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If my work previously on theatre and the everyday has largely been about recovering an unwritten theatre, my more recent work on what I, perhaps unadvisably, call a ‘A Natural History of Performance’ has been considering the possibility of the ‘unaddressed’, that is the impulse to display, shared by animals and human animals. Unlike mating signals, camouflage and the current repertoire of the National Theatre, this propensity to display has no utilitarian function, and no presumed audience. My thoughts here are influenced by the writings on animal form and colour by the Swiss zoologist Adolf Portmann in the 1940s, the peripatetic phenomenology of Alphonso Lingis, and the work with children of the Italian theatre company Societas Raffaello Sanzio. This work suggests to me that, contrary to theoretical emphases of the last decade, performance might be reasserting the possibilities of the intensely visual, yet unaddressed. This is neither process nor product, but a ‘precarious performance’ that raises some vexed questions of vision and, then later in the paper, beauty, that I thought might not be out of place in a collection of this nature.

Let me start with two quotations: the first from Adolf Portmann and the second from the French novelist and writer of children's fiction, Michel Tournier.

What kind of provocation do the Radiolarians present to Michel Tournier's semiotically challenged anti-hero? Why seek a key before looking? Is it too late to watch? I too am in thrall to the intensity of the play-ground, the school-yard, its flagrant disgregard for the ameleorative justice of adults, swift retributive acts and assymetrical alliances that flare and fade, forgotten. But first there is the poetic resonance of ‘Ip, skip, sky, blue, whose it, not you!’, and keening away from the centre, by the dreadful simplicity of the last one's untouched presence, the unnamable ‘it’ is revealed. ‘You're IT!’ And in that instant ‘it’ pauses, observes and summarises the challenge, the prey to their predator, they're game. Children know the performance potential of their playmates as intimately as Venus knows Serena Williams, those who know themselves to be slower than the catcher run to all corners as fast as they can, while others who trust their superior suppleness, speed, stamina, stay close, and closer, asking for it, flaunting it, you can't catch me. To whom are these curious sights and sounds addressed?

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Performing Nature
    The essays in this volume explore the borderland between ecology and the arts. Informed by psychoanalysis and cultural materialism, contributors to the first part, 'Spectacle: Landscape and Subjectivity', look at ways in which particular social and scientific experiments, theatre and film productions and photography either reinforce or contest our ideas about nature and human-human or human-animal relations and identities. The second part, 'World: Hermeneutic Language and Social Ecology', investigates political protest, social practice art, acoustic ecology, dance theatre, family therapy and ritual in terms of social philosophy. Contributors to the third part, 'Environment: Immersiveness and Interactivity', explore architecture and sculpture, site-specific and mediatised dance and paratheatre through radical theories of urban and virtual space and time, or else phenomenological philosophy. The final part, 'Void: Death, Life and the Sublime', indicates the possibilities in dance, architecture and animal behaviour of a shift to an existential ontology in which nature has 'the capacity to perform itself'.
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