Dream Sequence research / Emese Csornai
Texts derived from a 3 month research supported by Fonds Darstellende Künste with funds from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media within the program NEUSTART KULTUR
Intersection of pop culture and dreamscapes
Background of the research
Dream Sequence started itself as a Corona work- I had the chance to step out from the rushed stream of works and look into the ongoing compositional research within my work, see what was the red thread in the performances I authored and others I was set out to make.
I was actively researching how sequences of edited film can look like and make us feel in a theater environment. There are so many strategies to find here. In ‘Stranger’ for example I have explored only the most obvious paths, looking into camera-angle change in a shared physical space, zoom-in on an isolated figure and action, panning out on a diagonal of an otherwise blacked-out space. In ‘On being ill’ I have been re-taking the self-confessionate format attributed to Jo Spence on a holographic screen. During the piece we have transposed it in space centering on Virginia Woolf’s essay of the same title, that was maybe less obvious but direct reference of the frame of photography and film in relation to shared space.
It is a thought-provoking fact about adapted filmic tools on stage, that when these are video-documented, the actual tools blend so well with our trained reflexes to receive and digest sequences of moving image, that they can not be recognized from a documentation any longer, and only through cortical feedback, verbal elaboration, they are spotted. In a theater space however they are more visible.
This gives a valid window of observation both on video-documentations of dance or theater performances, but also on the actual point I was circling around, and do so while researching ‘Dream Sequence’, namely how genres of representation assume ways of looking and how our way of looking will define the information allowed to reflect upon. Consequently, how this whole procedure flattens gravely the imaginable conclusions one can find in art and media.
In the first iteration, working together again with Silvia Bennett, we started with inhabiting my idea of dreams and dream sequences from movies. I have brought Falling from Delia Derbyshire and Blue Velvet from David Lynch as a reference, and dialed in with the lighting professional in me, who created a space similar to a corridor or a cave of lights beaming down in different depths. My goal was to follow deeper and deeper dreams on stage. The work was outlining beautiful possibilities of a dark dream, but it made filmic tools disappear in a sleek way, they just felt too natural in the way we integrated them, and I did not have the concentration at the time to fish them back. Beyond that, I was sure the research had to further specify itself. Silvia has rooted the work in the language of theater, bridging the two media through characters and we found modulations of speed and direction of light and movement sequences evocative to filmic representations. This research was further invested in the latter work.
Getting into the matter of artistic exchange
In the actual research project of ‘Dream Sequence’ I have started a research collaboration with Janne Ebel. It became clear that there is no singular relation between theater and film, and the adaptation of each filmic form opens a number of new questions on content, to define even the genre of a singular film to sample on stage.
In film there is no autonomy of perception. The frame dictates where the spectator looks, the brightest part of the image. The difference to theater is that there is not a two dimensional representation of space, but a three dimensional one, that brought us to the first obstacles of translation. As a representative example, the dramatic effect of the frame ratio changes in the movie "Waves” would not be possible to recreate in a theater space. Other popular space rendering effects, like the anamorphic bokeh would be possible to recreate with bricolage tools and light.
As both theater and film are abstracted spaces, I have developed a keen interest in adapting landscape sequences from films to theater, embracing the tempo and the resolution of them too. To my greatest surprise, the most abstracted form of moving landscape supported by either text or music that will hint on the speed of the sequence works as a quote of a moving landscape, in the direction of a road movie.
While exploring my possibilities for representation I stumbled across the book "Edweard Muybridge and the technological wild west” from Rebecca Solnit. This was the only book I read that was expressly dealing with the economy of perception, self-representation, the shifts of visual culture trends in evolution, the intersection I was examining in a practical way, but this book goes back to the mid 19th century and the industrial revolution.
Alongside, I specified what I mean as pop culture, beyond being a counterpart of theater, an imposed dream, a marketed space that interferes with our attention-economy,partially determining the audience of experimental theater and the relevance of topics it opens up to.
Social media shorts build on Cinema in form and content, and many content providers are using filmic tools and references to films in captions and gifs, frequently copying a form and no longer aware of the content they carry. Social media trends emerge and vanish with accelerating speed. These tidal waves of shared visual space are part of latter conversation, music and fashion, as it is processing itself and mutating through genres. The more events are limited to digital interfaces the more these impulses become a common narrative and offer themselves as a topic to discuss in the field of culture without giving too much flesh to grasp.
This was the area of interest of the research I opened up for Silvia Bennett, Yvonne Sembene and Bilawa Respati, enjoying the occasional feedback of Anni Lattunen. I wanted to create a room to share for social media, the fabricated dream, and the language of dreams, commonly shared.
There was an unexpected but logical importance of age differences appearing in the research. The places where and how we socialized did leave a mark on our coping and processing strategies about pop culture phenomena.
A very important tension formed between online attention economy and fragmentation of time, and time as a theatrical representation. Suddenly a smartphone-proportioned white canvas that was taller than a person was most obviously a smartphone, and anything in front of it would be whatever appeared on our screen. A careful reproduction on a wall, of lights emitted from a window of a subway train, in which our protagonist would appear, was not all that clear for an uninformed viewer. Making a blackout and a cutting image by flapping a scarf in a small light and fading out following that was less readable as seeing a sequence backwards. Quoting mythological figures in front of a horizon lighting, showing silhouettes was as easy read as the aforementioned giant phone screens. Subtitle text became a mundane reference but glow in the dark text was a rescue boat that brought us back to cinema with capital letters.
(Content of this picture is filmed by Janne Ebel cut into stills and made into a collage by Emese Csornai in the style of Edweard Muybridge picturing Silvia Bennett at Tanzhalle Wiesenburg)
The layered nature of the material we have been working on read clearly, and music was a perfect substance to create clarity or ambiguity in this shared space. We had to learn that some of the tools we were using were not reaching our test audience, because they were too dialectic to each of our fields. We will need to spend much more time on understanding how to lead attention from extremely abstract content to more blunt and obvious references.
Another important issue we found out about is that copying in the context of pop culture gains a whole new meaning, and this attention is in the forefront of the viewers’ attention whether we want it or not. To get into that matter both in the space of dreams and the social media extracts will be a tight and specific movement research.
Time-economy has an important double-role, on one hand a dramaturgic agent and a motivator of fragmentation, on another hand hinting on what space we may be in. Here relative speed of lighting, movement and music is a key toolkit that defines the spine of the piece.
As explored in the collaborative section, the time aspect of pop culture and social media is very different compared to the one of the theater. In order to keep up with the challenging speed pop culture morphs itself in, we really need to be online present and exchange shorts related to “Dream sequence” with theater tools, and that is a necessary side-project of preparation to a piece, like Monty Python sketches in their character.