Jack McNamara is the Artistic Director of New Perspectives. He will be directing The Spirit, a trilogy of physical performances, at Battersea Arts Centre from 27 Feb – 14 Mar
The Spirit is a collaboration between you and Belgian artist Thibault Delférière, how did you two meet?
We met through a close mutual friend and collaborator, the musician Giuseppe Lomeo. Giuseppe and I have a long history of doing shows together, and he was forever talking about bringing me into contact with his great Belgian artist friend. We finally brought Thibault over to Nottingham where I live in 2017 and the three of us started working instinctively and with no agenda. It was hugely rich experience for me. We made a piece of work together based on the Sisyphus myth which we premiered in an art gallery in Nottingham, and were then invited back to BE Festival in Birmingham where we won an award.
It was clear early on that these two would be long term collaborators for me. Artists at the top of their game but also great people and great friends.
The Spirit is a trilogy rather than a single show, how will they differ from each other and how are they linked?
When Tarek Iskander took over Battersea Arts Centre, he kindly offered for me to bring Thibault over and for us to make whatever show we wanted. A refreshingly trusting approach for a new Artistic Director, but that’s Tarek for you.
Thibault’s work usually has a strong philosophical basis. When I asked him what he wanted to do, the concept that was obsessing him was Nietzsche’s idea of the Metamorphosis of the Spirit, which is in three parts: the camel (duty), the lion (anger) and the child (freedom). It is the story of our journey from restriction to liberation, both in society and as creative individuals. Given how ambitious the idea is I knew we needed to make a trilogy, in order to fully realise it in all its richness. Thibault has wild many facets to his work. It can be thoughtful, it can be shocking, it can be controlled, it can be messy. I really wanted to give audiences access to the scope of his imagination, and a trilogy allows for that variety of experience. Each work will be aesthetically very different from the other, visually and aurally. It’s also a great gesture to come to an artist and rather than simply offer them one avenue for their ideas to trust them with the breadth of a wider platform.
What can audiences expect to see?
When Thibault is in front of you something happens to the air in the room. He is one of the most intense performers I have come across, and at times the audience can barely breathe. But it’s not only intense. Thibault creates a different space for the audience, one for reflection, for thought. He plays with their expectations, with their discomfort, with their ideas about performance and human behaviour. As with any great artist, you enter Thibault’s world and, to some extent, have to submit.
The three works will be radically different from each other. Each will be very physical, somewhere between theatre and visual art, with minimal spoken language. Intense image and intense sound exploring accessible but far reaching ideas. In each piece Thibault puts himself in a physical environment which he then has to negotiate physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is a strong element of improvisation; he knows what he is going for and what images he wants to make but he has to leave space to exist in the moment for the audience. Once onstage he is properly fearless, and gives himself entirely to the possibilities of the live environment. No show will ever be the same as the last.
The shows talk about servitude and freedom of the human spirit – were there events that you drew inspiration from, and how do you explore these issues?
Thibault once described the show to me as the story of birth of the artist. How we fight off our constraints to reach a state of creative freedom. But this journey can be applied to many experiences in our lives. People will always project their own meaning onto him and the works and that’s part of the conversation. For Thibault, he makes work about being human and the struggles connected to that, whether you are an artist or not. But he isn’t in the business of offering simple, life affirming messages. The struggle of the artist is ongoing and the freedom obtained comes at a price. He doesn’t feel the need to reassure people, but only to enter into the complexity of the issues with honesty and imagination.
What part does music play in the performances?
Music has always been an essential component. This whole collaboration began by working with musician Giuseppe Lomeo. His approach to guitar and electronics creates the basis for us to build the performance. But more than that, he also contributes to dramaturgy and philosophical basis of the shows. We have reached a point where it is also impossible to conceive of these performances without live music, as they provide a counterbalance to the physical action. The music is also in conversation with the audience. When we decided to create a trilogy it made dramatic sense to have a different live musician onstage for each show, giving each a wholly different quality. I ended up with a list of world class improvisers who will create their score afresh each night from scratch..
For show one we have Giuseppe Lomeo; an esteemed guitarist and electronic musician and key part of our work together. I’ve worked with him for many years and his sounds are beautiful, evocative and otherworldly. He uses his guitar in an unorthodox way that transports you somewhere else. He and Thibault have an incredible unspoken language between them; they feed off each other. You can hear the depth of their relationship in the music itself. It felt essential to begin this journey with the sounds of our great friend. In a sense, he sets the tone for the shows to come.
For show two we have Steve Noble; largely considered one of Europe’s greatest drummers. I worked with Steve briefly a few years ago and his abilities are unparalleled. As this second show is about being trapped in a harsh environment the sound of percussion was what we needed, so why not have one of the best percussionists in modern music?
And finally, for show three we have Sharon Gal; a totally extraordinary performer who works with voice and electronics in a way you can barely imagine. For Thibault’s final piece, in which he takes his practise as far as possible, I needed someone on stage who I knew could match his originality and intensity. I have followed Sharon Gal’s work for a long time and I am completely thrilled to imagine what they will concoct together.
Basically these pairings will see musicians at the top of their game playing against an artist like no other. I can’t imagine it will be any less than extraordinary to witness.
What’s a typical day in the rehearsal room like?
We don’t rehearse in the conventional way. No repetition, as it would tire out the spontaneity he needs. There is a large amount of talking, of digging deeply into the concepts, and then we focus on the scenography, the objects, the actions. It’s about a planning a strategy really and creating a space for Thibault to enter into and bring the audience with him. As a theatre director it’s freer than I am used to working, which is terrifying in a great way. I keep neurotically trying to plan for each eventuality, but at the end of the day you have to put your trust in a degree of chaos. There are artists out there, like Thibault and these musicians, who know how to negotiate the unexpected and turn it into something beautiful.
The Spirit, a trilogy of physical performances, at Battersea Arts Centre from 27 Feb – 14 Mar 2020 more information here