LONODN, United Kingdom — Arbonauts, the London-based company that produces multidisciplinary, site-based performances, are back in July with a new show exploring the origins of one of the most fundamental drives of human behaviour – desire. When we spoke to them, the first full day of rehearsals was coming to a close in a hanger-like space in East London. We talked to the company’s founders, Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder, about their concept of performance, the origins and aims of their new show and their plans for the future.
What kind of performance piece is The Desire Machine?
The Desire Machine explores the idea of desire and its origins – whether it springs from inside the individual or is projected from the outside world. Our overall aim is to create something that is inside you, provoking a physical reaction that each person who will come to see the show cannot escape. Unlike other forms of theatre – even so-called immersive theatre – which happen very much on the outside, this piece is designed to create something that changes the pace of your perception, that creeps into the space in-between actions. It has a surreal erotic undertone and a level of intimacy and closeness in which performers and audience can make eye contact, yet it maintains a single focus, the audience has no anxiety to always move to find out what’s going on in the next room. In a way, it maintains and explores the power dynamic between performers and audience.
Your previous work – Biped’s Monitor – had a very romantic and elegant quality, integrating the green open-air space in which it took place. How is The Desire Machine different?
The Desire Machine was designed for a specific site – the Brunel Tunnel Shaft – which is an industrial space built in the 1820s, resonating in both history and sound. Access to this circular underground space is through a contained entrance: we want the audience to accept our transformative challenge to transition from daily life and its regular consumption of culture to an underground world that changes the pace of your perception and spurs you to think and respond to what you are experiencing. They should feel the tension of squeezing from the outside world into this one, to experience what happens behind the eyes just as much as what they can physically see.
At the core is the exploration of what lies beneath the ‘civilised’, urban society we live in – hence the choice of the Brunel Shaft, which speaks directly to that – the idea that we are shifting reality by just a couple of degrees, to delve beneath the surface.
What inspired you to develop this piece?
The initial inspiration came from Angela Carter’s novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which provided the ignition: the idea of a machine below the surface of the city that comes to life when people look into it, and of invisible energies around people. But in the end this is very much a non-linear, non-narrative spectacle. Snapshots are amplified, distorted and reconfigured out of narrative context. It was also developed very much with the site at its centre, which is something that is vital to our work in general – we are constantly searching for different sites with different projects and sources of inspiration floating about – and it is when they all fit together, when we find synchronicity that we push to develop the work.
Can you tell us a bit more about the creative process?
Our work is very collaborative, and it’s really a co-creative process in which dramaturgy and installation go hand in hand. We don’t work off a script and during rehearsals our performers (aerialists, dancers, actors) lead parts of the devising process.
With The Desire Machine, the resonance of the space is a crucial element of the show: Alex Nikiporenko and Louise Drewett composed the music, which is then edited and built into the performance by sound artist Lee Berwick. In fact, Lee measured the architecture of the Brunel Shaft and found a low frequency sound wave to create a soundscape that gives the illusion of throwing sound through space – so that as the audience moves through the space, they will find pockets with no sound and explore the work with their bodies and not just their eyes. Similarly, the design of the machine itself (a scaffold-like conical structure within and around which the performers move) is designed so that it both integrates into the environment and creates a sense of otherness – looking through it should heighten the sense of distortion through kaleidoscopic images, repetition and visual illusion.
What are your plans for the future?
We are very strongly rooted in our local community in South East London, where we have developed strong relationships, partners and funders, and in the autumn we will be working with year-10 pupils, introducing them to site-specific theatre workshops. Beyond that, however, we would like to tour the performance – take it to stage-based festivals in the UK and across Europe. We hope to explore the possibility of bringing the show to other environments – even finding other spaces that have similar, 360 degrees resonance to the Brunel Shaft.
The Desire Machine is at the Brunel Tunnel Shaft in London from 14th to 25th July is offering our readers a 20% discount on tickets to the show. Use code friendsofdesire2015 when purchasing your tickets here.