Writer, director, performer, designer, and dramaturg, Nicola Gunn, has toured her work across five continents, presenting philosophical, text-based solo performances as well as videos and installations since 2002. In an autobiographical, one-woman show which entangled fact and fiction, absolutism and relativism, Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster offered a philosophical contemplation on a man, woman, and duck whose convergent lives catalyze a flood of moral deliberations. The seventy-minute monologue performance was supported by a continuous movement score choreographed by Jo Lloyd. Utterly perplexing, hilarious, and at times paradoxical, Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster questioned the very nature of bystander intervention and ethical high ground.
The linguistic and conceptual complexity of Gunn’s monologue was compelling from the start: “Consider for a moment, this moral conundrum.” You’re running. No, walking. Along a canal in Ghent, Belgium. With constant digressions and referential ponderings, from Agatha Christie to Schopenhauer, to Marina Abramovic, and zoo animals – the dialogue was tangential, albeit circular, always returning to the primary image about which one learns more each time: you’re a woman in Ghent Belgium. Walking along a canal. And there’s a man. Throwing stones at a sitting duck.
In a conspicuous ode to the moral greyness referenced in the text, black floor, grey marley, and a white scrim defined the space with symmetry – reflective not only of the ongoing dialogue, but the plain, unencumbered phrase work Gunn performed concurrently. She commanded the space from the moment she entered – without indication (no curtain, no light cue) – to commence seventy minutes of dance, the vocabulary of which had an air of postmodernism with subtle Richard Simmons undertones. Simple, repetitive movements executed with pedestrianism and somatic-like awareness characterized Gunn’s physical actions; from lunges and step touches, to pelvic isolations and adduction exercises, the movement often reflected 80’s style aerobics, which gave initial context for the large boom box (aka: “ghetto blaster”) mid-stage left.
An invasive, though comic, interlude had Gunn scaling the house, perching on the backs of theater seats between audience members, and straddling their heads while continuing her digressive story of the woman, man, and duck. She had her audience turning every which way, peering over one another as she humped faces in the crowd and continued to address her group of spectators directly. Symbolic and thematic in it’s goofy absurdity, Gunn’s breach of the fourth wall exemplified the complex ways ways in which she interacted with her audience as well as how the physical and textual components of Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster interacted with one another.
Gunn’s inane specificity (in the form of indulgent, analogous deviations and analytical technicalities) and her constant reframing of circumstances, was comically random, yet served to blur fact from the merely banal. Which re-telling, after all, is the right one? And is there any way of knowing? Alongside the superfluous movement patterns, Gunn’s constant amplification of circumstances trivialised her real-life reaction to the man throwing stones, but also deconstructed her own privilege and self-righteous pleasure. After all, it was through a singular, personal lense that Gunn observed the situation as wrong, screamed out in a moment of self-described “psychopathic ideation,” and then posted on Facebook for 872 likes and 393 comments…
It was in this context of moral dilemma and subsequent action that the significance of the ghetto blaster became increasingly more apparent – first, merely as a reflection of the movement language and soundscape of 80’s Casio-inspired beats (composed by Kelly Ryall), and second, as physical symbolism for historical measures used to claim public space. Gunn’s earlier encroachment upon the audience had the same effect: it illuminated the physical and textual correlations by exposing the uncomfortable nature of space-claiming and physical assertions of dominance… Which begs the questions at the heart of Gunn’s performance: does one intervene between the man and the duck? Do the potential ramifications outweigh the potential benefits? And is the perceived reality – one in which the narrator has moral high ground – the actual reality?
Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster was equally funny, dark, authentic and moving, yet poised in ideological reason. The astounding athleticism that comes with speaking while dancing for any period of time, let alone for over an hour with Gunn’s extraordinary range of emotional and vocal inflections, made for an astonishing performance in which elaborate multitasking appeared effortless and contextually fundamental. Brilliantly written, expertly designed, and effortlessly performed, Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster proved a truly unforgettable piece of dance theater, not to be missed.
The US premiere of In Spite of Myself, another one-woman show by Nicola Gunn, will take place February 21-23 at On The Boards. Buy tickets here. Read more about Gunn and her work at: nicolagunn.com.