photo: Raphael Dao

Within the frame of the Festival for Contemporary Dance and Performance Antistatic 2015 in Sofia (Bulgaria) the latest work of Laurie Young How is Now was presented. Laurie Young is a Berlin based Canadian choreographer and performer. She has been a long time member of the Sasha Waltz & guests company and has enjoyed working with Hanna Hegenscheidt, Nasser Martin Gousset, Meg Stuart, Eszter Salamon, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller among others. How is Now explores the diverse ways of experiencing time and the affect these different experiences produce on our body perceptions. Ani Vaseva writes about the performance.    

 In the introductory episode of Laurie Young’s How Is Now (performance, that I had the chance to see at Antistatic Festival this May) the fragile but strong figure of Young looks minute next to the gigantic musician Johannes Malfatti – an estrangement of the visible, which will have special significance later. The two of them start the piece with bringing in and assembling the drum kit, talking about its history, about how they started working together on the performance. In the process Young lists the duration of everyday activities (showering, vacuuming, brushing teeth etc.), that she has been keeping a log of for some time,  biological processes (hair and fingernail growth etc.) and physics phenomena. She also times one minute with her phone. From the text and the way it is delivered we understand that details are important – colours, shapes, sounds, dates, and of course – durations. The fragment ends with the observation that everything is taking more time “recently” for her. Then she stands still, Malfatti counts few beats with his drumsticks and the light is off.


After short and sharp darkness part of the episode is repeated and we retroactively read its structure, clearly realizing that what at first seemed as badly acted naiveté and clumsy attempt for “spontaneity” and improvisation is in fact clever and carefully elaborated part of complex scheme. We also notice the first little discrepancy – the times, needed for the everyday actions Young lists, are longer in the second “round”. Also the ending is set slightly further – Young stands still, Malfatti counts few beats with his drumsticks, but this time Young succeeds to make few steps before the light is off.


From this point on, part(s) of this initial episode will be repeated numerous times, slit by blackouts; the episode is restarted from different stages, reversed, intensified, rearranged; it disintegrates, deforms, twists, gets stuck, sneaks, jump-scares, lies. Only part of it emerges. Segments of a movement. Or altered version of the text. In the sudden darkness Laurie Young dashes and changes her pose and position in space absolutely silently. The motion is cut down to its basics or transformed in editing-like sequence where the steps Young takes are the same but her gaze moves a little bit with every repetition in an eadweardmuybridgesque revealing linearity; dyssynchrony between sound and motion starts sneaking in, it looks like the performers are captured in an ever expanding from inside, imploding moment.

photo: Raphael Dao


 As in a horror movie after short darkness Young’s frozen figure appears in unexpected closeness to the audience, staring at the spectators and then submerges in darkness again. For seconds scary faceless figure appears. In the flashes of light monstrous forms emerge – unrecognizable images that frighten and attract in the same time. Moments with surprisingly yellow and dramatic lighting (unlike the usual flat, cold lighting of the piece), with stronger noise levels and uncanny movement quality reveal completely alien counter realm, containing the creepy doubles of everyday actions.


The momentous blackouts become longer and longer, realities start crumbling, bleeding in one another, the drumming sound mixes with rumbling and unidentified noises. The undistinguishable actions, blurring the lines of humans and objects, interchange with highly structured fragments. Time lapse and linear chronology dissipate and reality’s internal matter flashes, wreaking havoc. A wound is opened in time’s flesh and in its gaping mouth we could see the secret life of the world. That’s the lost kingdom where the unproductive double of life lives, all the untaken steps, all the unfinished thoughts, all the blocked desires, simply missed details, or, more likely – the unfulfilled potentiality of time and reality.


At the end once again the “pure” moment from the beginning is repeated, but this time it is saturated with the history of its forceful disintegration and deformation, in which a secret of time is revealed – one short moment is short just because we perceive it as such, but it contains layers and layers of accumulated other times, developing simultaneously and condensed to such an extent that they become invisible, though a slowing down of the film reel, a clever editing could expose them. One of the reasons the performance is so uncanny is that it accomplishes in real life a secret dream many of us have – to be able to stop the time, to freeze a moment, stretch it, walk freely inside it, looking at the stopped surroundings. How Is Now is not just captivated in few minutes, repeated over and over again, but it also gives the performer the opportunity to move inside the stopped time, to explore it and to check the elasticity of it’s boundaries.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                plaurie younghoto: Guntar Kravis

The performance works much more with image in relation to stillness, with what could be found in the gaps of time, than with movement, developed in a coherent time flow. So, this is kind of video, or photographic dance machinery – “stealing” the still frame from the moving images, manipulating the way we perceive the image. A work closer to the line of visual artists like Tacita Dean, who treat image in its relation to time, and not so much pertaining to the common field of those choreographers who use movement and body as their main tool, object and interest. And yet this is a choreographical investigation per se, as it questions one of the main choreographical figures – how to draw with dance, how to make picture in/of time by reorganizing and deconstructing human presence on stage. The strange paradox of the photographic image is that even if it isn’t “documentary”, if it is “art”, it is still always “documentary” – it captures, transforms and creates with new material a valid reality. In the same time it splits reality, it creates new, not supposed by the “natural order” double, cheat pocket in the fabric of time and space. How Is Now succeeds in creating similar game of illusion and reality. By cutting the image in separate frames, by showing the (infinite) sequence of alternate recordings of the same action it plugs the already complicated machinery of memory and floods its systems. The passivity of photographic image, capturing certain life image is rendered aggressive, by its subjective framing, even (conscious or not) manipulation, as states Susan Sontag. Laurie Young seems at first the subject who manipulates for our pleasure and amusement time and motion. But with the course of the performance it appears that she, just like the audience, is captive in the tangled web of overlapping time-flows. The violence, if we continue in Sontag’s line, of taking the image, is in this case inflicted to us and in the same time self inflicted on the choreographer, as the lens is initially the eye (and mind) of the artist, creating and re-creating the images, and then it is the eyes of the viewers who are exposed to the victim-offender dancer.  

 Captured image is deeply connected with the feeling of anxiety – it unlocks the fear of the impossibility to connect with reality which is in front of our eyes, both document for past times and something with life of its own in the present moment. How Is Now is anxious in very similar way – the deformation of the initial episode presents simultaneously old and new forms, the tangible confusing feeling of not being able to tell if this is now, before, neither or both. And that is why the monstrous figures, appearing in the slits between the more “believable” versions of the main moment, are so credible and downright scary – because they are not just imagination whim, they are intrinsic part of what has happened the first time we saw the episode, but we just weren’t able to perceive them. Just like the mythological 25th frame.


The technical precision is in the same time ability of the team and tool in the development of the action, which makes it viral logical argument with extreme emotional strength. That would be the technical precision not only of Laurie Young’s performance (and performance structure), and Johannes Malfatti’s sound design and live drum performance, but also the super complicated, virtuoso light construction of Mark Howett, the controlled down to the microsecond apparitions/disappearances.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


 Ani Vaseva




COMPOSITION Johannes Malfatti




LIGHT Mark Howett


COSTUMES Mody Al Khufash


COMPANY MANAGEMENT M.i.C.A. – Movement in Contemporary Art

The article is published within the rubric “The Independent Scene on Focus” maintained with the support of National Culture Fund.