Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016. You can listen to the podcast on the Walker Channel.
Right at the start of our conversation, Faye Driscoll refers to Thank You For Coming: Attendance (TYFC:Attendance) as “quite a live beast.” TYFC: Attendance is the first in a series of three works by Driscoll that, according to her website, “extends the sphere of influence of performance to create a communal space where the co-emergent social moment is questioned, heightened, and palpable.” Or, as she said it more plainly to me on the phone, “I mean, I hate audience participation, so it was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna make a work that somehow does this … sneakily’.”
TYFC: Attendance has had a rich touring schedule this past year, including stops in major US cities, Croatia, and Argentina, and I was curious to hear about how the feeling between the performers and the audience shifts from location to location. As a dancer who has toured a bit, I know each audience (even in the same city) feels a bit different, but I wondered if this particular piece revealed anything particular about the places in which it was being performed. Driscoll responded “I think because we’re dealing with the sensation of co-creation with the audience so directly […] there is a very palpable difference in each community that we go to. Like when we were in Zagreb […] they went from cold … to not cold maybe? But there was a movement in every audience we’ve gone to. […] In Argentina it was like from warm to boiling hot. Like it was almost like they were just gonna start kissing the dancers as soon as they rolled into their laps.”
Like her past work, TYFC: Attendance is a demanding, multidisciplinary work. Watching a video of the performance in preparation for our conversation, I was astounded by the performers virtuosic abilities – not just dancing, but singing, acting, remembering. What they do seemed to me extremely rigorous, and somehow new. I was reminded of something Phillip Glass said talking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air; Gross plays a clip of one of Glass’ early works and then admits that she can’t even imagine what it would be like to perform one of Glass’ demanding compositions. Glass coolly responds that in order to perform his music he had to develop a new performance practice and then goes on to say “if you think about it, for any music to be really new, there probably has to be a different performance practice to go with it otherwise it wouldn’t be new. What makes it new is that you have to find a new way to play.”
In TYFC: Attendance, Driscoll is seeking out new performance practices. She elaborates, “I feel like I’m carving out and discovering new forms through the making of the thing and the more that I make things I feel that I bring lots of practices into the room.” One of the practices we talked about was what Driscoll referred to as “state work”; I thought her definition of “state work” was particularly revealing to what the incredible performers are attempting in TYFC: Attendance: “I think of it like shifting presence in the body […] it could be emotional, it could be purely the feeling of the body itself, kind of textural and tonal. It could be working with image. It could be more psychological. But it’s become a huge part of my practice because its about […] shifting the shape and changing the alchemy of the body and almost imagining we can shift the composition of our form.” In watching documentation of TYFC: Attendance, I found the performers’ adroit ability to shift and transform their performative presence fascinating. and I think it speaks directly to what Driscoll says she’s addressing in her work: “the very performativity of being and the sociality of being and how […] who we are is made by all these little interactions and all of these […] movements of self.”
If, like Driscoll, you’re skittish about audience participation, don’t fret—Driscoll assures that the piece and the performers “create an environment where we’re at once commanding and extremely gentle and extremely direct. Where there’s options at every stage and there is this sense of, even if you’ve sat there with your arms crossed the entire time, we’ve sort of wrapped you a little bit in our world.” Thank You for Coming: Attendance will be on the Walker stage, Feb. 17-21, 2016. And, lucky for us, the Walker will present parts two and three of the Thank you for Coming series over the next few years.