Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Performance:John Moran & His Neighbour Saori
Date & Venue:The Arches, Glasgow, 18th April 2009
Saori is a skinny Japanese woman, who lives in New York, and we are given the impression she works as a dancer. She starts the show by saying that this is their first time in Glasgow, and that likely means it is the first time most of us will have seen their show. She grins and laughs, full of mischievous glee, and says "I wonder how you will explain this show to your friends tomorrow when you try and tell them all about it." That said she introduces us to John Moran.
Moran comes on stage, with a flare of show manship, before throwing a bit of a depressive tantrum and sinking to the floor and laughing like a stoner. I am reminded of having seen Ann Liv Young shows as part of the previous couple of years equivalent festivals. And my heart sinks, here we go, pretentious crap, where the performer does something wanky and over the top and we're supposed to find it charming and amusing instead of contrived and tiresome.
However the show quickly takes a weirder bent, as John and Saori get caught into loops of dialogue. Ok, there is something more going on here, but it still has enough of a reek of self-indulgence that my reservations are still in place. Saori draws a duck, does a cute quack-quack routine, before transforming into a monster then drug denier when she drops the chalk, does this a half dozen times. John offers commentary, but then falls back into that initial tantrum/laughing loop of his own.
As the show progresses it is comprised of various extracts from grandiose "operas" John has done over the years, interspersed with stray songs he has written. Saori takes various roles from these performances - a girl serving in a McDonalds, to a girl serving drinks behind a bar, to John's neighbour Saori. As the evening switches between these pieces and John's explanations the event takes on an air of the surreal.
At one point John makes a comment about how different people had reacted to his work, about the description of something being Avant Garde. And I can't help think that those two words can be applied to justify and explain anything that a group of people might decide to do in front of an audience - oh, its ok, its avant garde, or hey, you just don't get it, its avant garde. And I am left thinking about the holes in that theory, and the questions about art.
The show takes a shape. It starts to demonstrate who John Moran is, how he got to where he is today, and to illustrate his particular obsessions. He did over the top musicals, called them operas to make them sound shiny. Was part of a scene, got name actresses, stole a girl from another man, was deeply in love, and hit the barrier - hit a point where it was no longer fun. He hated doing the opera, the relationship fell apart, he fell apart, he ran away. Turning up in Germany he found another love, and through himself into the deep end of that. Concocted wedding plans and extravaganza, only for that to fall apart as well. On the brink of losing another show, he spotted his neighbour Saori, and one thing led to another. There is comedy in the interactions and loops of their meetings and first attempts to work together.
But in some ways as well as being a show about how they came about how they came to be working together, its a show about rhythms and loops. Its about taking things apart, its about microscopic elements taken to their smallest level and being rebuilt. Most of the conversations are loops which the two play to. Most of them working on 68 or 71 BPM, human rhythms, and he demonstrates how these things fall into synch with each other, or spin to a point where the pieces no longer add up. And I have to admit, this is where I start to become fascinated by what he is doing. About how he has taken individual piano notes in built them into a performance of a piece by Bach, or taken words and environmental sounds and built them into a scene between two people. On the one hand its brilliant, on the other its stunningly obsessive.
With that, at each stage I am left with questions. Is this avant garde art or is it self-indulgent wankery? Is it obsessive brilliance or obsessive madness? Am I only interested because it is being explained to me and the explanation is interesting, would I still be interested if we had simply seen loops, and John had never sat there and said "by the way, this conversation is occurring at 68 BPM, the Bach soundtrack she is talking against is at 68 BPM, I am playing Danny Boy to this soundtrack at the same BPM and its all clicking together." Without the explanation would I have thought it was all crap, or would the charm and warmth of the work have come through? Its hard to say, but I was left with my head buzzing with thoughts, familiar questions remaining unanswered as to the nature of art.