Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Power of Light in Theater:

The creator god, when last we saw him,
Crouched in beggarweeds, grotesque, and fairly repulsive,
Covered in splotches of moonlight, small pox, leprosy, whatever,
In a fever did smelt.

It was sometime later, after being toted
Place to place as an ugly curio, in displays and exhibits,
Left in a barn where sleet beat off the veneer of ash, the rags,
The hidden gilt, that
It was discovered, as we shall see, to be
The perfect crystalline image of
A beautiful man.

Wu Ling had the thing for sometime before
He gradually became aware, through unplanned meditations on it,
That information pertinent to the use of light
(he was a performer then) upon the stage
could be had
just by imitating the way
glimmers in the body came and went; now strong,
now soft, now none at all.

But just as a feel
For the pulse came and went, so at the moment
Wu Ling came close to seeing the creator god as himself,
The illusion, and surely it was one,
Completely dissolved.

5 comments:

Mary Beth said...

Ok... I'm confused again. Is YACB becoming less about Dutton's Hill and more about forms of human madness? Not that madness is not a vaulable topic! It's just getting harder and harder for me to follow what is happening. Perhaps it's my own mind spinning tangents. I don't think I've gone mad. No friendly young men with wrap around jackets have shown up yet.

Dan Dutton said...

Alas, Mary Beth ~ the process part of the work does not always present order. The order will not actually arrive until (hopefully!) the performance.

Here on the blog I only have time to share some random shreds, out of context. The blog is not even a good program note, more like a look into my notebook. I empathize in this case, since I have no idea what this particular shred offers, except that for me it resolves a particular problem of how to work with light in this piece. This is something I worry about, a lot - technical issues. Especially if I limit the installation to the materials available here on the hill + what can be had at the farm supply store. That means not renting theatrical light rigging, and all the possibilities that common method of lighting a space allows.

Unlike the pre-electric cultures who dream by firelight, our contemporary sensibilities are not especially sensitive to the messages that subtle light can convey.

This little story just popped in to help me understand how the light is controlled in this piece.

I may have set up a false sense of continuity by writing most of the poems up to this point in careful historical order. Now I'm dealing with input coming in from the entire piece, there are ultimate outlines and connections that I can sense, and in some cases know, but which I can't explain. Not that I'm hiding them, but their revelation is actually the performance itself.

All that said, the final quarter is about my grandfather's madness, and the revelation, which Shane had today, of what we have in common with slaves. To present an orderly and meaningful experience of madness does seem a bit of a challenge - & I'll admit I'm a little worried about it.

Maybe a helpful thing to keep in mind is that my work does not so much present a single narrative as a phenomena which I hope is extremely sensitive to becoming the inner narratives that the witness already has within themselves. Dutton's Hill is far too complex for me to summarize, but I can make something with an evocative correspondence.

At present we're approaching the material related to war, and there's little hope of a reasonable quality to that. War is only reasonable in the conversations of those safe from its immediate effects.

Mary Beth said...

Ok.. let me see if I sort of have it...I'll try to explain by I'm lacking vocabulary for this experience.

YACB is a story of the inhumanity of man and what that in-humaness to the human mind/spirit/pysche.

Dutton's Hill tells the story of what happens when man becomes out of balance with nature, his fellow man, and God.

Madness is one result of a life lived out of balance.

By calling attention to imbalance/the crazy way we are behaving/the possible other paths we could be walking, your opera becomes a source healing/sanity/and re-creation rather than mere recreation.

Mary Beth said...

* What that in-humaness does

Yes I know, "LEARN HOW TO TYPE" is at the top of my to do list. Ok, well, maybe second after "attend to the gardens."

Dan Dutton said...

Hm. I feel hesitant to confirm or deny anything about YACB at this early stage. I think that I could guess that the work is basically about the restoration of harmony for the participants (performers and witnesses) by presenting examples of the phenomena that comprise the story. Examples in the sense of equivalent experiences, in so far as those can be discerned, resonant symbols, evocative language, any aesthetic materials that can be mustered that have real connective potential.

But it's not exactly a presentation of "here's what was done, don't do that or you'll be sorry too" Most stories have a cautionary aspect to them, and they all grow out of the past ~ but the performers in this kind of theater also offer themselves, their lives and vulnerability, as a gift to the audience - you can look, listen, wonder, compare, and should ultimately understand that these beings, at least somewhat like yourself in that, at the very least, they have bodies and share some culture, have delved into frightening and terrible material and transformed it, in a visible act of will, into an experience of sublime beauty - albeit one that is sometimes"terrible" (in the old sense) one - the Truth side of the Beauty and Truth pair.

So it's at least partly, maybe mostly, a story, yet to be told, of the triumph of spirit. Maybe not a grand triumph, with a "conclusion" (such have never happened in my world) - something quieter, more modest, a realization that even in it's most insane moments, life is full of potential for transformation and wonder.

The strongest models for my work have been the ritual dance dramas of the Southwestern Pueblos, and the Dine' - those are all concerned with preserving, maintaining and restoring harmony between the people and their world, and all involve a retracing or recounting of mythic history - or "real" history, to people who put the spirit, or imagination as I call it, in a primary position. That function is true of the origins of Japanese dance like Noh and Kabuki as well. Spectacle, so the makers of it hope, signifies the presence of wealth - in its old sense as well-being.

I'm wary and a little hesitant to expound on a theory of theater and function. I haven't put my thoughts through enough rigorous tests to feel confident that I can write a manifesto or thesis about my work in more than a meandering and
ultimately confusing way. That would mean composing a guide, or starting a school (cult) . Appealing ideas, but work beyond the scope of composing and presenting YACB.... so for now it will have to wait.