Throughout August I have been asked to write a series of profiles on the companies performing as part of Aurora Nova's 2007 Fringe Festival line-up, beginning with the English company Rotozaza.
Rotozaza was formed in the late 1990s by Silvia Mercurialli and Anthony Hampton, having first met at a rather uninspiring workshop in Italy.
In their earliest work they created a series of large, gloriously ambitious events in various parts of mainland Europe, where they had both trained. These early works were what might be called by some site-specific – a vague and comfortable term to bracket together anything that doesn’t occur in an auditorium. In Rotozaza’s work, audiences walked through landscapes, a graveyard or an abandoned school, encountering strange, beautiful, disturbing images.
After moving to London they continued to create unconventional pieces of theatre, frequently in collaboration with many other artists and companies. Despite their diversity and inventiveness these events were however still in some ways fundamentally theatrical, still relied on the discrete division between audience and the actor or environment they were encountering. As well-hidden as it was, scattered across the four corners of an underground vault and chewed up by disorientating installations, the remnants of the stage (on which any performing should be done) was still there.
This began to change almost by necessity when Ant decided that he wanted to do a show with a friend of his who was not by profession a performer. In order to get him on the stage he devised a show in which he would receive instructions as to what he should do. In this way he could be alleviated of responsibility for every action, every word, every gesture. In this way a hole was punctured in the wall between the stage and the auditorium. Suddenly you didn’t need to be an actor, or a pre-rehearsed part of the show, to become part of the performance. Quickly Ant and Silvia realised just how fascinating it would be to put other people in that same situation, to compare their responses to this a list of instructions, to see quite how they would perform.
In this way the emphasis in their work began to fundamental shift. A new seam of questions was opened up – about who should be performing and how (or how much); about whether this having to obey a list of instructions limits you or, divorced from responsibility, frees you up to be more yourself. In a series of shows, including Doublethink and Five in the Morning, the company explored the possibilities of this blurring of the line between audience and performer. Etiquette is in many ways the next logical step.
Two audience members arrive at a café, they sit at a table arrayed with a series of props, they each put on a set of headphones and they begin a conversation (loosely inspired this piece of Jean Luc Godard). Through their headphones they are told what to do and say. There are stories, dialogue, locations, a world is conjured as easily and beautifully as in any more traditional show. Yet it is a world that exists only for two people, or at times only for one, as the two sets of instructions splinter off into separate universes. Etiquette is, as its flyer suggests, a private experience.
Sat in a corner of a café two people perform for each other, and for themselves, their actions mirrored in those of the other people sitting around them, talking and drinking in the real world. To these other people watching the show is also fascinating, a curious naturalistic dance between two people; a delicately choreographed piece of everyday life.
Stripped of its performers and the idea of putting on a show for someone, Rotozaza see Etiquette almost as a gift; an experience offered to anyone. Indeed, the show can be packed away in a box and centre to any corner of the world.
Etiquette will not dazzle you with spectacle or the virtuosity of its creators. It is a more democratic experience; an open invitation, offering anybody the chance to complete the show. As one person who has written in the comments book supplied by the company has suggested ‘it is nice to have a more active role at the fringe.’ And this is precisely what makes it such a wonderful idea.
Etiquette is at Assembly Aurora Nova until 27th August, every 30 minutes from 11.00 to 23.30. Tickets from the Aurora Nova box office.