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Eleanor Ivory Weber meets Rotozaza

Eleanor Ivory Weber meets Ant Hampton and Silvia Mercuriali from performance art company Rotozaza

Mind the gap. Because, according to Rotozaza, there is one. It’s the gap between the representational world and the real world, and this is what our lives are defined by.

Rotozaza began in 1998 with Ant Hampton and Sam Britton’s ‘Bloke’, which marked the start of the company’s obsession “with the image of the ‘doubleself’”, the internal conflict of ideas and emotions which is applicable to all of us. In 1999 Silvia Mercuriali joined forces with Ant and it is Rotozaza’s continual attempt to break down traditional notions of ‘performer’ and ‘audience’ that has carved them out as something truly relevant.

In many Rotozaza works the performer is an unrehearsed guest and, crucially, the audience is aware of this. The performer receives voice-over instructions which he/she must follow while the audience hears and sees their attempt to fulfil them. The performer’s vulnerability heightens the audience’s empathy for them and thus tampers with the convention of the representational world and real world being separate in theatre. The alteration of this fundamental characteristic of the theatre experience has created a basis of Rotozaza’s work, essentially putting performer and audience in the same position, where “everyone is discovering at the same time”. Not surprisingly, for Ant, “empathy is at the heart of theatre”.

The latest work, ‘Five In The Morning’, takes this concept a step further than previous shows, ‘Doublethink’ and ‘Etiquette’. In this piece we wonder: are the performers’ actions being dictated in a hyper-real world? Or are they dictating their own actions in a representational world?

Here the audience believes in a fictional world without knowing it, but the world created, ‘Aquaworld’, is essentially a very fragile one (sound familiar?). This constant questioning of realities, both internal and external, is at the heart of Rotozaza.

Accordingly, we are forced to consider our own truth versus fiction complex and on what it is built; our role as an audience member; the concept of the “spectacle” itself; and the limitations of language. It is “participatory theatre” but what sets it apart is that you don’t have to suspend disbelief; you’ve just got to be there. You’ve just got to experience this live, knowing that it is, indeed, live. Does that make it real?

For Ant and Silvia it doesn’t necessarily matter what the audience reaction is, as long as there is a reaction, and hopefully a strong one. Ant talks of a triangle with the internal self, the projected self/world and the real world at each corner. Rotozaza attempts to make links, or trains of thought, between these three effectively separate entities. But, just in case you’re not sure, remember: mind the gap.

Rotozaza: 'Five in the morning' will be on at Shunt on Weds 13 & Thurs 14 Feb.

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