Endurance by Jennifer Jackson – Battersea Arts Centre, London
Endurance takes the form, disconcertingly, of an endurance test for the main performer, Jenni Jackson. Emerging from a Bolivian carnival costume with outsize demon head, she turns out to be dressed for running. Lacing up her shoes in silence, she begins a series of curving, 6 second runs from one corner of the stage to the other and back again. She continues this, more or less, for nearly an hour, becoming more and more physically distressed. A monitor projects her heart rate and a computerised voice, also captioned onto the screen, offers commentary, encouragement, advice, discouragement and alarming predictions in a computerised voice. The stream of Jackson’s thoughts is revealed to us, ranging from funny – unhinged motivational messages and failures to get out of bed to train – to wider cultural context – her Bolivian mother, the carnivals of La Paz and the story of Bartolina Sisa, a 17th century Aymaran resistance leader, dismembered by the Spanish. Her own life is also drawn into the mix, including an experience of sexual harassment in public and an apparent betrayal. The computer voice is male, and Jackson seems to struggle against the sometimes controlling messages projected onto her by men. At one point the voice just repeats her name, again and again, as her heart rate soars. Then she breaks free, somehow finding the energy to perform a moving and very impressive dance piece with a besuited carnival figure of death who appears from nowhere.
There is lot going on in Endurance, too much at times. In the absence of any information for the audience, it is impossible to know who directed or worked on the show, but it could certainly be tightened to focus its effect. Nevertheless, it is quite an experience. Jackson’s running is a conceptual art performance in itself. The audience feels a growing affinity for Jackson as she tires and enters the pain zone, and some concern as her heart rate rises far beyond her supposed maximum. Her total physical commitment makes this an exceptional piece, while as a dancer she completely convinces. Jackson opens up in a way that is both captivating and disturbing. When she finally speaks, in her North Warwickshire accent, we have a real sense of relief that she has made it. Perhaps the questions about her identity that swirl through her head as she runs have reached some form of resolution.