This Arts Council funded project explored the tensions between the left and right-hand side of the brain, in other words, the tension between the logical mind and the more intuitive and spontaneous mind. It involved Walt collaborating with contemporary dancers, other musicians and performance artists.
‘Polarities’ concerns itself most directly with issues of Scientific thought and the processes of the artist. The two poles in question represent logic/rationality and at the opposite, intuition and even irrationality. These polarities of looking at the universe are seldom found in pure form. For example, a great scientist like Einstein didn’t operate with pure logic and intuition played a key role. On the other side, there is a popular misconception that artists operate in the absence of logic, which is, of course, nonsense . In respect of logic and irrationality, the piece operates in the Derridian “pharmakon”.
Considering that the two polarities of logic and irrationality are normally something of an illusion, the work examines what happens if we take either pole to extremes. So the piece brings out the absurdity of the apparently rational, and an underlying rationality in the apparently absurd. The systematic collection, collating and classifying of data can have an obsessive element. Did the icon of the mad scientist develop by accident? The piece adopts some elements of the theatre of the absurd, but, out of that some kind of rationality seems to emerge. To paraphrase Blake, the roads of extremity lead to the palace of wisdom.
The piece integrates live music, improvised within a tight structure, contemporary dance and performance art. There is no narrative, though the piece moves with an obvious developmental framework, leading to a resolution that hints at a cycle. The work is dense with allusions and imagery relating to Science and Mathematics. These often collide with obvious references to the artistic process. The set, props and lighting are a testimony to the beauty of Science, from laboratory apparatus to the elegance of the equation.
The piece has been performed both as a theatre production, an installation with live performance and audience interaction and as a durational improvised performance within a structure. The last production of Polarities was the latter. In this performance a new section was introduced, the Gene Machine. This acted as something of a critique against the more radical ultra-Darwinist views put forward by Dawkins in the “Selfish Gene”. This introduced a new element of polemics into Polarities. The symbolism used was probably too obscure to be read by an audience without a lot of explanatory text. So this section could be argued to have elements of intellectual catharsis for the performers which could be regarded as questionable, were it not for the fact that the section worked strongly as a piece of abstract theatre in its own right.
The piece was built up by the performers in the so-called rehearsal process, by experimentation, elimination, shaping and re-shaping. The same process occurred over six different types of performance of the piece.