Groundviews

Unearthed: Architecture, text, theatre and dance

Unearthed is a new production by Floating Space in collaboration with Sally E. Dean, and in concept and design promises a rather unusual and unique performance. Planned for the 1st and 2nd of December in a residence just outside Colombo, Unearthed brings together a cast of theatre and movement practitioners to create a site-specific performance.

To unpack the production, and flesh out how it came about, Groundviews sat down with Ruhanie Perera, the Artistic Director of Floating Space, at the location the performance will take place in just under a week. We begin with Ruhanie giving an overview of the production, who refers to the successful Kickstarter campaign (a first for any theatre group in Sri Lanka) to generate funding for the production. Ruhanie notes elsewhere that,

Unearthed draws on the idea of lies, secrets and silence which will work as a thematic expression in the work – or even elements of the work. We’re also working with the idea of how to create a theatrical poem on stage.”

We explore this more, and what for Floating Space, ‘a theatrical poem on stage’ really means. At the beginning, Ruhanie also speaks about two texts by Adrienne Rich that Unearthed is deeply influenced by, Twenty One Love Poems and On Lies, Secrets and Silence. We noted that a quote from the latter (“That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us”) resonated with the spirit of Unearthed, which then Ruhanie expanded on, noting how both texts helped ground the text and movement of Unearthed.

In the KickStarter video, Jake Oorloff (a founding member of Floating Space) notes that Unearthed aims to “broaden and create an audience to receive contemporary performance”. We ask Ruhanie what for Floating Space ‘contemporary performance’ really means, and how, given the usual pedestrian piffle that passes for performances tagged as contemporary, the Company anchors its own productions to a more authentic, higher art. Ruhanie contests our submission of a higher art, goes into what for Floating Space is authentic, and also explain what for her and the Company contemporary performance is and should be. We also talk about why in Sri Lanka there haven’t been more site-specific performances, in the manner Unearthed is being produced.

Ruhanie also spoke about the relationship between art and architecture, and how the selection of the site (an eclectic residence with bric-a-brac and antiques strewn all over the place) informed the reading of the texts Unearthed is anchored to, and by extension, how the movement and choreography of the production is defined by, challenges and responds to the space within it is located. This is a far deeper negotiation with physical space and geo-location than theatre productions which simply locate the performance in a non-traditional setting. In our conversation, we also talk about how this process of a production being informed by the architecture of the site it is created for and performed in resonates with a recent pronouncement by the scientific community that architecture, very directly, influences how we think and our brains work.

Towards the end of our conversation, we look at how Sally Dean, with her considerable experience as a performance artist, contested and merged with the story-telling and movement traditions of Floating Space. We referred to a compelling essay by Sally published in Dance (San Francisco) in January/February 2009, anchored to her experience of collaborating with Indonesian dancers, and how locations which were very different to traditional theatre settings, the markedly different understanding of time and the way movement was conceptualised in a performance space at first irascibly challenged, yet ultimately qualitatively enhanced the final production.

Ruhanie talked about the challenges of collaboration in creating Unearthed, and how Floating Space intends to take the discussion around its creation and reception to audiences beyond just those who came to see it. Given the ambition of the production, I ask Ruhanie whether being so different to the usual theatre fare in Colombo risks alienating the audience that comes to see Unearthed, no matter how hard the Company tries to communicate what it wants to, and whether this is in fact not a problem an innovative theatre group that seeks to break the mould should be concerned about.

For information on tickets, dates and times, please go to the Unearthed website.

Some photos of the site Unearthed will be performed in. All photos by Groundviews.