Fearless vs. Flawless?

Lynn Gardener of the Guardian recently published a blog post, title ‘Should theatre be fearless, not flawless?’.  In it she discussed whether the idealised version/execution of a performance – or, perhaps, more specifically, a type of performance which privileges spectacle and technique over feeling and humanity – is not as interesting to watch as more ‘flawed’ production, in which whilst not, perhaps, expertly performed is somehow more alluring or affecting.

Gardiner says:

Of course there is an important place for technique. I don’t want to see Swan Lake danced by untrained dancers, any more than I want to watch my dad play King Lear. Without technique the ballet dancer would stumble, and the trapeze artist would always fall. King Lear’s voice would give out after the first act.

But there are times in performance when failure, and the real possibility that it may happen , is just as beautiful and interesting as success, and seeing all the effort and sweat on display rather than disguised, is more emotionally galvanising than watching something that is apparently effortless, precise and practically perfect in every way.

(Full article available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/feb/24/stage-perfection-exciting-failure, dated the 24th Feb 2012.)

Mentioned in the post as examples of ‘flawed’ pieces which have real feeling are Frantic Assembly’s Lovesongand Rosemary Lee’s Square Dances.  I have seen the former and performed in the latter, and re-reading Gardiner’s words (as I am wont to do), I am struck by how easily the dichotomy of flawless and fearless is basically set as perfect and professional vs. amateur and imperfect.  I don’t think it is that easy!  Why do we insist on reinforcing ideas of perfection as a state of training?  I am, as many of the dancers who work with Rosemary are, highly trained.  However, I believe that the magic in her work is not about throwing training and knowledge out of the window, but how to exploit it in a way that is not only accessible to a broad spectrum of performers and audience, but in so doing also exploiting a notion of common humanity.  That is what makes her pieces alluring, viscerally emotional and so very watchable – not whether or not any number of her performers could pull a triple pirouette out of the bag at any given moment. (I bet quite a few of them could.)

I agree that I would much rather partake in/of theatre which is fearless – but let us not forget that there is great craft in achieving  that level of fearlessness.


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