Friday, April 18, 2008

Portraits In Time

It’s night time in Soho. People pour out of doorways, drinks clasped in hands, others queue outside clubs in weather-inappropriate attire, seemingly oblivious to the cold. I make my way to the theatre on Dean Street, and climb the stairs to the second floor. There are already a few people there, though nowhere near as many as the venue holds. The house opens and we wander in, take our seats.

I have read the odd piece about John Moran, his work, the regard others have for him, but my mind has clearly filtered it into a little used corner and I am not really sure what it is I am about to see.

The stage has been decorated like a city apartment, simply furnished with a blackboard on an easel in one corner and a guitar in the other. After a while Moran stumbles on. He looks dazed, disorientated, he sits on the floor, then picks himself up and totters off again. Then Saori Tsukada, a dancer from Japan, also appears and greets everyone with an appealing smile, but seems equally vague. I felt myself wondering: what is this? What have I agreed to sit through?

There was then some business with Saori drawing ducks on a blackboard while Moran described his youthful dabbling with a Jungian cult, and as I watched these baffling, disjointed things it became apparent that there was little about what we were seeing that was left to chance, everything was carefully cued and choreographed.

Moran describes what he does as ‘portraits in time.’ What this meant in practice was loops of dialogue to which Saori lip synched and performed a series of intricate motions. Everything we were seeing was measured out in beats per minute, each individual element of audio recorded separately. The complexity takes a while to sink but when it does it is revelatory. Even so, some people in the audience seemed unsure how to respond. There was little applause at first. The audience, me included, seemed uncertain where to applaud, or indeed, if to applaud. This, said Moran, is often a result of the fact that his work with Saori is both “super casual and super formalised.” Their shows don’t fit into any familiar boxes.

A couple of people even walked out midway through the performance, and a man and his girlfriend chatted loudly throughout the first half hour before leaving, not even appearing to give it a chance. But others sat rapt, fascinated. Andy Field , who is far more knowledgeable about such things, describes Moran and his work more eloquently than I can here. I just know I am glad I saw this strange, lovingly created thing in a half-empty theatre on cold April night.

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