Settling into a pew at Sweet St Andrew’s along with a small but eager crowd, I had no idea what to expect from
Performer - by now drenched in sweat and audibly panting - and audience – breathless, silent, waiting for the chance to applaud - carried each other through the last moments of this show
The staging is deceptively simple. Performer Maarten Zaagman is alone, with various sets of mallets, a violin bow, some simple hand-held percussion instruments and a piece of chalk being his only props. The piece begins with Zaagman running up and down the length of the church, placing these tools on the stage. Hearing the slap of his quick footsteps on the floor as he darted down the aisle was an instant reminder of the musician’s physicality, while the careful arrangement of props on the floor of the altar put me in mind of some kind of ritual or summoning. This mix, of the corporeal and the transcendent, is the piece’s ultimate strength.
During the half-hour performance, pre-recorded music played from speakers while Zaagman mimed each individual note by striking the air with one of his mallets. The imaginary instruments were conjured with real specificity and heft; as the piece went on, I grew to learn where each individual instrument was situated on the stage, recognizing the different tones and timbres made by the marimba, gong, etc.
While mathematical and spare music itself is reminiscent of some of Steve Reich’s more percussive moments, the real focus of the show is Zaagman’s performance. His movements are perfectly controlled, not only in their timing but also in the dynamics: you can witness the various levels of force required to produce a gentle shimmering sound or a thundering blow just as your ears pick up the difference audibly. The crescendo of the piece has him moving between three instruments, which the choreography has placed in the furthest corners of the stage. The pace builds and the gaps between the notes grow shorter and shorter, so he is required to sprint between his imaginary instruments, desperately lurching from side to side in order to strike each note in time. Zaagman’s talent is such that, as the music grows more frenetic and he begins to miss the occasional beat, you wonder whether these slips are intentional or not. Is the function of these slight errors to draw dramatic attention to the ultimately impossible nature of the task he has set himself? Or are they genuine mistakes?
It is in these moments when the title resonates the loudest: while I had initially understood it as a promise from performer to audience, I then began to wonder whether it could also work from the opposite direction. By this point in the performance, Zaagman had garnered so much goodwill from those of us watching that we were willing to forgive the occasional missed note, lapsed beat or dropped mallet. Performer - by now drenched in sweat and audibly panting - and audience – breathless, silent, waiting for the chance to applaud - carried each other through the last moments of this show.
By the end, we were left in no doubt that Zaagman is a performer completely in control of his instrument.