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The Power of Spectacle


Wow, Oz, I’m so glad you posted, “On Point: Art, Academics, and Checks and Balances.” I think the video you discuss, En Puntas, addresses something that we spoke about in dramaturgy class today – the power of spectacle.

As I watch the video, I’m lifted above the mundane – through terror and astonishment. Visceral reactions are happening to me as I watch her actions and the manner by which she engages the grand piano. It’s beautiful, violent, and cruel. Kind of like life. She’s destroying as she makes. I’m not sure if the same experience could be communicated through words – this is poetry embodied.

I say terror, because I’m terrified for her as she stabs along the edge of the grand piano. One slip and she could fall. Her violent scrapes along the surface of the grand piano scare me. That object could be me, it could be her. And, I’m constantly astonished. To begin with, I thought the feat was simply standing up. Her first scrape along the surface, her first step, is surprising – I didn’t know she’d do that, she’s changing the conversation. She begins to stab violently into the surface – she’s destroying…it seems herself and the piano (with her gasps of frustration).

And what about the choice of the grand piano – here she is being incredibly irreverent to a cherished, expensive object. That’s astonishing! She’s so cruel to it…slashing it, stabbing into it. Yet, her fight to do just that – to make her mark, and stay upright (or possibly do some serious damage to herself) on something precious, is gorgeous and horrifying to watch at the same time.

I think the power of spectacle is in its potential to unite us – in a way that language cannot. Just think about if we were a gathered audience watching her live – I think this particular piece of spectacle would get close to Artaud’s theater of cruelty. By watching it on video – we know that there is an ending somewhere, somehow a plan has been made, it’s edited…so, that true element of the unknown is gone. But live, we would be united in our terror for her, we would be united in our gasps at her audacity to destroy the grand piano. How I think about theater of cruelty is similar to witnessing something awful – I’m instantly united, powerfully so, with the other witnesses. For example, if you and I and a bunch of strangers watched a horrible bus accident, we’d be united through the event – I think something similar is going on here


And, since we are on the subject of dance…and how it can lift us above the mundane…I’d like to share a favorite piece with you: Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights (who, by the way, will be performing at Arts Emerson in February – Man in a Case)

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