On Sunday the 9 September Mathilde improvisation collective performed for the second time at Colourscape in Rotherham. Colourscape is a giant inflated plastic structure in a variety of colours. You walk through the translucent interconnected chambers experiencing the different sensations and impressions the colours give you. One colour will make you feel energised and overwhelmed another will make you calm and mellow.
The round and soft architecture of the space means there are no corners and no edges which adds to this 'spacy' kind of sensation. The lack of contour means it's difficult to stay focused and orientate yourself and so getting lost is quite common. You simply have to give in to the space and allow the sensations you experience to guide you. Colourscape mainly attracts the under 10-year-old's but it seems also to be an excuse for adults to become playful and childlike. The atmosphere for sure is one of excitement and awe -at least initially- followed by tranquility and calm as the body and mind becomes more acquainted with the surroundings.
My Colourscape experience
At one end of the construction was a slightly larger dome-like chamber in white. It felt like the heart of the structure with more space for movement and a central point where the artists would come together. This was the area where the musicians set up instruments -some with amplification. Apart from this space there was no stage, no lights. The only thing that distinguished Mathilde from the audience members were the costumes. The audience wore coloured cloaks, we wore white.
In a collective you perform together, with the support, encouragement and safety of being in a group. Even if you have a solo moment, your fellow improvisers hold the space for you. In Colourscape, wandering away from the white dome chamber in to the crowds, the boundary between performer and audience becomes gradually more fluid. The absence of the physical boundary that a stage area provides means that physical proximity to the audience changes. Who is performing and who is not becomes blurry. One minute I'm one of the visitors and the next I become part of the installation that is the structure, as I morph in to my 'mover' role. This grey zone or 'no-man's-land' in which the performer is oscilating between her performer and spectator role is challenging for the audience. They have to allow this to happen.
Thankfully breaking in to spontaneous dancing will be met with less bewilderment in this setting, than if you were doing it walking down the street. In Colourscape the environment lends a lot to you as everything is warped already.
Rachel pointed out afterwards how our first improvisation in the space (a score where one improviser explores movement with their eyes closed while another is witnessing and 'minding' them) gave her an opportunity to mediate between performer and audience. In her role as witness she was holding space for the performer and at the same time connecting with the audience as a non-performer.
It is interesting how I found myself shying away from these solo moments. I found myself hesitating to go and explore movement on my own. I'm sure this had something to do with the fear of firsthand confrontation with the audience and how vulnerable this makes me feel. When there are no physical separation between improviser and spectator a solo performance can become very intimate and honest. For both audience and improviser.
I love these sort of challenges though and will be looking forward to more of them. It's so wonderful to have these opportunities with the Mathilde collective and to be confronted with obstacles. Improvisation for me is about adapting to the environment rather than squeezing a set performance in to a mould.
I have noticed that the trepidation of the solo performance phenomena seems to be less prominent with musicians. They seem to be less anxious about playing solo. This could be for many reasons. Based on my reasoning above one implication could be this: With an instrument, regardless of its size, you have a 'friend' -a prop- to lean on. It is the sound and movement of your instrument that takes focus hence the person playing the instrument moves to the background. You're never really alone! You can put the instrument in front of yourself as you please. Dancers/movers have nothing to hide behind.
This is partly why I enjoy it when the musicians put their instruments away in a Mathilde performance. Its like they put their shield down.
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