I found this to be a bemusing yet fascinating performance with a strangely complementary use of movement and silence. Its mixed media was a good interplay of sounds by Ronnie Goodman and a video by Raymond Ndikwe both of which served as a backdrop for projecting what seemed to me a necessary sense of expectation. What was far more interesting though, and that was as much a matter of my own interpretation as it was the performer’s, is the way it resonated with time. Specific, was the symbolism of the bell when it comes to sound and its resonance with our immediate surrounding.
After a flourish that was preceded by a dance about colourism, the Unknown – “an investigative journey through the experiences and places unknown and therefore deemed unperceivable but felt, can be proved, imagined and accepted as fact” – was performed with undue fuss. One might observe that Adam Chienjo’s performance remains an oddity and while this is true, one also needs to understand that not only is theatre performance transitory, it exists in real time. But I digress.
By way of passing his message across, Adam made use of a mask that he said was a deliberate improvisation. Where it hid his expressions from the audience, the two key provocations then were that there was no need to connect with us and that the performer’s intention was not to make the unknown known as it was to interact with it. Was his choice of the mask’s colour deliberate too? Certainly; and Adam did enthuse that it was the colour purple – a colour that did his performance justice on account of channeling his message – that he associates the unknown.
Yet, it would be of interest to know how the performance would have fared if the mask was orange or yellow or blue. Or how the visual experience of the performance would have been if he had no mask on. Indeed, colour, as do expressions, does play a big role in helping us make associations of what we know and don’t know. For instance, we ‘know’ that purity is white and evil, black; that love is red and envy, green etc.
In our love-hate relationship with the unknown, there is a degree of quiet triggers that intrigue, frighten and even prompt us to question it. Perhaps it is the redundancy of it or the knowledge that we can never really plan ahead and/or be prepared for it. As the questions posed – Can we value what we do not know? Is it possible to experience that which we cannot perceive? Can we describe the unknown as still? Is the unknown within time or is time within the unknown? To what extent does what we know contribute to the experience of the unknown?
The performance is still a work in progress, but there was, nevertheless, much to admire. Yes, the questions it posed did exactly what they were intended to do; provoke thought and introspection through valuation of the unknown. In any case, without even the possibility of knowledge, the unknown will often struggle to remain unknown.