, “I imagine a family weekend”, and so on. The vignettes that ensue are at times funny, at times touching, and at one point even attempt to be erotic. Müller and her performers successfully maintain a light touch throughout what, we imagine, might otherwise be a tedious experiment. Unfortunately the humor involved in the piece is often predictable: the whole performance plays off of the endless exploration and absurd creations of the imagination, leveraging on the inexplicable stillness of the performers for contrast. This direct juxtaposition does not take many risks and openly aims at seducing the audience into collaborating with the performers: each humorous moment seeks to keep spectators from drifting away from the piece.
In the post-performance talk following Wednesday’s performance, Müller mentioned that three main questions served as the focus for the improvisation exercises that gave rise to the piece. Each performer had to ask themselves: “Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I here?” At times, it seems like those questions have been exhausted in the process of making the piece. Indeed, there is a limitless number of stories that could be tailored around the conditions of the five performers, but what next? While the solutions created for the performance are satisfying, the piece does not succeed in pushing the boundaries of a well-designed improvisation exercise.
While We Were Holding It Together is a strongly cerebral piece, not surprisingly considering Müller’s background in literature and her interest in conceptual dance. The questions addressed in the work speak directly to contemporary critical theory in the field of audience reception, making Müller’s exploration echo existing academic writing on theatre and performance. Overall, however, Müller addresses these issues with clarity, and the empathetic experience of observing the performers’ impossible attempt at stillness remains with you even after you have left the theater.
Wednesday–Friday, September 24–26, 2008 at 8pm