The performance lecture and talking 'about' performance
The performance lecture has become a feature of arts academic practice – and a feature of arts practices in terms of performance in non-academic contexts too. Xavier Le Roy’s 1999 ‘Product of Circumstances’ is a highly quoted example of the performance lecture operating across performance (in public theatre spaces) and discursive (academic…?) contexts. There are many less documented earlier examples of the performance lecture. I remember Liz Aggiss (was it her? Now I am not so sure. If you know who it was please let me know!!) performing a lecture on the history of contemporary dance, sometime in the early 90s at Dartington Arts – a dancing ‘professor’ (and this well before she became Professor!) – dressed in drag, explaining and performing the ‘movements’ through early modern dance and various techniques of contemporary dance. This latter included an ironic and irreverent (it seemed to me) rendition of the loose limbed release technique which had in UK grown out of Dartington and through Mary Fulkerson’s work in particular. Aggiss (was it her?) managed through her appearance in drag and through a certain mismatch between what she was saying and what she was doing to undermine the statement of ‘facts’ produced by the authoritative voice of the ‘male’ professor and to position a more complex notion of what might be understood or named as dance history: a history that is not separated from the act of dancing and from the experiencing of the dancing event – and the complexities and divergences implicit in such non-separation.
As an artist working in and with academic contexts it is perhaps inevitable that I am drawn to the performance lecture as a mode of dynamically situating thinking ‘around’ performance making: a strategy that does more than ‘naming’ and which attempts to give ‘voice’ to the capacities of, and in, particular arts practices.
In January 2012 I perform an experiment, ‘Sense and Self: a collaborative performance lecture’ with Steve Fossey, at the conference ‘Performing Research Creative Exchange’ at Central School of Speech and Drama in London. We each write separately around questions of sense and self in relation to our (separate) arts practices. We arrange an order for the texts moving back and forth between my words and Steve’s. In the event of the lecture Steve is not there – at least not in the flesh. The texts consider, reflect on and position notions of ‘self’ and ‘sense’ (sense-making and sensorial sensing) differently. These texts are spoken by one voice. I speak ‘for’ Steve preceding his words with, ‘Steve says….’ It seems to me that as well as explicitly addressing questions of sense and self in the texts, we are also through our mode of presentation performatively playing out a questioning of self and a questioning of ‘sense’ (perhaps particularly sense-making). Differences bump up against each other. In the (traditional) Q and A session after the lecture Steve is present via Skype. It surprises me that all the questions are addressed to specific content of the spoken words: that none address the ‘experiment’ of co-existing voices speaking their lack of agreement. Our ‘previously unsaid dialogue’ was (Steve says) ‘in the interest of uncertainty.’ Did we sound so sure of ourselves that the attempted positioning of ‘uncertainty’ was lost? Did the context of the academic conference shout so loudly its expectation of certain answers that our attempt at uncertain voices was ill deployed? Did we need to rehearse more our ‘previously unsaid dialogue’? Would that be cheating?