‘When was the last time you played?’ As adults, human beings play all sorts of games. As ‘grown ups’ people are expected to conduct themselves in certain, and certainly also, strict codes. Anthea Moys has made it her life’s work to investigate how games can speak to the vitality of humanity and now she introduces the first part of a series of interventions with classical conductors. The first part is called Misconduct.
‘I was inspired by a curious thought I had with my mom on a Wednesday morning,’ red-clad Anthea Moys says to a now clearly uneasy classical music audience. ‘I wondered what else a conductor could conduct…’ then a conductor, Mattheu Kieswetter, appears carrying an orange in his left hand and baton in the right. He provides the audience with a brief insight into what it means to be a conductor. With the orange tossed into the audience, Kieswetter says, ‘Conducting is not only about “and now” (he gestures with the baton). It is also about (he gestures)… how!’
Anthea Moys’ curiosity about what else a conductor can conduct along with Kieswetter’s science of conducting finds synergy in the alchemy of dance and music. The orchestra will remain at rest while the conductor conducts a group of dancers from Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) to the choreography of Joni Barnard. But, as Moys is adept at not only playing games but reinventing them also, she shifts the conductor’s role to that of a movement conductor and she also destabilises the usual comfort of dancing to music by casting the movers in silence. The audience is still brightly lit as they try to discern the new codes for this game of dancers dancing to silence and a conductor wearing earphones to conduct – with his back to the orchestra – dancers.
Previous Classicfeel writer Brooks Spector simply says that ‘it made me smile and jump out of my skin; and I don’t jump out of my skin.’ The true thrill of the piece is the experience of enjoying the surprise gift in the second half of the experiment. Where, in the first half, the dancers jumped and jostled about like a pack of young wolves trying to discern the commands of the alpha-conductor, in the second half the orchestra picked up their tools to wield the pack and unleash a new vigour. The power of the combination enlivened the crowd – who had started joining the pack in making sounds to assuage the silence and satisfy their need for movement – and had the whole auditorium laughing or giggling by the end of the piece.
While the tension of waiting for the surprise music was palpable throughout the room it was the dancers who had rehearsed in silence trying to read the music from the conductor’s gestures that most appreciated Mozart’s La nozze di Figaro. Otsile Masemola and Mohlatsi Khotle are unanimous in the relief they felt to hear the piece. When the alpha-conductor turns his back to the initiate pack to begin conducting the orchestra, his abandonment of the cubs is welcomed by them. They no longer have to try to follow the rules under his watchful eye. Now trained in the art of the game they can finally play and not simply follow the rules.
Whilst the MIDM dancers at first looked like fish out of water, the piece’s ‘true collision’ as Kieswetter put it, was made more genuine by the dancers’ inexperience in the world of classical music. Masemola articulates the process in an astute analogy by saying it was like ‘putting alphabets together with no vowels.’ He also notes that when the music finally played that it felt like a riot as they tried to push closer to the orchestra without the conductor seeing their antics. As a conduct test, the piece itself is by no means perfect. The trial continues with more tests as Anthea Moys plans to try a flock of ten conductors conducting the same piece of music at the next big showcase. The reactions of the enthralled ‘grown ups’ is that playing is necessary to re-invigorate the spirit and re-animate the adult body; to release it from its daily tensions. This is the gift of Anthea Moys. It may not be a ‘perfect’ performance piece. In fact, the structured mess seems to be one her winning trademarks, along with a touch of red. It is, as Barnard states, ‘Honest.’