Entering one by one through dark curtains, the start of this performance feels ritualistic. Inside: darkness. Ushers guide the audience using glow-in-the-dark gloves that gleam like palm pilots. The eye is drawn irresistibly to every scrap of phosphorescent tape and each tiny LED – the depth of the dark is disorientating. But rather than confuse, it seems designed only to gently remove our preoccupation with time and space. Darkness can do that, especially when coupled with isolation, like people who have spent weeks living in unlit caves, or five days in a darkness retreat in Berlin conceiving a show. Our eyes are given time to adapt to the dark, but even though the performance is just an hour, it is still hard to know how fast time is passing, if at all.
The Greek meaning of ‘theatre’ was ‘the seeing place’. To perform in total darkness may seem counterproductive, yet it has been a rich source of experimentation since at least 1998, when Battersea Arts Centre put on a seminal programme of theatre, music, dinner, comedy and poetry, all consumed in the dark. This season's aim was to unleash the power of the spoken word. In YAYAYA AYAYAY, the few spoken words are slowed, stretched and repeated with the help of digital manipulation amid throbbing tones and waveforms from the mixing desk. The sounds that make up the words are isolated, distorted, reunited; new articulations emerge – mantras and roars – before revealing their original meaning.
Apparently tethered to the sound of the voice, lights encroach fleetingly and then start to dispel the darkness, moving through it, revealing something of the space around. Under the right conditions, the human eye can respond to a single photon of light. For most people, the light continually around us stops us ever seeing that sensitively. In the half-light, the tenth-light, the hundredth-light of this performance, the eye catches and latches on to glimpses, mirages, illusions; a primal body materialising from the shimmering gloom and fading back into darkness. The effect is mind-altering, magical, cathartic.
And whether it was seeing this performance or just the start of spring in the city, the light the following morning had a different, more magical quality.
- Michael Regnier