Co-ordinated by Mike Pearson and Nigel Watson
Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff, 18 March 2016
Ten performers weave their way onto a stage empty bar eleven chairs – ten for them and one for a mysterious caretaker figure. The ‘caretaker’ is Mike Pearson, co-founder in the 1980s of the Cardiff-based avant-garde theatre company Brith Gof. Alongside fellow physical theatre practitioner Nigel Watson, Pearson has co-ordinated the development of What Comes Next? with a group of performers working as Good News from the Future.
What Comes Next? is a structured improvisation based on a precise vocabulary of movement for performance devised by Pearson and others in the 1990s under the title ‘In All Languages’. In using this vocabulary the stated focus of the performance was on ‘valuing the creative potential of the mature performer’. In order to do so the group has brought together men and woman who have worked in a range of theatre companies in Wales, past and present, and who have developed their working relationships in regular meetings over the past year or so.
I was excited to see performance which was rooted in physicality, especially as it did not depend on the litheness of youth. What was evident was that grace is not the province of youth alone. These bodies were sinuous, their movements as they entered the space a kind of provocation, albeit an asexual one. I enjoyed their more and less comfortable entwinings and entanglements, although I longed for them to move away from their line of chairs – or to use them more dynamically – and so achieve an energetic shift rather sooner than they did.
I felt that there was often too much ‘business’ going on in duos and trios at the same time for it to be comprehensible. I loved the moments of unity, such as when all ten performers leant sideways as one, and particularly when they stood in a group, staring out intently towards the audience. There was enormous potency in that stillness, the faces defiant as if each one was saying – ‘Look at me! See me for who I am!’ That was the emotional core of the experience for me. It was also a moment of silence, something as powerful in dance and theatre as it is in music.
Apart from the lyrically beauty of ‘The Swan’ from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, the soundtrack was mainly percussive, little differentiated and apparently used to signal changes to the patterns of movement rather than to enhance them in any way. While I admired the skill of the performers in creating these patterns of movement they seemed to me to be merely games, theatre exercises without any meaningful content. As such they worked best when invested with humour. The tableau which was at risk of (deliberately) coming apart, requiring judicious clothing adjustments, was a lovely comic touch, as was the way in which the caretaker character seemed to want to do his own little dance at the end when he was sweeping the floor after the other performers had left the room. Those elements also worked because they were telling a story.
Although this was physical theatre/dance, the strength of the performance was, for me, very much in the faces. That was primarily where I read the undoubted experience of each and every one of the performers. The limitation of What Comes Next? was that there was no outside eye, specifically no choreographer to work with this undoubtedly valuable range of experience and channel it into even more powerful work.