Jeanine Durning’s “inging” & “To Being”

Julian and Jeanine. To Being at Judson Church, May 2015. Photo: Ian Douglas

Julian Barnett and Jeanine Durning. To Being at Judson Church, May 2015. Photo by Ian Douglas.

“I’m gonna show you my soul, there, the sole of my foot,” she says.

“…she says, as she faces her frontal plane towards your sagittal plane,” she says.

“I mean, Judson has left the building, right? Did I just say that?” she says.

I must be paraphrasing.

Jeanine Durning doesn’t weight any phrase more than any other in inging, and I wasn’t taking notes. (I am adamant that a person should not take notes during performance.) Rather, her stream-of-consciousness quite literally streams. We are riding the rapids.

In inging, Durning speaks, without stopping, without script, for roughly 30 minutes.

I first caught wind of inging, “part-spoken word performance, part reverie, part dance, part oral biography, part meditation and psychotherapy”, when Durning performed the work as part of American Realness in 2013. What caught my interest was the title.

inging; A more delightfully succinct description I can’t imagine. The language-based suffix that describes being “in the process of”, being the process itself. The word-equivalent of a Möbius strip.

inging is one of two works Durning presented at the Chocolate Factory Theatre, the other being To Being.

Both pieces are practices of “nonstopping”; inging with speaking, To Being with movement. That phrase – “nonstop” – is specifically pointed to in the program notes; ‘as opposed to continuous, [which] implies “going with the flow”, nonstop points to the critical nature of what it takes to keep going in the midst of, and despite, questions, doubts, limitations, and of course, inevitable failures.’

Molly Poerstel in “To Being,” Photo by Alex Escalante

Molly Poerstel. To Being. Photo by Alex Escalante.

I enter the Chocolate Factory to finally witness inging, unashamedly excited about it. I choose, from the chairs that are scattered spaciously around the room, one positioned directly opposite the desk from which Durning will hold court, complete with scribbled-in notebooks, neatly stacked reference books, a camera to record herself, and her MacBook Pro. Projected behind this desk are three videos of Durning speaking to camera, past incarnations of what we are about to see live.

Durning, dressed in black blazer over comfortable clothes, not at all confined to this desk, walks around the room making sure to greet everyone personally, to thank them for being here.

I’m midway through some small talk when she begins, catching me off-guard.

“I used to take the fact that we’re all here together for granted. I don’t anymore,” she says.

I turn in my chair and face her. We, her audience, are all visible, implicated in her action. I am acutely aware of my physicality, how I choose to sit, arms and legs folded and crossed or open to her.

When I think of stream-of-consciousness, I imagine garbled nonsense, imagery, irrational emotions; an unleashed subconscious. What surprised me most about Durning’s performance was how cogently she crafted her monologue in real time. She makes sense. She follows trains of thought towards emphatic points-of-view. She even skilfully returns to finish narratives that she’d abandoned midway fifteen minutes before.

Her subconscious is not some elemental place of essence. She invokes history. She quotes (and misquotes) Shakespeare, Peggy Lee, Eminem. She is a vessel for all of this performative language, grabbed from anywhere and everywhere.

She picks up the top book on her pile, a work of Beckett’s, “Beckett, the capital B, it stops, but now it looks kind of like an infinity loop, it keeps going, it keeps going,” she says.

These snippets of remembered language fall flatter here in writing; with me sitting here typing after the fact, and you reading it now even later. For one, they’re isolated, compared to the endless train-of-thought from which they emerged in performance. But also, they’re secondary to the act of saying them, to the inging.

There is some invisible force permeating from Durning, an energy of generosity and urgency. She is “on the brink”. A woman under the influence.

“That person who you could’ve been is gone now, that potential is gone, you can’t go back,” she says, her voice breaking, overcome with emotion. Something in that sentence catches up with her, and her emotion is palpably real.

It is her, more than anything that she says, that keeps me leaning in, drawn towards her, hanging on her every disposable word. She looks directly at me, and I show her how I’m listening. The exchange has nothing to do with language.

“Is that all there is? I mean if that’s all there is, then let’s break out the booze and have a ball. I mean, let’s keep dancing,” she says.

Photo by Alex Escalante

Photo by Alex Escalante

The playful clarity in the title inging shifts to something more familiar-looking yet less immediate with the title To Being, which could also stand as the distinction between the works themselves.

Much as the language streams in inging, the movement in To Being races past as a collection of fractured impulses, fraught expressions, heavy breaths, effortful heavings and more than a few high-kicks.

Chairs form a staggered circle, strategically unordered much as in inging, all facing in towards a central performance space. The three performers, Durning with Julian Barnett and Molly Poerstel, dressed in sweat clothes and sneakers, greet people as they enter. They leave the space completely and we sit in silence, waiting for a beginning.

The sound of their bodies comes first, a charge of running footfalls and slapping flesh. The performers have started in the entrance foyer and make their way down the corridor, emerging back into the space, already in full “nonstop”.

Is it important that I describe what this movement is? It is specific, not anything is possible within this improvised movement language. But the shape of it, the forms it takes, the histories of movement such as Poerstel’s throw-away balletic turns and jumps. Is that the best way to see this work? Is that even what this group worked on? Did they observe each other and arrive through conscious process at this specific language, or is their movement a less conscious product of a single directive; just keep going, and going hard?

I watch the dancer’s faces; Durning’s cheeks flushed red, Barnett’s expression a kind of conscious confusion. I imagine something like white-noise in thier minds as they become overwhelmed by their need to push on, language-less. And in a sense, their actions become dumb. Free of rationality, Durning climbs halfway out a window, Poerstel jumps on a wall-mounted heater, Barnett bangs a fire extinguisher around. A friend put it like this after the show: “like watching monkeys on coffee.” Their dance appears to obliterate thought.

Deborah Hay, who Durning has worked with on and off since 2005, has many succinct catch-phrasey cues to make mindful the presentness in improvisation, one being “here and gone, here and gone.” The “here” is importantly emphasized, as Hay explains, so that the fullness of the present is given more attention than the melancholy of its immediate passing. In the case of To Being, it might read more like “hereandgonehereandgonehereandgone”, the performers racing towards the next moment without allowing themselves any luxury in the present.

What is interesting here is that maybe the nonstop of thought and language is essentially more maintainable than a non-stopping body. The materiality of the body has, in the case of To Being, produced an incidentally more traditional arch, whereby after roughly an hour of moving the performers must necessarily wind-down and stop. And instead of resisting this inevitability, the performers succumb to the catharsis of this slowdown, high on adrenaline and exhaustion, beaming at the audience, again thanking them for being here, hugging some, kissing others.

It was earnestly genuine – Poerstel cried the night I watched. My mind was still flustered by a million movements. My “questions, doubts, limitations” not stopping, despite the inevitability of this conclusive moment. I had not reached the same exultant place as these three performers. And as Barnett looked at me to thank me for being there, what choice did I have but to arrange myself in reflection of his glowing appreciation, no matter what my experience had been?

In inging, once Durning had announced the end to her 30-minute monologue by screaming “END” repeatedly, she looked at us all in silence, her expression complex with relief, disappointment, expectation, satisfaction. She saw us all, and we saw her, and there was no necessary shared understanding of what this silent place between us meant.

Performance of inging in Sounded Bodies Festival, Zagreb, Croatia, October 2014.

Jeanine During. inging. Sounded Bodies Festival, Zagreb, Croatia, October 2014.

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