From Quad to Rec

フレデリック・プイヨードFrédéric Pouillaude

Thank you so much to Kimiko and Otori Sensei for their invitation. And thank you all for being present tonight.

With Ko Murobushi Archives, there are always strange coincidences. One of these coincidences is directly linked to the Quad Project here in Tokyo. In last September, after one year and a half of pandemic lock-down, I decided, without knowing anything about Kimiko and Otori sensei’s project, to practice Quad with my students in Marseille. We did so during all the Fall semester, just as an exercise, a physical learning of being and doing together again which was also reminding our past situation of confinement. 

By the end of January, I thought that this thing was over and I decided to move on. So… What a surprise in April when Kimiko, without knowing anything about my teaching in Marseille and my own Quad practice with the students, invited me to join their own Quad Project in Tokyo! I remained completely amazed by this very strange coincidence. (Another day I will tell you another strange coincidence that occurred when I was speaking of Ko Murobushi to dance students in Montpellier, but that is not the topics of the day, and coming back to Quad, I have more and more the felling that, in that specific case, it is not only coincidence or mere chance

 I think that our current worldwide situation, – what Otori Sensei calls “The Camp” or the “pleasures of the Camp”– especially reinforced by the pandemic, finds in Quad a very powerful mirror : the confinement in a square, the impossibility of contact and encounter, the very limited range of movements (straight, diagonal, straight, diagonal, straight, diagonal…), and also the impossibility of ending… All these features are talking very much to our present time.

So, it is no wonder that, in different regions of the world, we are witnessing the emergence of new projects about Quad at the very same time. Kimiko told me about a project in China and, for my part, I recently discovered another Quad project directed in Saõ Tomé (a little island on the Western African Coast) by the French choreographer Betty Tchomanga. So, there would be some kind of global need for Quad as a mirror or a surface onto which projecting our own issues and dead-ends. 

In our case, in Marseille, beyond the general topics of confinement, and impossibility of contact and endless repetition, there was also an intuition about screens, the idea that the four sides of the Beckettian square could be seen, not only as the four walls of a room or prison, but also as the four sides of a screen. Our prison today is not only a physical one, it consists also – and maybe it is currently our major prison – in the four sides and the surface of the multiple screens in which we are constantly absorbed. Contrary to what we could think at first, screens are not windows open to the world, they are walls, colorful and everchanging walls, but walls, on which we daily crash and crash and crash again our heads. So – as a principle or an initial intuition – we thought Beckett’s square of Quad also as a possible figuration for the screen invasion in which we live today. 

But, then, a problem occurs. A problem of format and frame ratio. Square screens are quite rare now. And I have no example of square screen currently in use, except for my very old Blackberry passport phone : I am not even sure that we could say that this phone is currently in use; I am just the last one in the world using, or one of the last. Actually, my own desire to perform Quad came also from an apparently superficial or anecdotic feeling about the oddness of my square screen smartphone in an environment ever more and more rectangular and stretched. 

Students were regarding my square screen as a very old and strange thing whereas their phones were long and very vertical things. I was seeing the world through a square, and my students through long vertical rectangles. So, we decided to experiment, within Quad’s score, the variation of image format and the progressive transformation of the square into a more and more stretched rectangle. 

Hence the title: From Quad to Rec (in which Rec refers both to rectangle and to record). In other words, and to put it in a very simple way, if Quad’s square is a poetic and metaphysic figure of our existential confinement, and if our main prison consists today in our absorption into screens, in order to adapt Quad to our contemporary situation, we only had to adjust the format of the initial figure to the contemporary standards of mediatized vision, of tele-vision and tele-presence, which are also the standards of contemporary imprisonment. 

Technically, at the end of each cycle (solo, duo, trio, quartet, trio, duo), we enlarge the initial figure and so we moved from the square and 1:1 ratio to the 4:3 ratio (the old TV image format), and then to the 16:9 ratio (the standard for TV now), and then to the 18:9 ratio (a double square), and finally we experimented also the 21:9 ratio (the format of the latest smartphones, like this one, for instance). 

And I don’t think that this experimentation with frame ratio is completely exterior to Beckett’s work itself. We should not forget that Quad wasn’t designed for theater but for TV, and I am almost certain that there is a strong connection between the square figure of Quad and what was a TV image at the very beginning of the 1980s. For us, today, a TV is a very rectangular thing. But when I was a child, it was much closer to a cube and a square figure. So, if TV and, more generally speaking, screens have so dramatically evolved, we have to adapt Quad’s geometrical figure to these new ways of framing the world.

I Quad’s impossibility of ending vs Rec’s unsustainable expansion and inequality

What does it change? In the structure itself, nothing (it is the same score of movements). In the global experience and feeling, it changes everything. 

Quad’s square offers the stability of a structure that can be indefinitely repeated. Maybe not eternally. But at least for one hundred thousand years, as Beckett says about Quadrat Zwei, the sequel for Quadrat Ein (Quad in the original staging for German TV in 1981). One hundred thousands years later, the same four bodies are still performing the same structure, only slower, with the colors of their tunic completely faded away. 

Time in Quad is not human, but much rather geological or astronomical. And for a human point of view, this geological time looks very much like some approximation of eternity. That’s why there’s also in Quad a quite optimistic – sorry for the provocation – element, an optimistic element at least by comparison to our current situation. 

Ok, with Quad, we are turning forever in the same square, with two movements and two movements only (straight, diagonal, straight, diagonal, etc.), without any contact, without any event (what could be an event – the encounter at the center – is carefully avoided), etc., ok, we are turning forever with almost nothing, but at least we have the guarantee that in one hundred thousand years there will be still bodies, time, ground and square. If there is an evolution or a degradation in Quad, it is only through a very, very slow process of entropy (the fading of the colors, the deceleration of the pace) that remains completely imperceptible for a human eye. 

But when we move to the ever expanding rectangle, to the “Rec” structure, we necessarily loose the stability and the feeling of eternity given by Quad’s square. At some point, expansion becomes unsustainable for human bodies. And even before expansion becomes impossible, the effects of the successive enlargements of the square into rectangle are already painful and unstable. 

Whereas Quad’s body is a continuous and constant body, moving smoothly within its very limited spatial frame, Rec’s body, is made of sharp accelerations and decelerations, constantly obliged to adapt his pace to the requirements of the ever-expanding space, and to invent new reasons for going from one point to another. Quad offers an insight into eternity through a very limited spatial frame. On the contrary, Rec presents the imminence of the end, the physical impossibility to continue in this infinite spatial frame. 

Whereas Quad’s body is a homogeneous and equal body – one and the same for all the performers only differentiated by colors –, Rec offers an experience of growing inequality. The longer side is always demanding more and more speed and energy, whereas the deceleration on the shorter side is always more violent. And when two or more performers are doing the sides together, the discrepancy of speed between the long and the short sides becomes dramatically emphatic. 

I said that Quad was rather optimistic, maybe one of the most optimistic piece by Beckett (perhaps because language has been completely erased). In any case, in comparison to our Rec version, Quad looks like paradise. A paradise ever evolving on its own, without any purpose, meaning or intention. A paradise liberated from meaning and project. Quad’s performers don’t need anymore to have projects or intentions. They just move like planets or stones. And there is something very quiet, and stable and peaceful in that liberation. I don’t know anything about Zen but maybe Quad could be seen as a Zen exercise in which we could experienced a time without will and project, and just be happy with that complete absence of meaning and purpose. 

In comparison, Rec remains dramatically human. Clearly too human. 

II Quad’s generic bodies vs Rec’s precarious subjectivities

In Quad, the voluntary erasure of individuality (same tunics only differentiated by colors, faces masked by tunic hood, same size) creates inevitably some allegorical atmosphere, that kind of atmosphere thought by Mallarmé as the very specific milieu for ballet. Here, bodies are not characters, of course, but they are not anymore individuals either. They are general figures perfectly anonymized and completely interchangeable. Pure tools for ideas, as Mallarmé would say. But this allegoric atmosphere has a cost which is perhaps the counterpart for the peacefulness of the work. It puts at a distance the cruelty and the violence of the structure. One has never hurt an allegory, an allegory – even without meaning or content as Beckett’s allegorical bodies – never suffers. Real bodies, yes.

That’s why we decided not to perform the erasure of the individuality demanded by Beckett in his score. In the video we are about to see, there are real people who are enduring the expanding structure, real people with names, with personal history, with specific gait and pace, and also with persisting individual projects.

I don’t say that because I would believe that individuality or subjectivity is by itself important or worthy. Actually, I don’t care. I say that because it is precisely this precarious and unstable subjectivity that is constantly mobilized and exploited by the rectangular and inequal structure. In that sense, Rec’s performers continue to have projects, not because they think it is nice to have projects and desires and wills, but because this is firmly required by the structure, because they can’t continue to move inside the structure without nurturing such stupidities like wills and projects. They are unwillingly willing, willing by necessity, because they can’t survive otherwise. That is the cruelty of Rec, the cruelty of the world we actually live in. 

I suggest now to see the little video we realized especially for this encounter in Tokyo. Please be indulgent. It is a working version. It has been done in two days (one day of rehearsing, one day of shooting under the hard sun of Marseille). And we don’t have decided yet anything about music. But, because of this beautiful coincidence of two Quad projects occurring simultaneously on two opposite points of the globe, we really wanted to share with you this modest experiment.

22 minutes of screening.

III Conclusion : impossibility of continuing, impossibility of ending.

Thank you for your reactions. I would like to name the 4 performers: Irène Dauve, Abderahmane Janati, Enza Petrini and Wuke Xia. And the two operators with me: David Lasnier and Jean-Paco Mokhtari who was already behind in the video I sent you last year, during the “Nijinksi à Minuit”, the video titled One Thousand Twenty Eight Midnights

As a conclusion, I would like to underline two elements. 

First, what I have said about the persistence of individuality in our version, which was mainly seen as a malediction or a curse in comparison to Quad’s paradisiacal anonymity, could be envisioned in a more positive way. In our version we don’t see actors or dancers in a theatrical state of representation. We just see people doing what they have to do. And for sure, during the process, I had clearly in mind the American Postmodern Dance notion of “task”. They are not entering a state of theatrical representation, they are just accomplishing some tasks. Beckett’s bodies in the 1981 original version, of course, don’t represent anything. But for uniformization and anonymization’s sake, they are almost inevitably in a state of theatrical representation. That is the cost for becoming some kind of anonymous monk on a stage. On the contrary, in Rec, each performer remains who she or he or it is. And so, not because people or individuals are good things or nice or important or whatever, but because it is more cruel and – I think – also more true to put real people in that kind of apparatus, also because one element of the human fate is the fact of individuation, an individuation we can’t escape, except maybe in very extreme experiences, like death.

And my second point is precisely about death, or rather about end. It is often said that Quad, as many other Beckett’s pieces, deals with the double-bind structure that associates the impossibility of ending to the impossibility of continuing. That’s the main sense of exhaustion. In Rec, like in our current world, there is a clear anticipation of the end. We know that the ever-expanding structure is unsustainable and that one day it will explode. The swimming-pool is already dry and empty. And, not only the time that remains before the collapse will be very painful and ugly, but in addition, it is not even sure that the end will liberate us. The swimming-pool has very hard walls on its four sides and it is very possible that we stay forever crashing our head in the corner of our smart phones. 

Thank you. 

フレデリック・プイヨードFrédéric Pouillaude

バレエ、コンテンポラリーダンスの訓練を受け、パリ高等師範学校において哲学を学ぶ。ソルボンヌ大学にて10年間哲学の准教授を務めた後、現在エクス=マルセイユ大学にて美学の教授を務める。主な著書にLe désoeuvrement chorégraphique. Etude sur la notion d’oeuvre en danse(Paris, Vrin, 2009) 英訳:Unworking Choreography: The Notion of the Work in Dance, New York, Oxford University Press, 2017、Représentations factuelles. Art et pratiques documentaires(Paris, Cerf, 2020)英訳:Factual Representations: Art and Documentary Practicesがある。