hello & welcome back to ✨WHAT I SAW LAST WEEK!✨ – my lil online bits n bobs pic n mix culture diary, critical captain’s log for my life as a big bad art critic in the big bad city etc etc!

last week i felt guilty for not having been to see any condo bits yet. i still have not fixed that. maybe i will, maybe i won’t! either way, might be nice for me to insert my lil dream itinerary at the end of this entry, so u can go along instead of me and tell me all about it. u could write a lil what YOU saw last week etc. i would like to read that! i like reading about what people get up to :)

but last week i popped along to a lil ~influencer press preview~ event at the Royal Opera House / Royal Ballet. they sent a lil cheeky email inviting me and it was such an easy yes because it was at lunchtime and my lil hot desk office is only round the corner. so i bumbled along to see »»»

Dark with Excessive Bright !!

choreography by Robert Binet, music by Missy Mazzoli, immersive audio description by Devon Healey! down in the linbury theatre, performed by the Royal Ballet for the Festival of New Choreography!

this was a ballet, but not the kind of ballet i am used to.

to be clear, the kind of ballet i am used to is like… the toddler/child ballet classes i went to at age 5, at a dance studio in north london where a sweet old lady called lorraine taught us all how to stand properly and point our toes. i remember she had long thick brilliant white hair that she’d slick back into a ponytail and she wore enormous amounts of eyeliner. loved lorraine but i didn’t stick it out long enough to learn anything beyond second position because i thought tights were horrible and scratchy and my baby hairs never slicked back into a bun properly. my baby hairs are still v powerful and my personal vendetta against tights continues, so honestly ballet has never been for me beyond lorraine’s saturday morning classes.

but i am very interested in dance and the way body and movement are configured as a kind of culture. it seems so abstract! ephemeral! performance, movement, but also — how do the dancers keep track of what they’re meant to be doing and how do they maintain enough control of their bodies to the extent that they’re able to do it right and the same every time!?! i cannot relate to that level of control over your body’s movements because mine is largely a mystery to me – like, every morning when i go out for my run, i start running and it’s like, i’m surprised that i’m actually running? the movement and speed feels like it comes from outside myself, from some external mystery force. so ballet seems to me like more of a sport than an art, dancers as extreme endurance athletes rather than artists or craftspeople.

that’s my baggage, my preconception. obviously ballet’s an art and a sport and a craft and probably a million other complicated things. i guess i just expect art to have a bit less precision involved. lower stakes in the outcomes or more leniency in what counts as an acceptable outcome. i’m surprised that an art can be so physically demanding or so arbitrarily reliant on the body itself and your ability to be in charge of it all. like, your ability to make the art of dance completely relies on your body being able and willing and what if you snap your ankle? under my understanding of ballet class with lorraine, you’d be done for. the body has limits and my understanding of ballet was a rigid and unforgiving one. that’s like totally not the case. ballet can be physically abstract, conceptual, in a way that is forgiving of the body’s limits but also – the body’s limits can actually become the coneptual edge of the dance. it can be a thing that is only there and existing because the body’s limits are there and existing. isn’t that cool? that’s so specific and rare and special, i can’t really conceptualise it fully or think of an equivalent. it feels kinda singular.

so with all that bouncing round in my mind, i schlepped the 2 minutes up the road to Covent Garden. not the kind of ballet i’m used to, expecting or vaguely culturally familiar with. Dark with Excessive Bright is a ballet that takes place in this pit of a theatre. the dancers are already down there in the pit and so are you, but they’re in these areas that’ve been wired off. so they can move between the shapes but you’ve got to walk through the pit on these paths that wind around in a figure 8. the lights are low, there’s a cello and a string section and they’re all going at it in the corner, this thin music that leaves air in the room for the sound of other things – my own breathing, body moving agaisnt itself and against fabric, the sound of the sense that there are other people in the space with you. and the dancers are already there, dancing like no one’s watching, like they don’t care if anyone’s watching or not. it’s all very discrete.

apparently the movements aren’t improvised, but the dancers do have a kind of choreographic logic that’s open for their interpretation, their choice or decision making of what feels good or right or doable in the moment. i don’t dance, i barely made it through a year with lorraine, so i have no idea what that means. is that like a complex choreographic algorithm they’ve just got to contain in their head, like a complicated flowchart? a system of rules? set pieces that are more flexible than a routine, like somewhere in the middle ground between rigid routine and liquid improvisation? do they have mandatory movements but they’re free to fill in the blanks in between? set beginning, set endings, middle soup? or options for individual movements that they’re able to jumble together in a kind of ballet movement salad, cold mezze platter of arm out arm down, toe pointed etc? But they can string it together as they please? i don’t know. i don’t know how much wriggle room the performers have, how much agency and free will to bring themselves and their bits to the table. i don’t know how collaborative the choreography is, i don’t know if the choregrapher played a role that’s more similar to a horizontal collaborator or supporting facilitator (rather than a top down director). i don’t know!!! but in the room, it felt like a lava lamp. the blobs just blob away in there according to their own logic, it’s all obeying some kind of scientific law but that’s a mystery to me on the outside. ykwim? like, i’m just enjoying the blobs elegantly drifting through the lava lamp liquid. i’m at a distance, i’m not too stressed about the logic.

but, speaking of distance. before we went in to actually see the show, we got to hear from Devon Healey about the immersive audio description. Devon’s a Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Toronto, full on academic, published journals etc. She also has a background in theatre, as an actor and playwrite. you know when someone’s just speaking casually and you go !! like an animal crossing character expressing surprise because you realise omg i should be writing this down. as Devon was speaking, i had that animal crossing character moment. talking about the immersive audio desc, she described theatre as an experience of being bombarded by sight – translating that to a blind/visually impaired audience isn’t necessarily about the pragmatic logistical, practical description of ‘arm up arm down toe pointed’ Devon described that kind of audio desc as a map for a place she will never be – that we will never be because it’s a map of the dancer’s body’s movements, not ours. that kind of audio description doesn’t allow any kind of access into an experience. bc – that’s the thing. accessibility isn’t really just about access flowing one way (from institution out to audience, from culture to disabled person) like, nothing is that inherently unilateral. the one sidedness is fully constructed, it’s a choice. it’s more interesting to think about access as going both ways – Devon didn’t use the word empathetic to describe this, but it was the first word that came to my mind. that and: generous. Devon described blindness, and her blindness specifically, as a form of perception, not just the absence of it. so immersive audio description is a 2-way kind of access where the listener is given the extra info beyond the pragmatic, where blindness is actually a useful tool to open up other kinds of perception for people like me, who are not blind and do not have access to that experience. which is generous, empathetic, beautiful!

and the immersive audio description is also more than just 2-way, it’s like multi-way. Devon was still writing the text for the immersive audio desc when we spoke, like, it was still TBC. but the process of writing was really wide, it involved Devon being a kind of open pore. She sat in on rehearsals, interviewed dancers and tried to translate not just what they were physically doing with their bodies, but how it felt to be doing that. like, how did it feel to be in the air at that point in the dance? how did it feel to move ur arm like that, what is it like what does it feel like– an empathetic kind of writing because it is writing that translates a discrete human bodily experience to you, an other person. and they all went back and forth on it. she showed the text to the choreographer and to all the dancers, they’d come with corrections, clarifications, feedback, thoughts. the dancers would remark that they started bearing the text in mind as they were dancing – i wonder if it informed their feeling or experience of the movements? like definitely, of course it would! having those words in mind would inevitably inform or maybe even change your approach. the audio track will be the text read aloud, but it’ll also include audio of the dancers mic-ed up breathing in time with the performance. all of this information is out in the world, the non-verbal communication that we soak up and that goes unsaid. all of that pulled in tight and pouring into the audio track.

compared to the map of somewhere you’ll never be style audio description and it’s so much more laboured and crafted, this beautiful collaborative text. it’s about being in sync, in tune. the descriptions are describing something in a way that makes it feel close, warm. it’s not foreign or at a distance, there’s not rly a way to feel ambivalent about the information you’re being presented with. – from the clip i saw of it, the description functions as a kind of parallel work, a poetry to run alongside the dance itself, maybe plumbing the chasis of the work, or enhancing or amplifying the work in a really beautiful way. blindness as a kind of perception, not the absence of it! Devon was using her blindness as a kind of technology, a tool to allow her open pore access to a whole world of sensory information that she’d bring back and put into this audio description – it would mean my earholes were a portal in to, not just someone else’s body, but LOADS of OTHER PEOPLE’S BODIES all at the same time. fucking, AMAZIN!!!!

i thought it was the most interesting thing. so cool!!! apparently the tech involved in the immersive audio desc is so finely tuned that if you turn your head, it’ll switch up and the audio will shift in tune with that, to follow your intended gaze and run the info over to you to that sensitive a degree. i’m so curious about it. i’ve never wanted to try anything out as much as i’ve wanted a go on this!!! but, like i said, Devon was still writing the descriptions when i went to see it so it wasn’t ready – it’ll be done now for the actual performances tho, so if u go, deffo give it a whirl n lmk!

after hearing from Devon, how could i not bring her words with me into the performance? it was all i thought about. there were bodies everywhere, i was so close to the dancers i could see the peach fuzz on their bodies, i could see their nostrils flaring as they caught their breath. i could see their skin rippling as they made impact with the floor or a hard surface. one of the dancers had a habit of mouthing words along to themselves as they moved, as they lingered, as they paused – a proper expressive face. one had a neck that was very long and elegant and they kept it perfectly straight, upright with their head perches very particularly. one dancer only breathed out of their nose. they all had such specific physical voices. like, the way their movements were expressed has a kind of personality. and i could see it up close. i was at the very limit of their performance, pressed right up against the window of that particular bubble. all i could think about was; how does it feel to be in ur body right now? are you giving yourself goosebumps? do these movements feel fluid or do they feel crunchy or solid or hard or sharp, do they feel soft?

at one point two dancers started dancing compeletely and perfectly in sync and i gasped aloud. all i could do was wander what that felt like! to move in total sync with another body, that must feel like a tiny bit sublime, no? whenever i’m in a heaving crowd, i feel that subllime synced up movement, imagine that but precise and intimate! i was a perfect viewer, i think. after a while it was like my body fizzled away, my body became a kind of camera because i was so focused on the stimulus outside of it, i basically turned inside out and forgot my own physical limits.

so what words would you use to describe the phenomenon of being in your body right now, and what should those words mean to me!>!?! Dark With Excessive Bright made me think about how my understanding of a word might be so different to your understanding of it. we’ve just got to wish and hope that we can catch each others' meanings. words are such shoddy approximations! no wonder they are more likely to fall short! the odds are stacked against them. so we’ve got to make these words work harder to capture the thing we are trying to communicate. we’ve got to stretch them to their outer absolute limit. we’ve got to make them such empathetic vehicles because they are ultimately only containers for discrete specific feelings. and yeah, that’s about access – but for everyone, not just blind audience members. we can all benefit from that, i think – or at least, i’m sure i want to experience almost all performances from here on out with that empathetic link verbalised, because it feels like a benefit to me!

Dark With Excessive Bright is on at the Royal Opera House/Royal Ballet – idk if they share the building or if they’re the same thing? but it’s on until 20th Feb in the ROH’s Linbury Theatre. you can get tickets here – amazingly they’re only £20, a steal compared to the ticket prices for other things on in that building (!!!)

I also read Deborah Levy, Real Estate

yes, the third in her living biography trilogy. i kind of hate that this is the last one!!! i want more. i don’t like that there are none left. deborah please, you must have more to say about life. tell u wot – i’d trust her w my life, Deborah Levy knows how to LIVE! and how to UNDERSTAND that LIVING! my main take away from the trilogy now i’ve run through them is: if i could be and exist in this world with the level of like,,,,, kindness, empathy, understanding and curiosity that Deborah Levy has – i’d be thrilled with my lot. i aspire to that. what a beautiful kind of human existence. i wish we were all like that because the world would be a gentler and definitely a more interesting place. it’s like she is able to understand and accept other people and their sore spots, their quirks and flaws – while at the same time never compromising on her inviolable dignity or making herself smaller. i respect her so much!!!!!!

i read real estate at a funny time in the grand scheme of my life. i’ve spent the past month n a bit – all of 2024 so far – mentally and practically preparing to move, even tho i actually don’t want to move out of my lovely lil tottenham townhouse. it’s the size of a shoebox, it’s full of mould, and the kitchen is held together by a wish a prayer and the assumption that it’ll probably be fine – but i don’t need that much space! the mould isn’t even that bad! and i’m a terrible cook so i don’t even use the kitchen that much anyway! all i do is make oven chips and microwaved frozen peas! i love my lil house! i don’t want to move. but my landlord is selling, it’s not actually My house, even though i have loved it. and it is actually fine – i’ll live, i’m very lucky, i’m not in a dire situation or an emergency or anything like that. i’ve had a long heads up so i’m not stressed or precarious, i have safety nets and a backup plan for my backup plan – like i said, i’m very very very lucky. but i just think anyone who is in their 20s or 30s, living in a city, in a place they rent, if they know they’ll never be able to afford to buy anywhere, not even a shoebox full of mould with a theoretical kitchen – this is a kind of book that feels immediately tense and emotional, meaningful and like a story ripped from your own soul. i felt like deborah was speaking directly to me. i cried 3 times reading this book bc i have an unreal estate house in my mind that i think about, knowing i will probably never have it bc london’s housing crisis means i cannot really live easily in the city i am literally from. it feels bourgeois to even want something as mindlessly opulent as a nice comfy cosy little flat that i can stably live in for the rest of my life no interruption or interjection. i was born here!!! i grew up here!!! i am literally literally from here!!! i am a native indigenous hometown londoner and i don’t want to not live here but fuckinnnnnn litty lengy stokey newy overground wankers from fuckinghamshire can afford to price me out and the worst part is, it’s not even their fault!!! even tho they’re absolutely fucking insufferable! it’s the landlords and the government, the people who get to wash their hands of bad investments every time interest rates go up. that’s such an enormous and painful thing to have to contend with every time i open my door. my unreal estate. it’s ok, i’ll be fine. my backup plan’s backup plan. maybe the book will sell multi millions and i’ll be able to unclench every month. fat chance, but all the same. like deborah, i have a body of work, writing that is more precious and real to me, it means more to me than a bricks and mortar legacy or anything as silly frivolous and ridiculous as private property. what a fucking beautiful book. even though it made me cry, this was the right time in my life to have read it, i am glad for it because it was a balm.

my list of exhibitions i should have gone to go see, but deffo won’t this week

(bethnal green) [⁠sherbet green // li li ren, the world forgetting by the world forgot] [rose easton // jan gatewood, group relations] [auto italia // bhenji ra, biraddali dancing on the horizon] [soft opening // gina fischli love love love] » this one’s only opening this week :)

(haggerston) ⁠[seventeen // patrick goddard, home invasion]

(de beauvoir) [⁠alma pearl // bitch magic]

also, if ur curious about other things on in london atm, [condo] is fun! all across the city like an art scavenger hunt. here’s the link if u want to check it out – this is hashtag not sponsored, idek why i’m giving condo the free shoutout, but people do ask us for reccs all the time, n i guess this is how WISLW functions, so here u go, this is what i’d check to see what’s on :) bc it’s ALL on RIGHT NOW. and i also probably deffo have time to go check out most the ones i wana next week still. PHEW!

ok, that’s all for this week! see u week after next bc i will not have anythin for u next monday, bc i’m MOVING. unless u want pics of my cardboard boxes hehe. but i’ll still catch ya this sunday for the text!!! take care! love u! bye!!!