Curated by writer, academic, and playwright Jane Taylor, Season 4 of The Centre for the Less Good Idea takes the shape of a Collapsed Conference – a series of talks, presentations and ideas all told through performance.
URSONATE | WILLIAM KENTRIDGE
When it comes to the works created and performed for The Centre for the Less Good Idea, it’s not uncommon for audiences to arrive at a performance expecting to witness one thing and experiencing something entirely different. William Kentridge’s Season 4 performance of the Ursonate is such a work.
Making use of Kurt Schwitters’ original Ursonate – a sound poetry performance which was itself inspired by the Raoul Hausmann poem fmsbw – Kentridge’s piece is part performance, part lecture, and part symphony. Watching the Ursonate, however, can also make it seem as if it is none of these things.
On a raised platform backed by a full-scale projection, Kentridge takes his position at a makeshift podium. He opens a book and on the projection behind him, a book opens as well. This is perhaps the last time the performance takes the shape of a conventional lecture. From the opening line of the piece: “Fumms bö wö tää zää Uu, pögiff, kwii Ee”, the Ursonate launches into a symphony of audio-visual performance. Kentridge, who addresses the audience in varying phrases throughout, is backed by stop-motion visual works of his own making, some echoing the words and phrases he is uttering, and others filling in for the gaps in our understanding.
There are text-based pieces flickering on and off screen, renderings of loudhailers morphing into still-life works, and dancers performing improvisational pieces of movement on loop. Kentridge’s own tool, his voice, adopts different tones and pitches throughout, and it is through this combination of seemingly random words and images that the lecture begins to make sense. Gibberish becomes impassioned debate while body language – the slight wag of a finger or the outward extension of the palms – helps form a compelling argument.
Ultimately, the Ursonate builds up to a frenzy before reaching the cadenza – a magnificent collapse of rhyme and reason – which is orchestrated by pianist and composer Kyle Shepherd. Here, you see a wonderful dialogue begin to take place. Performers Billy Langa, Tony Miyambo, and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana take their places beside the podium and join the debate, while pianist Jill Richards and trombonist Dan Selsick chime in with a trill of the keys or a low, languid bit of brass. Amidst the noise, the chaos, and the explosions, conclusions are reached, or abandoned, before being revived anew.
The Ursonate is chaotic, but it also finds a place in the everyday. You could find versions of its form in a speech by a politician, or a talk by an academic. And while its contents may be very much up to interpretation, the Ursonate’s universality are down to those very base forms of communication, like the slight wag of a finger or the outward extension of the palms.
Performers | William Kentridge, Mahlatsi Mokgonyana, Kyle Shepherd, Jill Richards, Dan Selsick, Billy Langa, Tony Miyambo.
For the full version go to | https://vimeo.com/301783578
Animateur for The Centre | Bronwyn Lace
Cinematography and Editor | Noah Cohen
Project Manager | Shruthi Nair
Lights | Wesley France and Guy Nelson
Sound | SoulFire Studios and Zain Vally
Stage Management | Hayleigh Evans and PopArt Productions
Writer | Dave Mann