- Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, and: Yesterday Tomorrow by Annie Dorsen
In quiet, modest, and deeply related ways, American director Annie Dorsen and the Franco-Belgian team of Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort offer glimpses of recent theatre’s most intimate and probing questions about amplification, projection, and time: How do we experience change through the technologies we use to communicate and imagine? What do computerized algorithms do to our sense of time? What kind of subject constitutes herself within the shifting temporalities of the twenty-first century?
In Dorsen’s Yesterday Tomorrow, computer technology neither amplifies nor mediates human performances—it conducts them. The performance began with three people, two women and one man, on three couches, surrounded on all four sides by moving projections of their musical score hung high in the air, clearly legible to the audience and singers alike. A television and laptop rooted the space in domestic tech; at the back, a glowing plastic Buddha. At the beginning the performers sang the Beatles’ “Yesterday” in unison; by the end they all sang “Tomorrow” from the Broadway musical Annie, seated on the same couch. How the performers transform “Yesterday” into “Tomorrow” is never the same, but not because they improvise nor (only) because all performances are singular instances; rather, a computer algorithm introduces changes into each of their parts gradually, and differently, each time the program runs.
At first, the singers and the music they read repeated “Yesterday” several times without any obvious changes. Then a sound, a tempo, a duration shifted, along with the notation the audience could read above the performers. One singer’s part introduced the word chin at the end of a complete “Yesterday” verse; then other words appeared. Harmonies and melodies strayed as tones, note lengths, and phrases varied. Disjunction accumulated over time. Each mutation iterated each previous mutation, gaining complexity, approaching chaos. The familiar phrases of “Yesterday” decayed—not dissonant, but shifting according to invisible rules that did not seem like rules at all. Along the way, performers moved between simple everyday poses, not representing anything in particular: one stood, someone else watched the big-screen television down left, another turned on the couch to look at a laptop—suggesting, perhaps, that mobile technologies and the scores they bear are an intimate part of daily life, nestled into habits of sitting on the sofa and pacing about the room. Someone turned to face the music at the back, singing away from us. Over time, all three moved around the couches and switched positions, creating new tableaux.
I felt adrift, although not in quite the way I have watching Merce Cunningham or listening to John Cage. Instead, I felt lifted above the repetitive moorings that normally constitute the coordinates of my temporality, the habits and rhythms that facilitate pattern recognition. I felt my sense of time, including my all-too-familiar consciousness of when this might end, suspended, as if anticipation transformed into a freer and more equanimous openness to the present moment. It was hard not to read this experience in light of the softly bourgeois-kitschy Buddha whose presence among the sofas, laptop, and television suggested that enlightenment, or at least letting go of thoughts about the past and future, might suffuse even everyday, modern middle-class American life.
After some imprecise tipping point, the longing and mournful character of “Yesterday” gave way to the gleaming, unlikely optimism of “Tomorrow.” The swirl of sound became comprehensible. I recognized a whole phrase—”bet your bottom dollar,” then another. Each new iteration pulled me out of an uncertain present toward an anticipated [End Page 443] end. This wholeness felt oriented toward its utopian future, one which, by definition, could never come, as the little orphan reminds us: it is “always a day away.” The performance began with lyrics that pointed toward the nostalgic past: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away”; it ended with...