The goal of Aurélie Pedron’s 72-hour, durational, dance piece Invisible? “Make the intelligence of the collective visible.” The title suggests that if our collective intelligence is generally invisible, three days with dancers and a dog (I’ll explain later) in a dedicated collaborative space can open our eyes to what we are truly capable of (or what we’re already doing), together. While the piece is participatory, asking for participants to feed into the collaborative action, Invisible’s show prompt reminds us that we are more than the sum of our actions and that what we are looking for is always already present behind the curtain.
Before I continue, it’s important to offer a character description, specifying the “we” that I write about in this blog. In May 2022, my partner Cameron (a brave but slightly suspicious participator) and I made our way down the 401 to Montreal’s venerable OFFTA to see Invisible, a piece by Aurélie Pedron (of Lilith & Cie) co-produced Danse-Cité, LAVI – Laboratoire Arts Vivants et Interdisciplinarité, Département de danse de l’UQAM. 
We arrive at Invisible around 2pm on Saturday, around hour 36 of their durational experience. We are met by a guide who invites us to play a tabletop game to learn the rules of Invisible. He shows us a game board that mirrors the geography of the performance space that we are about to enter. From a deck of special instructional cards, he lays out a series of cards that speak to the values of the show and suggestions for our participation. The cards say things like “silence is a possibility” and “do nothing, receive” or “now might be a good time to play your music.” The cards are participatory offers from the artists. Cameron and I talk to him. He shows us the vastness of space where we are welcome. He points out eight aux cables along the perimeter connected to speakers, a gramophone, and a tape player. He delineates the small section of the room that is only for the dancers. After he tells us the goal of the game, making “the collective intelligence visible,” we are given a new set of six cards and told to choose two that speak to how we are feeling right now. Where the first set of cards are offers, these cards are feelings or states of being. I chose “I’m in a good mood” and “I’m feeling a bit shy.” I return them to the game master and he gives me two cards in return, “let it be communicative” and “listening is an action.”
After this exercise on invitation, we are told to exchange our shoes for our own complete deck of offer cards full of more participatory prompts and suggestions. If we’re feeling stuck with what to offer once we enter the dance constellation, we can pick a card and let it guide us. The cards offer actions like “go whisper/say/sing something to a dancer” or “go lay down in the center of the space” or “find a moment to go look out the window.”
Episode 1: Saturday May 28 @ 2pm
Shoeless, I open the door to the performance space and it feels like I’m entering a portal to another dimension. It’s quiet, aside from the sounds of dancers in socks gliding on the floor in the center of the space. Four or five dancers move in silence while audience members are cozied up on chairs around the perimeter of space. Cameron and I immediately find a safe space in the corner to pause and take it all in. I ask him if he wants to explore but his feet are glued to the floor, his seat to the chair. I explore the perimeter alone while the dancers continue to glide in near silence. Directly opposite Cameron, I find a hammock with a sleeping person, a telephone, a lighting board with a cue sheet, and a cork board with a bunch of family pictures. I push the button on the lighting board for cue 61 “cyan” and then (like a bad lighting designer) immediately change my mind in favour of cue 63’s “red red red”.
Then, I see Rachel’s notebook. I remember a card from the deck that said I could write something in a dancer’s journal and I gingerly open the green book. Many of the entries are in French but some of them are in English. She writes, “I’m exhausted but my yellow pants are bringing me joy.” I scan the room for yellow pants. I find her (and her pants) and I laugh to myself. I know you but you don’t know me. I talk to her in my head. I keep reading. She writes of the kind of elation and joy she feels in this sustained practice. She recognizes people by name and clothing. I write her a note and tell her that I really want to play but the room feels too quiet. Because I find dance profound, I’m feeling pressure to contribute something profound in comparison. I put the book back where I found it. I look up and watch the lights change from teal blue to deep red and return to Cameron satisfied with my first few interventions. I tell Cameron about the treasures I found in the corner. He nods, overwhelmed but open still. He’s concentrated on our first guide’s reminder: observation is participation.
Suddenly, realness upsurges. A baby. The dancers and the assembled audience watch with baited breath as the baby crawls into the center of the room, softly making her way through the improvising dancers. The energy of this interruption is electric. The music stops and the baby clocks that they are suddenly the centre of the action. They raise their hands. The dancers do the same. The baby gurgles. The audience laughs.
Episode 2: Saturday May 28 @ 9PM
We return, prepared and excited. Between 2-9PM, Invisible’s dancers continued their sustained exploration of collective joy and play in the theatre and I walked about 15,000 steps through Montreal. I talked with Cameron about what songs we’ll play when we have the courage to take over the aux cord. My feet are sore but I’m sure the dancer’s feet are more sore. As time passed for the dancers, it did for us as well.
When we arrive tonight, the energy is very different. A bit more playful and sexy. A group of six dancers are running and jumping about the space to something that sounds like Joe Cocker or 70s Beatles. Although no longerwearing her yellow pants, Rachel is feeling joyful. She’s laughing. The dancers seem to be balancing between exertion and pleasure in every passing moment. Time passes. Silvia (Cameron and I look online to match photos to faces to learn their names) is wearing purple splash pants dancing in a Motown duet with Charlie. They are having fun. Suddenly, the dog approaches Cameron and I for a welcome sniff then returns to her comfy bed.
Then, a bright purple light comes on in the corner with the hammock and Aurelie, the creator, answers the phone. She greets the caller and then passes a set of bluetooth headphones to Charlie who is dancing in the middle of the room. He talks to the caller in English while he dances with the group. “The body is finite and I’m feeling that,” he says, “but the spirit is infinite and I’m also feeling that.”
Episode 3: Saturday May 29 @ 2AM
We walk to the theatre a different way tonight, weaving through the alleyways, eavesdropping on various backyard parties and inhaling secondhand smoke. We, like the dancers, are equal parts exhausted and energized. We get to the building and from our vantage point outside, Cameron points to a third story window. We see the disco ball inside the theatre spinning in soft purple light. The world turns and so does the disco ball.
The vibe is very different in the middle of the night. The dog is sleeping deeply on a pillow. Three of the dancers are vibrating in silence in the middle of the space. The energy in the room feels manic under exhaustion. It looks a bit…scary? Uncomfortable? Hyperfocused? It feels like a too-late end to the party. The vibrating continues for about 10 minutes until Aurelie walks over to a gong and rings it and all three dancers stop vibrating immediately. Aurelie plugs her phone into one of the aux cords and sharply changes the feel of the room with a new song. As the dancers bounce around to Lee Perry, under thehanging speaker that looks like a UFO, there is a reclining couple, making out. I think about consent and care and wonder if the limits of this kind of free sustained play are more likely to be pushed in the middle of the night. The kissing couple stops and one of them puts a rave song on the speaker. The heavy EDM beat reverberates in the room. The dancers come over to the couple and they all dance together.
I lie down on the carpet and I feel like I could fall asleep. I wonder what would happen if I did.
Episode 4: Sunday May 30 @ 3PM
We fell asleep at 4am the night before, making a playlist of songs we could bring to the dancers. Cameron wondered what would happen if he played something hardcore. Would the dancers enjoy dancing to our songs? Would heavy metal scare the dog?
For the first time, we can hear the music from outside the room when we arrive. When we enter this time, there are nearly 30 audience members in the space. This is more people than we’ve seen so far. We sit in a corner on a wooden bench with an aux cord and settle in. As we get cozy, I see a familiar pair of yellow pants approach me. Rachel sits beside Cameron and says, “Have you tried playing music yet? It’s fun, you’ll like it.” I laugh, feeling an intense familiarity with this person and wondering if she recognizes us. She’s encouraging us softly. “This speaker is pretty quiet, so it’s like you’re the only people who will hear it.” She walks away and Cameron and I look at each other with determination. I play my song. The bench vibrates below us and we realize the speaker is under us, shaking our seat and reverberating the bass into the room. The people close to us start tapping their toes and I feel…satisfied. I feel like a good party guest. I honoured the aux cord. I flash Rachel a thumbs up. Rachel comes back again and offers us each a piece of chocolate. It’s like a reward.
On the other side of the room, there is a woman who is dominating the aux cord, playing a few songs back to back. To switch up the vibe, Sylvia plugs her own phone in and plays Quebecois rap with a heavy bass. She turns up the volume. I follow this thread and play a song that reminds me of growing up with a group of Caribbean girlfriends in Ajax. Sylvia smiles at me.
We decide it’s time to make the trek back home to Kingston. I approach Aurelie and my favourite dancer Caroline to thank them and we leave the theatre at hour 71. The space for a heterogenous participatory experience redeems Cameron’s faith in the power of theatre’s collective gathering. On our drive home to Kingston, I call the theatre phone and leave a message to thank them all for their sustained discovery. They return my call almost immediately. I answer my cell, surprised to hear someone specific. “Hi Mo? It’s Rachel, I got your message.” I laugh, “Rachel, oh my god, it’s you!” She says “I know you, I got your note.” We talk about how she’s feeling, and she tells me she feels like a cloud. I give her my love for the last thirty minutes of the show and we continue our drive back home.
This show is worth a lengthy description of its parts that I’ve provided here because according to how I understand the show’s purpose, these parts are the gaps in the fabric that reveal the collective intelligence. This is how we peek behind the curtain of the everyday. The copycat baby dancing. The soft negotiation around hogging the aux cable. The chocolate in exchange for a song. Following the yellow pants and falling in love with the dancer wearing them. Through its gentle touch around seeking participation (however small or mighty) Invisible puts a lot of faith in performance’s capacity for generating emergence. Much like the folks in my citational universe, Invisible is actively creating (or recreating? or revealing?) a new world that emphasizes observation, interaction, negotiation and collaboration. A new world that is already there if we look hard enough. Invisible insists that the collective intelligence is already in the room, we just need to reveal it by being patient, being here and now together and negotiating our actions in a collective. Using “time as a compositional tool”  in this way can present an antidote to the notion that time is money, time is commodity. In Invisible and other durational worlds, “time-based dramaturgies in the work directly aim to foreground the complex subjective experience of time that often belies accelerated contemporary living.” 
In her work Dancing on the Turtle’s Back, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson emphasizes that taking the time for simple presencing can act as a key to accessing (re)created realities, drawing on Nishnaabeg creation stories to insist that “creation requires presence, innovation, and emergence.”  Simpson says, “[Performance art] because it is based on process, contradiction, action, and connection, is closer to Indigenous ideas of art and resistance.”  Simpson furthers these ideas of presencing and the (re)emerging new world in her remarkable new collaborative monograph with Robyn Maynard, Rehearsals for Living. A series of letters between Simpson, an Indigenous artist-scholar and Maynard, a Black feminist and writer of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, Rehearsals for Living, like Invisible, insists that the world that we desire, specifically the new world that is fueled by liberatory fire, is happening constantly in dynamic rehearsal. The collective intelligence is already in the room. In the foreword, Ruth Wilson Gilmore says the book is oriented towards the “historical geography of the future” that “the purpose isn’t to document that a specific thing happened, but rather to offer thickly analytical, detailed, descriptions of many different ways people arrive at arranging themselves into a social force.”  In Invisible, there is no plot or characters besides the folks inhabiting the room, existing and exhausted, in the here and now. The space provides the container for us to arrive and explore these ways of arrangement so we can both reveal and imagine the future that is already here.
 Deborah Pollard. “Entanglements with Time: Staging Duration and Repetition in the Theatre,” Australasian Drama Studies, no. 76, 2020, p330.
 Deborah Pollard. “Entanglements with Time…” p331.
 Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Dancing on the Turtle’s Back, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2013, p93.
 Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Dancing on the Turtle’s Back, p96.
 Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Forward to Rehearsals for Living, Knopf Canada, 2022, p2.