A journey into a piece of Madness
Narrentanz formed with the support of the CUNY Dance Initiative, which gave Dance to the People a residency at the College of Staten Island. The making of the dance came from ideas of spectacle. The dance examines the discourse involved with putting on a show. Coincidentally, Foucault’s examination of the discourse associated with madness overlaps ideas of spectacle. Being mad, or a fool, wasn't always associated with medical institutionalization. Renaissance people put their mad denizens onto ships, instructing the seamen to rid the city by taking the fools out to sea. Hence where Bosch got his inspiration for Narrenschiff, the ship of fools. The spectacle of the ships, full of foreign lunatics, created great excitement for onlookers when they docked at fresh harbors. I myself had a chuckle when I looked at Bosch’s painting and thought of the boat-landing sight. Is it the familiarity with the mad that draws us to their spectacle? Is there an inner reality in folly that we possess but hide due to societal constraints?
In Narrentanz the dancers play a game, each coveting the other’s chair, dressing up in clothes, and running in space. The spectacle of the game is enticing. The challenge to win brings out the madness within each player. In rehearsal for the game section I felt unrestricted, as if I was in grammar school again. The social pre-occupation attached to the folly of wanting to win that I adapted in adulthood disappeared when I got more comfortable with the other dancers/players.
As we rehearsed Narrentanz, the fascination with spectacle became a fascination with the uninhibited. The challenge became to peel away the masked layers and allow something within to surface. The show that I put on when I walk through life in New York City was not the show that would attract interest. It is reported that since the Middle ages and as late as 1815, in countries such as Germany, England, and France, the custom of paying a small fee to visit mental asylums to watch the ‘show of the mad’ was one of the most popular Sunday activities for the bourgeoisie. The fact that the demand to watch the mad collects revenue in a capitalist society is intriguing. The dancers of Dance to the People, though not entirety interesting in making revenue, though needy of money to pay the bills, came together to explore movement for performance. Without preconceived intentions the dancers and collaborators brought body histories, movement language, and rehearsal dialogue together to develop this dance. They discovered that to revel the madness within was to create a spectacle.
Perhaps dancers always unleash their mad for spectacle, which is why we are all crazy…or the most normal. In the Medieval times, a fool could actually get away with unorthodox words without fear of the church’s wrath. Did that make her/him mad? Or was she/he an intelligent citizen who wanted liberty so much as to put on a disguise to achieve it.
After our first showing of Narrentanz, (as part of the Open Movement Series at Movement Research) DTTP Dancer, Michelle, confessed that while performing she became nervous that the audience wouldn’t relate to the body breakdown and animalistic movement. I too experienced the anxiety. I thought, “Will they think we are crazy?” The Movement Research audience wrote in response to the piece. Here is what one person had to say.
What show are we putting
the miles we walk
In Madness and Civilization, Foucault examines the meaning of madness in European society and the development of the mental institution. Throughout history, the ‘mad’ have been viewed differently. Once they were the enlightened, those able to see beyond the ‘show’ of human society. Over time, they became the undesirables and had to be separated from society like on ships or in the institutions. Currently the mad are still separated from society in medical institutions. The idea has become to ‘cure’ the mad with medicine as opposed to before when the idea was to just get them away from the ‘civilized.’ The exploration of the spectacle juxtaposed with the discovery of the mad in Narrentanz reveals our pleasure to watch folly alongside our discomfort with it.
Here are some words and phrases the audience associated with the piece when shown in February:
Plato’s Cave, crab people, handicap, sweeping range of emotions,
hard vs. soft,
to remember what is real and what is false, humans, your own world in another world, walking through life.
What words will you associate with the piece when you come to see Narrentanz at 7:30pm on May 31st at Eden’s Expressway?
I am intrigued by Foucault’s examination of the discourse of folly. Do we need madness to prove our normalcy? I feel more at ease each time I perform Narrentanz, each time I remove my placed mask, and allow my inhibitions to be a spectacle. I’m not sure what that says about the madness within, but when I dance it sure feels as if my folly is actually my normalcy, and the act of putting on my façade everyday is just plain mad.