A short comment: Kaja Kann’s article “Kangro koreografeeritud sõnateater” was originally published in Estonian in newspaper Sirp 01.11.19, translation into English by Margaret Tilk.
“Past perfect”, author and performer Mart Kangro, dramaturgies Eero Epner and Mart Kangro, sound designer Kalle Tikas, light design and technical solutions Kalle Tikas and Henri Kasch. Premiere 14th X in Kanuti Gildi SAAL.
I met Mart Kangro for the first time in 1998. Almost twenty years ago, when Kangro directed his first solo “Start. Based on a true story”, I was its technician and because of that, I saw it almost thirty times. In 2011, I participated as a performer in Kangro’s “Talk to Me”, which unfortunately was performed only a few times, but I got to experience Kangro’s creative working method on my skin. As a researcher of Mart Kangro, I wrote my 70 pages long master thesis on a monologue in “Talk to Me” at the University of Tallinn (1). The monologue was two minutes long and performed by Vera Nevanlinna. His newest production “Past perfect” I have had the pleasure to see three times.
As I have researched Kangro for a very long time, I have gathered a lot of information and facts, analyzed performances to the smallest details, fact-checked them, read other researchers' opinions and made decisions. This time I can’t look past the main themes on “Past perfect” – memory and repetition. Some things I know, but most things I just remember. Intellect is the one, which wants perfection. If there are defects, incomplete images or disruptions in my memory, then my mind will fill those gaps in the present time. It will form a whole picture out of intermittent and leaping moments – it forms a sensible thought for me.
One must also acknowledge Kangro’s second finding: if you look at the repetition of something, you can cancel the primary meaning, but if you repeat it long enough, new meaning arouses. As a researcher, Kangro's method allows me to be more present. What I’m trying to stay is that in this text, there are some things that I know, some that I remember and some that are added by imagination.
Memory and imagination are fighting. The performance starts, when viewers are led into the theatre hall. This time to the hall of Kanuti Gildi SAAL, where viewers are greeted by quietly moving Mart Kangro’s torso, which has only half of legs and arms. The director has placed the torso on plexiglass. Kangro’s first technique: distancing from himself. Entering viewers are offered the usual gallery experience, which is dominated by oblivious and personal reflection.
Kangro’s second technique is giving the viewer’s mind two things at the same time and through that viewer’s expectations are provoked. Provocation is Kangro’s work, but the expectation is personal for every person. I know that in a few moments the performance will be exciting (after all, theatre usually is): I can expect that the torso will stretch its non-existent arms and legs out, get up and start moving. Because Kangro holds the picture long enough, my expectation goes away and I start sluggishly enjoy the picture itself in this space and time. The dominant features are the body’s appearance, physical shape with different stages, layers and architectural elements.
Soon the meaning will take over the visual. But that’s not what Kangro wants. Indeed, yes, he shows us for a moment clear meaning, the pressing of living and moving body on a pedestal, to a form of lifeless sculpture. When the visual takes over through liveliness, the meaning dissolves (meaning always dissolves when it evolves into concrete fact), the body transforms into a configuration with perspective, which is a visual model of my thought. The thought isn’t for sure adequate. It’s imagined, my own view of myself. After sensing the torso, I sense myself. The thought isn’t perfect, neither is Kangro’s torso, but the body is real, as is my thought.
The moment the visual regains its meaning, a problem arises. The thought is born but before the object itself. At that moment, my idea and our idea meet. A shared experience is born. That’s how Kangro creates the performance together with the audience. It’s not entirely his.
And then it happens. Exactly like I had hoped. Of course, he stands up and greets the audience. Nowadays it’s not unusual that something unusual happens. Kangro does something that is expected and that’s unusual. To be clear, he doesn’t even try to hide the technique. Already with the second movement (short and striking part of choreography from his first piece: with his knees pam-pam-pam-pam-pam-pam and bang head to the ground) informs that we are dealing with repetition.
The overall meaning of the piece is completely different than the meaning of its parts. I’m still hesitant at the end of the performance. The situation is endlessly beautiful, even surprising. The visual picture of the ending scene is outstandingly grand and extremely sad. I’m in distress and the distress in powerful and intensive. This distress doesn’t push me into doing something or seek a solution. On the other hand, it isn’t going to make you quit and sulk like a child. This distress is okay. It’s part of life. Strong sense of being between the worlds, where memory and imagination are fighting.
Kangro doesn’t bring reality to the stage but tries to be more real on the stage. The next part of the piece belongs to the category of “Kangro here and now”. The same Mart who has been working in the same room for twenty years. Ironically, he is also aware of the sameness of the audience: more than half of them are familiar to him. Particularly as it’s a premiere, it’s hard for him to find even someone, who doesn’t know that he knows. To find someone, who he doesn’t know. Laid down, direct, sometimes awkward and sometimes charming Mart. The atmosphere is relaxed and this method of establishing a personal relationship with the audience is an old trick of Kangro.
Kangro plays Mart from the real world, but the one who is talking to us is “Mart here and now”, who is acting. He is giving the audience a prototype of himself. Performer Mart is fictitiously himself, which means he is mimicking himself. Mart’s act of showing Mart to the audience isn’t fiction, it’s real. But, through acting the Mart who is being performed turns to fiction. The actor is creating fiction through real action, acting. The problem that Kangro is trying to resolve is about theatre, not about real life. The main goal is to be more real on stage, not to bring reality to the stage. Even more, being real on stage isn’t enough for him. He must also feel and sense it.
Assuming that performance is fiction and life is real, I have to conclude that acting is fiction compared to life, but very real when compared to theatre. For Kangro, fiction is a framework, where reality happens. When comparing Kangro’s theatre to physical theatre, we can make another clear distinction: Kangro is working with theatre and is using life as a tool for it, but theatre which focuses on the story is working with life and using theatre as a tool.
Kangro choreographs spoken theatre. Kangro’s created shapes are dynamic. The movements are slippery. Smoothly walking turns into skipping, skipping into jumping, jumping into an incantation, incantation into spinning, etc. It’s hard to say, if the thing that Kangro is doing is dance or choreography. His movement language is being in constant change. Twenty years ago, he focused on taking a movement and putting it into a new context to find a new meaning for the movement. Now he is doing two things at the same time.
He tries to choreograph words and sentences, but when it comes to moving, he has given up on choreographing. You can’t fit his movement into eight, even though it has been a characteristic of organizing dance for years. He domesticates and organizes movement. He keeps repeating a moment so small that you can’t single it out. Metamorphosis is taking place, where stages of development are no longer traceable. We no longer recognize the original. We don’t know where it came from.
For example, his own quote about jumping from foot to foot while waving his arms up and down. If the left supporting leg is slightly curved, then the right arm is facing up diagonally. And vice versa. From my memory and knowledge, the origin of the movement is bending to the side. It also reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci’s ideal human with stretched out arms and legs.
Then he makes it work. When you go along with the movement, you can only count one-two, one-two. He never reaches the peak, the eight, where it should end, so it could start again from number one. That way to infinity. This way raising the pace, by again and again doing the same thing, forms a circle. You can only count ones and in enormous lengths. There are no longer visible isolated directions, which want something and drag the body somewhere. There is also no rhythm. It’s one infinite circle.
But then, when in a long sequence of movements comes a circle, the spinning, then I don’t see even that. I remember a circle that formed from jumping from one foot to another and which moves dynamically up and down. But at the same time, I can see a circle that rotates from right to left. Ultimately, I don’t know what I see know and what do I remember, what has effected what, but the result of a long sequence of movement is a physical experience of something very important, but I don’t know what it is.
Eero Epner, the dramaturge of the performance, has called it an abstract figure, which can be a movement or a sequence of movements and doesn’t carry direct meaning. He is almost like less filled or filled with a silent message (2). Kangro’s silent message is very strong, it helps the viewer to distance themselves from the past and also from reality.
Kangro’s way of using words is a little easier to unravel through choreography. The performance contains a lot of lists. In the forming cluster, it’s important which word follows which word. The meaning of the words is in a constant form of change. The same word, that is being repeated every fourth cycle, means something completely different that it meant before. Pauses are also in the central role. It matters if the pause is in the middle of a list or the long pause is a moment before the ending sentence of the theme.
Kangro doesn’t use choreography only on words and sentences, but also on the whole production. The method of choreography gives way to ask questions, activate knowledge in a specific situation. Swedish dance researcher Mårten Spångberg argues that choreography, which has no specific direction and is free of purpose, is useful for re-arranging the content of the performance, with active analyzing on the stage (3).
Interrupted continuity. The last example of an interrupted continuity, which Kangro uses, is a sweet clip from an old and rusty slide projector. Holding his hands and fingers in front of the projector, he is looking for a figure. He is looking for a clear picture. Our soul wants the whole picture, so finally, something clear would form. But Kangro interrupts every change or a ray of hope, which would have through our senses filed our soul.
The thing that in the end, and for a short moment, forms on the wall is completely absurd. To the viewer, it looks like a witty, but an impossible nightmare. But that image was born from those singular dashers, cracks, light refractions, covered areas and cracks, where light has slipped through. In this way, Mart Kangro creates duration with continuous interruptions, both in the production of "Past Perfect" and in his twenty years of work experience.
(1) Kaja Kann, Presence of theatre spectator, master thesis. Supervisors Andres Luure and Luule Epner, University of Tallinn 2019.
(2) Eero Epner, Realistic and abstract images in theatre. – Sirp 13. X 2011.
(3) Mårten Spångberg. Post-dance, An Advocacy. – Post-Dance. Edit. Danjel Andersson, Mette Edvardsen, Mårten Spångberg. Stockholm: MDT, 2017, pp 349–393.
Photo: Renee Altrov