Dance of Encounter (2005)

“Ring” at Muffathalle/ München/ 2006

by Jane Munroe (2005)

Felix Ruckert makes dance pieces that audience members experience rather than watch. In his work Secret Service, performed at the Perspectives Nouvelles Festival, Gallery Moderne, Saarbrucken, Germany, June 2003 and first premiered in Berlin 2002, the spectator becomes a participant. Indeed Ruckert calls the spectators of Secret Service the ‘visitors’. The piece moves beyond dance theatre and representation, yet the work is both intensely emotional as well as physical. ‘Visiting’ the piece, I am experiencing, largely my own physicality in intimate relation with other probably unknown bodies. This physical dancing experience is also intensely emotional for me, similar yet very different to my previous dance theatre experiences. Corresponding cultural or literary theory or Laban based-choreological models of dance analysis are yet to account for such dance experiences. This essay offers a model for investigating such work.

There are models of contemporary theatre/performance that foreground the physical experience of the audience member. One performance writer, Elinor Fuchs (1996) defines a model that foregrounds such a bodily experience for the audience. Fuchs (1996) discusses American performance pieces using a model she names ‘theatre as shopping’. Elements of this style of theatre appear to be in a similar vein to some of what occurs in Ruckert’s pieces, which intensely address the bodies of the spectator.  More than this, Ruckert is playing with the relationship between performers bodies and audiences members’ bodies rather than dealing with bodies in any site-specific non-theatrical space. In Ruckert’s pieces it is the behaviour of the dancers and the invitation to the audience in the theatrical space, be it an art gallery or a theatre converted for installation, which asks the audience to behave in particular ways. Fuchs model is useful for analysing Ruckert’s dance works but in the course of this essay I will argue that Ruckert’s work might better be called Dance of Encounter rather than Theatre of Shopping because it is the encounter between the two bodies of performer and audience member that the performance is centred.

Fuchs model is a constructive model for analysing Ruckert’s work because the two performance approaches share an aim of shifting the audience’s experience through their own bodies, alongside a shift in conceptual frame beyond representation. This essay analyses Ruckert’s Secret Service (2003) in relation to the model set out by Fuchs which in turn uses the Brechtian model of theatre as a counter-point. To exemplify her model Fuchs uses the piece Father Was a Peculiar Man, (a postmodern appropriation of The Brothers Karamazov, directed by Reza Abdoh, written by Mira-Lani Oglesby and produced by En Garde Arts in 1990).

‘Theatre as shopping’, a Fuchs suggests could be viewed as an anti-model to Brechtian didactic theatre. Key aspects of Brechtian theatre can be contrasted to elements of Theatre of Shopping or Dance of Encounter in order to expose the opposite qualities of this form. Brecht’s alienation effect becomes in Theatre of Shopping or Dance of Encounter, a ‘familiarization effect’. Familiarization effect, rather than distancing the spectator in order that they view the questions and social critique of the piece places the viewer bodily within the action of the performance. In Fuchs’ Theatre of Shopping, however, this immersed viewer is removed from conventional theatre traditions where the conventions assist in a distancing effect, and placed in a space or another location within a particular context that cannot be separated from her life. Fuchs’ model is of site-specific work but Ruckert’s Dance of Encounter occurs in the theatre space yet removes the conventions of the audience sitting and watching at a distance from to the performers. Secret Service (2003) and another of Ruckert’s works, Ring (2002), both focus on performers dancing with the audience while the questions and social critique that the work features, occur in the nuances of and caused by the physical and ‘familiar’ interaction.

Several aspects of the Theatre of Shopping model (that both sites and shifts Brecht’s model) can be applied to Ruckert’s work, from famialirization technique, to performer intention, to the role of space in the work. It also seems appropriate to apply Fuchs’ discussion of the de-interiorization of the subject and the post show ‘improved sense’ of one’s own reality that she describes as occurring post Father Was a Peculiar Man. In Secret Service, a piece split into two levels, the real engagements involve the audience member or ‘visitor’ physically engaging with the performer whilst blind fold. In level one, the visitor is blind fold and a dance occurs that might be performed in contact improvisation; a dance in which much trust is placed in the dancers as the visitor is carried and swung around, dropped and caught, lain on, cuddled, run with, tapped on the face and fed. Secondly, in level two, the touch and interaction is as the warning notice informs the audience, motivated by lust and pain references, and as Ruckert says in interview drawing, on Sado- Masochistic sexual practices. These interactions place the visitor in a bodily experience with the dancers as well as placing the visitor in a very different position from the distanced and objective perspective of the Brechtian spectator. These visitors are indeed ‘familiar’ with the bodies of the dancers, experiencing the same activity, though each visitor in her own way.

Familiarization effect is not in the same vein as the empathetic theatre of Stanislavski, which Brecht might call ‘culinary’ theatre. The static and transfixed nature of the spectator in culinary theatre following Fuchs is removed in Theatre of Shopping/ Dance as Encounter, as is the expansion of time that the traditional spatial theatrical model facilitates. In Theatre of Shopping, the audience’s previous empathy with the characters in drama is replaced with the spatial permeation, which now becomes the pivotal element of the spectacle: the ‘central character’. As this performance is site specific the space dictates much of the experience. The space selected by site-specific producer, Anne Hamburger, was the wholesale meat district of New York. Hamburger selected the space together with the skills of Reza Abdoh in mind. This space is inhabited by dead animal flesh in the morning and by transvestite prostitutes by night. By engaging with performance that reflects the imagery of its ‘real’ backdrop, a backdrop of consumption, Fuchs reports, the spectators were not asked to grasp a narrative but to witness a range of sites, creating an atmosphere of a once in a life-time experience, partly created by the manic performance and partly by the unusual environment.

In Dance of Encounter the empathy with the characters that an audience might feel watching a dance theatre piece such as Les Ballet c de la B’s Rien de Rien (2003) or even to some degree Pina Bausch’s Cafe Muller (although Bausch’s dancers do begin the enter the audiences’ space) is replaced with the space the audience and performers share without any separation. The emotions I, as audience member, experience in response to the choreography on my body during Secret Service are rooted in my  physical rather than any emotional empathy with another. My physical responses are to the immediate body that guides me through the experience and possibly I do have more trust for one dancer than another merely because of how they touch me. Yet, I do have emotional responses but these come through or are a reaction to my physical responses rather than engaging with the story of another that is played out for me to watch or listen to.

In Theatre of Shopping, the roles the performers take on are very different in some ways to that of Dance of the Encounter but similar in that the performers do not aim for realism in their characters, nor do they aim for true detachment of Brechtian acting. In terms of dance forms, the characterisation of a performer in dance drama is not present in Ruckert’s dancers yet there is a physical engagement with the audience member and an emotional presence for the audience that is often not apparent in a performance of a formalist work.  Instead in Father Was a Peculiar Man (1990) the actor presents his “in-authenticity, their artificiality, exhibiting themselves as a series of ever-changing, and not necessarily connected, impressions and surfaces.” (Fuchs 1996: 140). Fuchs perceives the actor as calling her to replicate herself on this series of shifting simulations in which she must “try on the physical and imaginative conditions imposed by the surrounding space”. (Fuchs 1996, p.140.) She considers the work to place her within an untrue authenticity in which the real and the true have been thrown onward from subjectivity into the encompassing space.

 In Dance as Encounter, the dancers although not visually performing actions that reveal their identities as characters, they do have an intention of being precise, safe and also risky in physicality. In Secret Service (2003), teasing or inflicting pain with sexual connotations are also elements of the dancers’ physical tasks. These dancers may be performing tasks that they would not in every day life and with people with whom they would not choose to perform these particular actions. In this way, through the task, they are acting or presenting a character. Audience members are not able to sit and watch the manner in which they perform the action and then make a judgement or empathise with the sadistic pleasure of the perpetrator or the pain of the receiver. The dancers must carry out their tasks with meticulous precision and necessarily with a presence that allows for adjustment of task depending on the response of the particular visitor. In this way they also have an intention and a quality that could be related to character acting but they do not have a story that they are telling. So in common with Theatre of Shopping, Dance of Encounter shows the fall away of the authentic ‘truthfulness’ of the Stanislavski actor or the Grahamesque dancer (both seeking an inner truth in performance) and a move away from the emotionless formalist dancer. The dancers in Ruckert’s work are present to what is occurring immediately between the self and other; the dancer and the one audience member that in Secret Service, they are moving in the space amongst other dancers and visitors. So allowing the responses that each has to the other as they touch and move in a collaborative physical and emotional experience. As an audience member when experiencing Secret Service, I became aware of how it was to dance with a big man (I felt the bristles of a chin) in contrast to a small woman (I felt the delicacy of the small bones and muscles alongside soft skin) and how differently the various dancers made me feel.

In Ruckert’s work, in Secret Service and in Ring the whole piece is in some senses a ‘real’ engagement with the audience.  The engagement is real because the dancers really touch you and lift you and dance with you as the audience. As Sanchez-Colberg (2002) argues, there are particular social, conceptual and psychological frames in real life (as opposed to an art work) that facilitate particular behaviours.  In Secret Service, there are structures or frames set up for behaviours to happen which operate in relationship with regular structures of the real such as contact improvisation for Level one and Sado-Masochistic practices for Level two. These allow the participants (performers and audience) “to engage in the making of a belief rather than make believe” (Sanchez Colberg and Preston Dunlop 2002:170). Foster (1996) in his text The Return of the Real, argues that the real has come back to art and that it is a traumatic ‘real’ and also that this ‘real’ has a Freudian notion of deferred action as Melrose (2002) notes. In Ruckert’s Secret Service the ‘real’ is the immediate sense of touch, being moved or the experience of pain. I was bitten very hard on the shoulder by a tall and broad male dancer in Level Two. This was intensely ‘real’ and indeed traumatic, yet very different from hearing an extremely sad conversation on a stage, which might make me really sad. That is not to say that the latter example is less ‘real’ because I do not experience the touch of another body but that the experience of immediate touch is particular and it facilitates extreme shifts in emotional and physical states.

Theatre as Shopping, as Fuchs argues, asks the actor to present multiple in-authentic characters and requests that the audience adopt the imagery and bodily quality of the changing spaces of the work. A description of my own experience of the space, characters and imagery appears useful for understanding Secret Service in relation to Fuchs’ ‘theatre as shopping’. In Secret Service I am invited to try on roles that are opposed, yet also echo in the shadow of their other. Level one offers the visitor an experience of being physically supported, held, played with when not quite dropped by the dancers, when twirled around and thrown only to be caught by these strong skilled dancers. Here, my experience, my feelings tell me of characters I try on. I am a small child thrown up by my father, fixed in his huge arms as I drop down. I am now a highly skilled dancer capable of great technique, performing so effectively with these brilliantly proficient dancers. Occasionally, when there is a pressing of one dancer’s pelvis on my belly or some playful nibbling on my arms, I am cast in the role of innocent blind folded victim of sophisticated manipulators.

While visitor to Level Two of Secret Service, the role I am playing is clearer and for me a little shocking. Myself and the other two very young women are asked to wear only our underpants for the next stage of the performance.  The character that I felt I tried on was a novice initiated into a cult. We were lifted and bitten; slapped and carried on the backs of strong dancers. I was also hugged and calmed when I felt overwhelmed by these unfamiliar rituals. For me the biting was very harsh; too painful and risky in only my underpants. There was also the feeling that I might know the person carrying out these acts as I had met Ruckert and some of his dancers.  This new character I tried on was now, for a few minutes, that of an abused, powerless and very frightened woman. After a time of very re-assuring calming by one of the dancers, I tried on another character, when riding on the back of a dancer while they slapped me, I felt anxious, I suddenly felt concerned that my period might begin in this vulnerable position of wearing only my underpants. I found myself in a resistant role, a knowing role: that of a woman who begins to find this action funny rather than at all seductive. I try on the role of outsider entering a world that is not my own; a world I cannot allow myself to enter, maybe because of my anxieties.  

Fuchs describes one feature of theatre as shopping as projecting “an improved sense of her own reality” onto the “newly de-interiorised subject” as the spectator leaves the performance. (Fuchs, 1996:140). This perception of the subject de- interiorised lacks explanation in Fuchs writing. My interpretation of the newly de-interiorised subject is that the spectator is so engaged with her spatial surroundings and the actions within the particular context, that she forgets her usual state of body and mind and her current preoccupations. She becomes engaged in mind and body with the ‘show’. When the ‘show’ is over, she maybe experiences the real environment, in which this show has been, in a different way. I might add that she experiences herself differently as her body reacts differently to the space, her eyes seeing the space and the people in it in another way. Maybe, her bodily experience, the context in which the piece has placed her, has shifted her mind’s perspective. It is possible to understand this through Merleau-Ponty’s approach in phenomenology. Merleau-Ponty discusses space:

Is it true that we are faced with the alternative either of perceiving things in space, or (…) of conceiving of space as the indivisible system governing the acts of unification performed by a constituting mind? Does not the experience of space provide a basis for its unity by means of an entirely different kind of synthesis? (Merleau-Ponty 1962 :244)

Following this understanding of the de-interiorised subject and Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of how space creates a unifying experience, Ruckert’s work Secret Service offers in my experience of the piece, two contrasting spaces through which the de-interiorised subject becomes possible. It seems that there are two spaces that are used to create and acknowledge the unifying acts between performers and visitors: the waiting rooms and the studio spaces. These spaces are created inside a theatre or gallery rather than in an existing site as in the case of Fuchs’ examples. In Secret Service, the two spaces are created for the different Levels (one and two). The waiting space before you enter Level one has several chairs, a bowl of fruit, two female performers who sit you down and blind fold the visitors. The space has no window. The waiting space for Level two has a window, a clothes rail, flowers, a bowl of fruit and chocolate, soft sofas as well as hard chairs. These spaces create very different atmospheres, Level one space put me in mind of an osteopath’s waiting room while Level two is more lavish, more sensory with an open window, sounds of water flowing, soft sofas and indulgent foods. The spaces are created for our common purpose: all going and coming from the “Secret Service” these dancers are offering. These waiting rooms have a real function as they are spaces to be blindfolded, undress and recover from our experiences in the studio.

The acts that occur in these two waiting spaces, rather than the studio spaces are similar. In both spaces we see people entering and leaving the rooms: in Level one, people enter from the auditorium as their number is called, they leave blindfolded to enter the studio space, re- enter after the performance and their blind fold is removed. In Level two, visitors arrive clothed, leave to enter the studio semi-naked, return from the studio wrapped in a blanket and leave the waiting space re-clothed. What is significant about these waiting spaces is two-fold. First we witness the extremes of the changing physical and emotional states of fellow visitors and secondly, we experience the sensory quality of the objects within the space, smelling flowers, sitting on soft sofas, eating fruit or chocolate. As visitors we experience the trepidation and exhilaration of others as they enter and leave the spaces blindfolded and for Level two either wrapped in a blanket or semi-naked. The quality of the spaces and the actions within them offer a heightened emotional quality. It is these waiting room spaces, as well as the studio spaces, that create a unity between the visitors in the space. It seems that the de-interiorisation of the subject that Fuchs discusses is really acknowledged in these waiting room spaces. Secret Service actually acknowledges that the visitors have had an experience that is likely to take an individual into another state of bodymind. The choreographer recognizes that the visitor is likely to need a space and some time in which they can acknowledge their changed state of bodymind. In the waiting room the visitor can feel their shifted state, allow time to return to a more usual, (if changed), subjectivity and witness others in their altered state, their de-interiorised subject state. This process occurs before and after both levels and is significant of the care taken with the visitors in the piece.

In the studio space, the space that creates a unifying act, the visitors move through the studio environment because the dancers initiate and lead this action; acts that alter the state of body and mind. Here, I will describe my experience of the studio space during Level one: “the blindfold ‘contact’ dance shifted me to a place that was extremely relaxed and trusting, more so than if I had been able to see the dancer. I trusted that they would not drop me and my knowledge of using my weight passively would, I felt, enable the dancers to manipulate my body easily in this contact dance. Had they dropped me I also knew that I could fall in a way that would not hurt myself. Yet I never worried at the time that they would drop me.  My experience was also of enjoying an energetic physicality that was initiated by the dancers’ dynamics as well as enjoying my (I considered) proficiency in dancing in this way. I was turning, running and being lifted with ease alongside others in the room. Only occasionally did I feel the brush of other bodies than the body of the dancer leading me, other people who were also in this game. The altered state of body and mind then, this de-interiorised space, (from my usual subjectivity) of the piece was one of confidence, relaxation and trust alongside a playful energised quality. My bodymind was very much altered from the state in which I entered the first waiting room: I was now energised but relaxed and I felt happy and even elated. On re-entering the waiting space, I return to a more regular subjectivity in which I use my sight and witness others’ very altered and relaxed faces as their blindfold were removed. The sight of my cousin, a non-dancer who also attended the show, emerging from his blindfold looking relaxed and gentle was also deeply emotionally moving for me.

Following Merleau-Ponty (1962), this studio space in which the acts of bodies occur continues to be unifying because we are all moving through this space with similar sensitivity initiated by the dancers and also because of the blindfolds. In Level one, we are asked implicitly to use contact improvisation or Aikido (the Japanese martial art) rules of negotiating space: giving our weight passively, following the momentum of the body and moving with a heightened sensitivity to others bodies. As visitors, we are allowing ourselves to be guided to move in this way. My cousin felt as though there was something he was supposed to be doing that he lacked the bodily knowledge to do. He was lain at the side of the studio a number of times because, he felt, he could not perform as was necessary. Probably, his lack of movement skills made it impossible to do all the elements of the choreography. In Level two, on the other hand, the actions of biting and slapping of visitors’ flesh breaks down the space between the audiences and the performers bodies further. The visitors are roughly lifted and carried and the meeting of bodies is a different one. The space created already by the music and the waiting room and by the acts of biting and slapping has, as the disclaimer on the programme announced, a harsher and sexual quality.

In Secret Service, the waiting rooms and the actions that occur are invited within them, according to Ruckert, are choreographed, which allegedly results in the same thing happening to each visitor. The process appeared to me to have the quality of a ritual. Ruckert, (2003) in interview comments that he is influenced by trantric rituals and this appears evident in the seating and particular use of flowers and fruit in the waiting spaces. The blindfolding procedure, the undressing, the returning wrapped in blankets and being offered water all felt like a ritual as I witnessed the same process happening to others before and after me.  

Another area that Secret Service appears to acknowledge is the visitor or audience as consumer. What the visitor is consuming is a contact dance with these performers while in Level two, the visitor is consuming some pain-based stimulations such as a bite and a slap. (More is available for the hardened pain consumer.) Fuchs entitles her argument Theatre as Shopping because she witnesses the theatre and the market place merging. She sees some forms of theatre as absorbing and forming with a quality of postmodern commodity culture. Fuchs presents descriptions of pieces in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s in which she considers echoe in their “underlying structures of presentation and reception, the fundamental culture of contemporary capitalism.” (Fuchs 1996, p.129) In her discussion of another piece Tamara, in which the audience take part in a dinner, she notes that the piece asks for her body to be engaged rather than just her ears and eyes. Fuchs describes herself during the piece as being extremely focused, seeking locations to view, to understand the plot and even seeking the actual food and drink on offer for the audience to devour. She notes that her “zeal to possess is stimulated”, (Fuchs 1996:32)

In Ruckert’s work the demand for the body to be engaged is underlined by the use of a blindfold, which stops anyone but the dancers, watching. During the piece the audience cannot see; cannot watch. There is also a sense of waiting to be worked on, waiting for a service; of consuming a dance and consuming pain- based stimulations on the body. The ceremonies or framing of the piece ask the visitor to sit in a waiting room until the dancers are ready for your turn not unlike body practices, such as physiotherapy, shiatsu, osteopathy or sports massage that one can buy at the health club. Secret Service offers a new body cure to consume. It seems that Secret Service and in Ruckert’s work generally, is in some ways similar to this genre of Theatre as Shopping in that it echoes our consumer capitalist culture, providing something we can have for a limited time similar to a shiatsu session. Yet Ruckert’s work appears to be more deeply intimate in requesting the visitors to be semi-naked and to take part in acts (from being carried to biting and playful slapping) that are more commonly performed by parents (being carried) or by lovers (being playfully slapped or bitten). In Secret Service the audiences’ power is removed by withholding the voyeuristic position with the blindfold and it is the performers that provide the dances and acts that the audience will consume with their body.  More than this in Level Two in which the visitors are semi- naked and there are sexual connotations to the actions. Therefore, this places the dancer it seems, in a position of now offering a quasi-sexual service for the visitor’s consumption.

There has been much written about the performers role as object for the audience’s consumption notably Mulvey’s (1975) seminal discussions of film as visual pleasure. It seems, that Ruckert’s work that I have called Dance of the Encounter, not only compares to Fuchs’ (1996) model of Theatre as Shopping, but is also aligned with some of the arguments of feminist dance makers that draw on writers such as Mulvey, which critique visual modes of perception. In Ruckert’s dances the audience are refused the position that Mulvey describes:

The mass of mainstream film, and the conventions within which it has consciously evolved, portray a hermetically sealed world which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience, producing for them a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic fantasy. Moreover, the extreme contrast between darkness in the auditorium (which also isolates the spectators from one another) and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation. (Mulvey:1975:6)

By placing the audience member in direct relationship with a performer, Ruckert asks both people to respond in an immediate, physical and intimate interaction. There is no place for the passive watcher in Ruckert’s work. The performer must directly respond to how the audience member reacts rather than the performer existing in the enclosed world of film that remains indifferent to any immediate audience response. Maybe by actually placing the dancer as a person who directly interacts with the audience following choreographic tasks, Ruckert disrupts the dynamic of exhibitionist and voyeur. The voyeuristic separation that is sitting in the dark watching the performers in the light invites is challenged by Ruckert in Secret Service by the actual blindfolding of the audience members. This is not so different from Yvonne Rainer’s feminist film work where the performer is actually absent from the picture throughout. Ruckert is foregrounding and examining the implicit dynamic of the dance spectator/ performer relationship in a direct manner. In Rainer’s film The Man Who Envied Women (1974) as Brannigan (2003) argues, there is a correspondence with psychoanalytic feminist film theory, challenging elements of voyeuristic narrative cinema.  Brannigan (2003) comments on the role of the female protagonist in The Man Who Envied Women:

 Rainer renders the female subject invisible, existing only as a voice-over performed by, coincidentally, the intensely ephemeral choreographer/dancer Trisha Brown. By aligning audience identification with an absent female protagonist and having the male lead played by two actors, Rainer short-circuits the male-dominated power structures that the feminist film theorists had found to be ‘built into’ cinematic language. Rainer turns the male gaze/female object formula on its head by removing the female spectacle and fracturing the central, stable male identity.

In her body of film work Rainer is exploring male /female power relations. Yet Rainer’s position in this film work does not account for the voyeuristic stance of women looking at men on women looking at women. Ruckert is foregrounding and examining the implicit power relations of performers (male and female) and audience members (male and female), moving beyond a purely feminist position, although it would seem, acknowledging and in correspondence with this position. Dance as Encounter, shares the concern with audience and performer power relations that is investigated in Rainer’s body of work.

It seems, that through analysing Ruckert’s Secret Service Fuchs’ (1996) model reveals it to be a piece of contemporary dance that echoes similar developments in contemporary theatre and performance. As I have highlighted, there are differences between Fuchs Theatre of Shopping and Ruckert’s Dance as Encounter: in the performance styles and in the locations used for performance, yet there seems to be much in common. The common ground includes: the sense of the audience consuming the performance, the shifting of the interior space of each audience member through a physical engagement of the body (which I suggest is because of the ‘real’ quality of the experience), the sense of familiarisation between audience, performer and space and also the shifting of the conventions of the theatrical space, albeit in very different ways.  Hal Foster (1996) argues that the real, and indeed, the traumatic has returned to art. In both the pieces discussed, Father Was a Peculiar Man and Secret Service, there is a foregrounding of extreme qualities of bodies, which could be described as both ‘real’ and ‘traumatic’. In Father Was a Peculiar Man, the site of the performance is a place that was the wholesale meat district of New York. This space is inhabited by dead animal flesh in the morning and by transvestite prostitutes by night. This sounds like a space in which ‘real’ flesh and ‘real’ bodies are the focus of attention and the audience are asked to ‘really’ occupy and engage with this space for a time.

In Secret Service, it is moving, touch and painful stimulations that bring the audience members’ focus to the extreme qualities of their own bodies. These visitors ‘really’ engage with their own (and others) bodies in an intense and intimate manner. The intensity of this experience for my own bodymind was extreme and I felt immensely different before and after each level of Secret Service. The second level left me in tense and fearful bodymind while level one left me feeling relaxed, cared for, open and happy. My state of bodymind ‘really’ changed from level to level in an acute way and I genuinely experienced elements of trauma induced by interactions that touched and emphasised my body in level two. This genre of performance that Fuchs names Theatre of Shopping (and I have borrowed and shifted to discuss Ruckert’s work as Dance of Encounter) echoes Foster’s (1996) text that notes the ‘return of the real’.  Other works may foreground the ‘real’ in different ways, but Secret Service and the work Fuchs describes are ‘real’, for me because they place the audiences body within the work.

 My experiences as a visitor during Secret Service (as previously stated) were encounters that deeply shifted my emotional states during the different levels, leaving a physical and emotional resonance long after returning to London, asking me to consider questions about touch, moving/being moved and sexuality. On my return to London after attending Ruckert’s show in Saarbrucken, Germany, I saw an advertisement for an English National Opera show, promoting it as a show of betrayal, fear, infidelity and lust. Ruckert’s show left me with the experience in this intimate exchange between performer and audience, there had been an interrogation of questions of ‘real’ touching, moving, sexuality, intimacy and infidelity in a very immediate sense, which would contrast to how the English National Opera Show would ‘represent’ these themes. In Secret Service, I was not watching the scenes as the ENO show might invite, I had actually enacted aspects of this behaviour myself, albeit, framed within an art work. For me, Secret Service was an encounter that was playful, nurturing and deeply relaxing as well as sometimes terrifying.



  On another note, Ruckert’s work appears to have similarities to the ritual pieces of Grotowski and Barba. Rituals are acts in which all those present take part in some way such as religious ceremonies, degree ceremonies, secular marriages or even birthday parties with cakes, candles and the happy birthday song.



Brannigan, E (2003) www.sensesof

Foster, H. (1996) The Return of the Real: The Avant Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Fuchs, Elinor. (1996) The Death of Character. Perspectives in Theatre After Modernism. U.S.: Indiana University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962)  Phenomenology of Perception London: Routledge and                    Kegan Paul Ltd.

Melrose, S. (2002), “Before the Posthuman Can Take It’s Place: Performing Place and Person, in the Early 21st Century…”

Mulvey, L. (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen,16/3 Autumn:6-18.

Ruckert, F. (2003) Interview – Mulhouse, France