Zen Flesh Zen Bones
In the opening moments of his latest work, “Everything Now,” choreographer John Scott establishes the ground rules for what is to follow. A momentary flicker of form in the shape of a stance barely glimpsed quickly gives way to a richly informed informality as the world is flipped upside down. T-shirts become trousers; trousers are worn on the head. It all smacks of the Zen master who placed his shoes on his head to display enlightenment. Indeed, formless form becomes the modus operandi of “Everything Now,” a response to the dominance of media and of our relationship to it, and its impact on our relationships to each other. Like a Zen koan, “Everything Now” doesn’t always appear to make sense, yet, ultimately, it all makes sense. And when it does, it opens up new possibilities for experience and understanding.
If form is fluid throughout, structurally it’s a case of two distinct halves in “Everything Now.” Interrogations of the media very much dominate the highly theatrical opening sequences. Crossing newspapers strewn across the floor, the digital generation soon arrives with their paparazzi of iPads offering multiple perspectives on the same, often torturous, event. In what follows, references are initially obvious. A sequence in which a cacophony of voices read from newspapers highlights the media’s overwhelming white noise consuming us all. A contrasting, short sequence on our consumption of the media is cleverly done, and has you feeling almost clever for a fraction of a second, thinking you've got this. But Scott doesn't want you clever or comfortable, he wants to take you places you may not usually go. Bodies count out loud, groan, whistle, break words down, make unpredictable, repeated patterns and sequences, sit still or shift back into recognizable form before becoming still once more.
With the floor free of newspaper, “Everything Now” appears to enter something of a liminal space during its second half, where it cleverly can't stand up for always falling down. Here questions of media seem less prevalent, relationships between people more so. Through solos, duets, and groupings, conflicting and converging movement sequences arise. Always movements evolve and revolve, like planets, around a nameless gravitational centre. If one suspects Scott knows it's name, like a great Zen master he wants to allow the pupils to discover it for themselves. Throughout, there’s often a sense of meditative reflection at the heart of all the slappings, chantings, mirrorings, and screams. Form returns near the end, in a beautiful duet, as a meeting ground for a shared conversation. One that soon gives way to a looseness in response to the need to find other languages, other forms for expression, for we are always reaching beyond, seeking connections with those unknown others standing beside us.
While there is certainly a dialogue with media and people’s response to it taking place, there are also a number of additional, and equally important dialogues also taking place in “Everything Now.” For a start, there’s a dialogue between art and form. A multi-disciplinary work, “Everything Now” plays with ideas of form and formlessness as Scott plays with the edges between opposites to create new relationships, where art, music, performance, and people, can connect in new ways. Throughout, Scott experiments with form being informed by the needs of the performer, whatever their ability, rather than by the needs of an imagined performance in the abstract. It doesn't always work as well as it might, indeed sometimes you wonder where exactly you've landed, but Scott’s constant probing makes for a much more inclusive performance and a sense of journeying into unknown waters.
Yet, for some, its quite likely “Everything Now” will prove to be a different experience from the one they thought they were going to have. For not everything is as promised and the conversations taking place are much larger than first expected. Rollercoaster moments are few, and “Everything Now” is no rollercoaster ride. It’s something much more interesting and nuanced than that. Nor is it much of a happening, even if it recreates and tries honour the spirit of a happening. Joy is often thin on the ground, and if it lies beneath when all is said and done, in between it interrupts rather than informs, being held in check by an often oppressive, meditative soundtrack by Brian Hogan and some strikingly dark images. Indeed joy, when it does arrive, comes primarily courtesy of Irish Modern Dance Theatre regulars, Kevin Coquelard, who is scene stealingly brilliant, along with Ryan O’Neill, who infuse “Everything Now” with laughter, playfulness and an unstinting level of commitment. A commitment shared by the rest of the multi-national, multi-racial ensemble comprised of Maurice Ivy, Sebastiao Kamalandua, Ngozi Amajuoyi, Joanna Banks, Kiribu, Peter Opio and Haile Tkabo.
Throughout “Everything Now,” Scott’s choreography is characterised by a deep sense of welcome, by a generosity of spirit that opens it arms to invite everyone in. The trained and untrained, the young and the old, both male and female, irrespective of race, colour, creed or nationality. Into a place that accommodates form and formlessness, the structured and the shapeless, challenging the old and seeking out the now in an effort to embrace new forms of inclusiveness. The media may divide: "Everything Now" unites. Yet openness and inclusiveness, embodied in real people in the here and now, have always been the flesh and bones of John Scott’s choreography. If you enjoy Zen koans, and are prepared to take the risk and put your shoes on your head, then drop everything now and go see “Everything Now.” There’s joy to be had if you only let it take you there.
“Everything Now” by John Scott, produced by Irish Modern Dance Theatre, runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 until September 7th
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre or Dublin Fringe Festival 2017