Look Beyond Yourself

Mirjam Klebel: Blickschichten 

"Blickschichten is a solo performance by the Austrian choreographer and dancer Mirjam Klebel that adresses the relationship between performer and the onlookers"

Immediately the audience is welcomed into an intimate space of a black box, in the round, or actually a square, facing the other audience members that become 'onlookers'.  Placing on individual headphones, that each onlooker had been provided with, gave us a safer space to delve into. Modern life is so atomised that getting any chance we can to sink into our separate spaces, often lulls us to a false sense of comfort and security.  That was exactly what was about to be disturbed.  A comforting, deep voice changes into the sound of a man going about his ablutions interspersed with his voice, sometimes humming, making random sounds, going about his business simultaneously as Mirjam`s graceful and nuanced movements rotate around the stage.  I could not help have a strange feeling that we were watching a man`s mental image as he goes about his daily routines.  I felt as if I was inside his head, a sort of John Malkovich feeling.  Sterile sounds juxtaposed with an image of an agile beauty.  Being absorbed into this experience, had the effect of a blurring of gender boundaries.  So is this what it is like to be a man waking up and going about his day with an image of his loved one or someone he admires?  The fact that Mirjam was topless added to this feeling that I had suddenly been sucked into the ear of a man having an ordinary day and drifting off into his daydream.
  A blurring of gender perceptional boundaries.

Sitting across from other audience members-onlookers-I was able to watch those of both genders that were reacting in different ways, some staring, some were, like myself, averting their eyes occasionally not knowing where to look.  Cultural shyness aside, the French playwright Antonin Artaud, believed that only by the most violent confrontation, physical or psychic, could audiences be shocked out of their complacency.  In the early twenty first century, it is actually quite hard to do this subtly since we are all so used to explicit scenes.  Dave St-Pierre Company used every shock tactic they could think of much to the dismay of the audience and critics--Blickschichten was far from this vulgarity.  Fluid and light-footed, Mirjam rotated the round the stage in a cylindrical effect, catching our eye contact, sometimes delightfully posing elf-like and statuesque for the viewer, before falling to the floor, almost beaten, only to jump up nimbly and surprise the spectators with a smile and glisten in her eye.    

I say 'spectators', as about half the members in the audience scattered randomly, started to participate as 'spec-(t)actors' (as actors participating in the performance) and started to raise their hand. I was not one of them, which immediately shifted my attention from being absorbed watching the performance,  to suddenly feeling somewhat excluded.  Was this a flash mob?  Would these same audience members stand up any minute and join Mirjam, stripping to the waist and coax the rest of us in a taunting game of hide and peek?  I shifted, uncomfortable in my seat and looked around at the other audience members who had not raised their hands.  Most were looking similarly bewildered and uncomfortable.  As Mirjam raised her hands, mirroring those exclusive audience members or spectators and smiled seemingly at them, whilst still moving softly, a further feeling of exclusion came upon me. I wondered if those in the audience who were, like me were feeling the same--in my isolated, atomised world headphones on, locked in by my gaze, I had no way of telling for sure. 
      Later, the voice came through my ears, to raise my hands.  Somewhat relieved that it was now our turn, I obeyed the command and watched a smattering of other hands in the audience do the same.   I was asked, through my headphones, to engage with other audience members who were like me. Smile and make eye contact, as friends would do and in doing so, I was asked to ignore the performer.  I suddenly realised that this was completely different from what I had observed from the outside.  Now within the inclusive hand-waving, I was being asked to ignore instead of engage with the performer.  Whereas from the outside it had seemed that the hand waving spectators had been trying to engage the attention of the performer and she--Mirjam--had in turn, been capturing the spectators attention in mutual engagement.  The illusion had been created by placing the 'inclusive' spectators opposite the performance space, so that they could see each other clearly and Mirjam danced facing at once one side, then the other, in-between the two.  The 'excluded' audience members looked-on from the two other sides of the square, this spacial and sound separation created the illusion.  These performative devices, offered the viewer a chance to experience both aspects of inclusion and exclusion, in the same performance.  This gave the audience a chance to awaken from their voyeuristic slumber and become a spectator-fully participating in the performance-and realising that perception itself is not what it seems and is often dictated by the division of space through sound, position and movement as well as our own anxieties and assumptions. 

      Blickschichten elegantly plays around with our awareness and the limitations of our perception.  It is challenging us to look beyond what our mind grasps due to pre-conceptions and flips it over to another viewpoint, so that we look at what we are looking at not just from our own angle, but from others as well.  
   Mirjam seemed to change her role several times throughout the performance with the support of sound and spacial devices; coaxing us to see her not fixed, as either submissive or seductive, but as a multitude of characters, interchangeable with our shifting perceptions.  It is not what we look at, but how we look.  Who determines how we look? Is it society?  Our fears? Our desires? A moment? A sound? A small, detailed movement capturing our eye? I found myself asking a myriad of these questions throughout the performance which certainly awakened and shook me out of my complacency and without any harsh shock tactics.  Maybe Dave St-Pierre should take some lessons in subtly from 
Blickschichten, then there will be more thoughtful changes in our landscape, rather than tabloid fodder or 'chewing gum for the eyes'.  Blickschichten is a lesson in dancing the fine thread of duality. That one thing is so because of the other and that both ways of looking are possible, if not a multitude of ways.  Balancing these dualities side by side is a delicate dance indeed, but the only way we can find some kind of equipoise.


Mirjam Klebel Blickschichten will be playing for a final night: 07.12.2012 at 20:00

Konzept und Choreografie: Mirjam Klebel
Basischoreografie: Susanne Truckenbrodt
Dramaturgie: Georg Hobmeier
Sound: Christian Konrad Schröder
Audiotracks: Tommy Noonan, Angela Tröndle, Keren Cytter, Simone Pergmann, Christoph Lepschy, Christian Konrad Schröder