The weave of performance

At an early stage of my study I reflected upon Maypole dancing as a potential dramaturgical model. There is a caller. A person responsible for announcing the dance and for giving instructions such as left, right, up, down, in, out. There is a musician. Someone offering rhythm to proceedings and underscoring the movement, even soundtracking the bows dancers make to each other. There is a structure, a protocol, each dance begins and ends with a bow to your neighbour and a bow to the pole in the centre of the circle. Let us consider this the curtain up and down. Let us consider the caller the director. Let us consider the dancers as performers. Let us consider the ribbon they hold not just as a material object within the performance space but also as a visible trace of their presence. As they go up or down, right or left, in or out, the ribbon that follows them on this journey is interweaved with other ribbons and other journeys on its route and inscribes this journey upon the pole when the dance reaches its end. This is a dance of weaving in motion.

As the dancers move around the maypole we see both the journey they make as they walk but also the trace of their journey on the pole as their coloured ribbon is wound around its adjacent ribbons and the pole itself until they are closer to the centre of the circle and then start to retrace their route back to the outside. This process of ravelling and unravelling, winding and wounding, is cited by David Williams as a metaphor for the process of devising and therefore the role of a dramaturg in the devising process. It echoes Barba’s analogy of dramaturgy as the ‘weave of performance and the process of weaving.’ (Barba 1985: 75). Pearson and Shanks describe performance in terms of sound, in terms of tracks being played at different amplitude. Each ribbon represents a different band of tape on an analogue recording device (Pearson and Shanks 2001).

Beddie and MacDonald talk of the delicate thread of performance as an organic or fabric weave. In this case, the ribbons are (un)weaved, un(wound), (un)assembled and (un)ravelled. The maypole acts as a metaphor for the construction and deconstruction of the work by a dramaturg. We could take this reading further and say the pole is wounded, scarred by ribbons in a colourful, ritual dance of scarification. Performers nod to the pole at the beginning to mark the start of the process and the act of weaving the ribbons together (process) is secondary to the subsequent weave of ribbons on the pole (product). The threading of ribbon is analogous to the way in which theatrical material is found and composed and the resulting fabric mesh is the performance itself made manifest through the motion of dancers. We might read the pole in order to attempt to understand the process. This is not always easy. As Wood and Kinloch describe in Dramaturgy: A User’s Guide; ‘When the director starts to look at the pace which is dictated by the time available, their need may be for the presence of an outside eye on the process, for which they may look to the dramaturg. The dramaturg may find this frustrating and be left floundering, still trying to discover the route by which the company has arrived at the current place’ (Wood and Kinloch 1999, 19).

Perhaps we could give each ribbon colour a name, a quality we might find in a performance e.g. text, music, light, movement. At the end of each dance we might find that one colour is more prominent than another, that the process generated a physical piece, or a text piece. We could acknowledge this process of weaving as a way in which a dramaturg might identify these strands in their discussion of the work and then perhaps we might approach a visualisation of the work through analogy that would yield interesting further study; a model of dramaturgy based on Barba’s ‘weaving’ and William’s ‘(un)ravelling’, the dramaturg as a reader of the weave of performance. The dramaturg as a maker of a meaning, through the dance of composition. This metaphor serves to illustrate how a dramaturg might be more active in the process than a literary model suggests, and is ‘doing dramaturgy’ as well as simply, ‘being a dramaturg’, it is no longer a passive, spectatorial role but an active, participatory role. He is the weaver as well as the reader of the weave.

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