3 Nov 2006

“Organic”: on performance and performing arts

Perform: entertain an audience, typically by acting, singing, or dancing on stage
Organic: of, relating to, or derived from living matter
Performance: an act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment
Performing arts: forms of creative activity that are performed in front of an audience, such as drama, music, and dance.
(The New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2005)

The above are the definition of the terms from the dictionary. Why am I putting these terms and their definitions here? Recently, I have been working on my previous essay on opera productions. Retyping it because I lost my original file due to the crash of my last laptop and modifying it to make it more reasonable and complete. When I was busy working on this essay, I suddenly felt the need to express my thought on performance and performing arts. In my point of view, I consider both organic forms that present ideas, generate ideas, and reproduce ideas.

This concept is easy to understand. What I want to make clear here is to say that both performance and performing arts are organic and ideological. They are organic because they are formed and produced by human beings. They are derived from living matter, as defined by the dictionary. Moreover, what they present is always about our life or environment, such as feelings and perceptions of social relations or nature. This essence of them reflects the definition of organic that is of or relating to living matter. However, this essence of presenting things about our life or environment gives a strong implication to performance and performing arts. It shows that both of them are meaningful from which it makes them an ideological form. Every word we say and every action we take are products that express our desire and intention. We don’t do things or say words that are completely irrelevant to our thoughts. Therefore, what we express is what we want or think, and this expression is full of meanings. Performance and performing arts are the representation of our feelings and perceptions of social relations and nature we experience in our everyday life. They are meaningful, and they cannot be excluded from our life experience.

The presentation of performance and performing arts is an organic form. It is organic not just because of its form is organic, meaning human beings produce and take part in it. It is organic for the reason that it has meanings and ideas are presented through it. The meaning comes from the intention of the person who produces and presents it. This could be a director, choreographer, conductor or performers who participate in it. Their words and actions are meant to give ideas to the spectators. This makes the presented meaning become an idea that is available for digestion and reproduction. The spectators are the most important element to help complete the meaning of this organic form, and the result of this production is a non-stop circulation of meanings. When a person experiences a presented meaning, an idea, whether it is related to him/her or not, he/she would be effected by this presented idea and naturally would generate it in his mind. The producer may expect you to conform to his idea, but the final decision is on you. As a result, whether you conform to it or not, your experience, knowledge and preference will give new meanings to this presented idea, and a new idea concerning what is presented is constructed. This idea of yours is an attitude and a reaction to the idea that is presented in front of you. In other words, this new idea of yours is a reproduction of the old one, and it has given layers of meanings to what is presented, namely, a performance.

In order to draw the attention of the spectators, entertain them becomes an important part in both performance and performing arts. According to the definitions of both terms in the dictionary, to entertain construct the basic meaning of the word. Indeed, who would go for a performance with no entertainments at all? Even a plain talk show has incorporated certain level of entertainment in it. Once you want to present a thing, whatever it is, as a performance for a group of people, the notion of entertainment should be applied. I would argue here that entertainment, with no further analysis to the nature, content and form of it, is only applied to attract the spectators without whom a performance simply cannot exist. This takes us back to the notion of taking spectators as the main concerns for arguing that both performance and performing arts are organic forms. The participation of spectators generates and reproduces ideas, and the consequence helps construct the circulation of meanings. In a circulation of meanings, ideas are shared, experienced and reproduced. This gives both performance and performing arts its implication to be ideological. Everything that is presented is all about ideas.

They are organic. This is what I argue here. We cannot treat performance and performing arts as dead objects that are ready to be dissected and thrown away. They should always be regarded as organic, and its presentation is a representation of ideas and life experience. In them, what has happened or been placed in front of us is always inserted with meanings either from the producer or performers. We are asked to participate in this process of reproducing ideas, and we should not be treated as dead objects. There should always be things that invite our feelings and perceptions. This is a both way communication in which the performance itself and the spectators benefit from each other. As a result, our participation confirms the organic form of both performance and performing arts, and this organic form gives the spectators a chance to examine their living conditions. This special quality gives performance and performing arts a distinctive place in the world of the arts.

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