Why Magpie speaks a different language

Why Magpie speaks a different language
by Sharon Smith

Magpie is interdisciplinary. Magpie is not building pieces that employ different media. Magpie performances become an arena where different media are playing with each other, are in dialogue with each other. If the spectator has come to watch ‘dance’ and then focuses on a body dancing, rather than shifting that focus, opening their selves up to the whole room, they are not really experiencing the work of Magpie. Magpie is fluid. Its presence disseminates amongst place. Magpie enters a performance situation as ‘part-of’. This is a political posture. To understand or more simply, to properly access the work, it is not useful to employ the traditional analytic and values systems usually used to ‘appreciate’ dance works. Magpie identifies the places where traditional value systems and grand narratives are faulty within and plays here. It unsettles. Magpie is not precise, exacting, themed, directed, set, authored or closed. These are aspirations which compliment the values of patriarchy and celebrity status. Magpie is fluid, loose, with fragmented and interwoven narratives. It is undirected, unset, and un-authored. Magpie deconstructs those values and creates another language, or rather a multi or an omni language.

Magpie involves highly skilled dancers, (and musicians, and technicians and performance artists) this fact is not in question. The level of production is high. The important misunderstanding is that the driver for the Magpie ensemble is to present improvisation as performance. This project is a collaboration of independent artists. Their aim is not to homogenize the performing bodies within so that they all speak the same language, but to set up live dialogue, live writing between very different bodies, vocabularies, histories and imaginings. This serves to direct the whole room into the only common territory: The present tense. The best place for both the performer and the spectator to be is to get into the ‘how’ that things happen, into what’s happening (right now)in between, off and around those bodies. How will these different languages collide and connect and merge?

It may help, from a theatre perspective, to imagine the work of Magpie to be somehow a dialogue between a Stanislavskian ‘truth’, a practice of being right there in real time as a performer, and a Brechtian ‘distancing’. The work of Magpie lies in what is happening just before something (a movement, a sound, and a light shift) is produced. The performers do not ‘believe’ in what is produced, do not fuel it with a theatrical self-belief. In a way then the performing artist speaks (Brecht’s commentary) as well as the material. Alienation is always occurring. Collage is created.

In terms of visual art the idea of collage is also useful when considering Magpie. Here there is collage as event. Tristan Tzara (Dada) wrote about simultaneity saying that within the simultaneity of events, within their collision, in the present exists “a swift meaning of life”.

In respect to cultural theory I think Magpie is post structuralist. I am often reminded of Magpie when reading the writing of Barthes, Derrida, Cixous, and Irigaray. Magpie suffers because of its femaleness. I don’t mean because of its women, but its literal femaleness. Because Magpie does not speak the language of the centre, it is marginalized. Magpie does not write itself into the Aristotelian paradigm of fixed binaries: audience-performer, dancer-musician, choreographer-dancer, real-life-fictional character, the world out there-the world in here… Magpie is multi-lingual. This should not be read as blurred or vague. Magpie practices its politics. A socialist, left field politic is inherent in the nature of the practice. It is specifically this. This is the work.

  1. Magpie could enter the dominant language of the centre and literally ‘shape itself’ to fit better into funding spaces. This might take the soul of the work?
  2. Magpie could continue to exist as marginal, but then rendered voice-less, not ‘visible’ enough, literally and economically.
  3. Or, and what seems like the only real option, innovations could be made within the funding systems. And, these innovations (new and more appropriate structures and categories) need to be sought and found by Magpie. It is essential that this ‘other’ language is understood as ‘part of’ the language of the centre.

back to writing