In Deborah Pearson’s Like You Were Before she attempts to explore the move she made from Toronto to London. Pearson not only embarks on a physical journey between countries, but also a journey between the person she was (hidden behind a camera lens) ans the performer sitting before us now.
Like You Were Before is very simple and intimate for us as an audience to ‘enjoy’. I say this because I really didn’t enjoy what Pearson had to offer. The intimate videos she shows are nothing more than her friends captured on camera at a certain point in her life. They aren’t performative, they are natural fragmented moments from her past, overlayed with Pearson’s own antidotes of who is who, and the small history between them as a form of narrative. Whilst these videos open up a dialogue into Pearson’s past to be explored within the performance space of the Arnolfini, it never seems to materialise. The only way to describe Pearson’s performance is that of an intimate, personal and internal dialogue between herself and these videos. You can see it in the flickering of a smile, or a tender laugh from Pearson, but this never extends to the audience to enjoy.
In the Arnolfini’s studio space, Like You Were Before seems more like a demonstration of amateur video work presented by Pearson in a lecture format. It doesn’t engage, and when Pearson speaks of one of her friends asking if it is acceptable to “fall in love with yourself in a video”, a part of me can’t help but to think that Pearson is the one in love with these fragments of her past: whilst she offers them to us in Like You Were Before they are never really ours. We can’t fall in love with the characters, we can’t fall into the depths of the videos, and Pearson offers no warmth as a performer. It is a cold, and disengaged performance and this, whilst frustrating to experience, leaves me curious.
Why did I not manage to connect to the work/Pearson? Can a performance or performer present work for their own sake – their own sense of enjoyment – without the audience following on that journey? Do we as an audience demand to be taken with the performer, or can we simply be the spectator, impartial, but necessary for the work to exist?
Interestingly, Lois, who also writes for AYT, commented that she found Like You Were Before deeply engaging, and managed to connect with the femininity that is offered. On the flip side, Lois noted that most men she had spoken to had found it less engaging and disliked the work. Pearson does explore at length the relationship she has with her female friends, that love and fluidity to be open and female – like a bond that never goes away no matter the distance or time. Of course it’s not about a gender divide within the audience, but it does pose an interesting question. Was I disengaged because I am male and don’t necessary see the same connection that Pearson has with her female friends within my own male friends?
Whilst I clearly did not manage to revel in Pearson’s lightness and fragility, the concept behind the work, of transitional relationships and of identity, does offer an insightful closing sequence. As the videos project the final moments of Pearson’s ride to the airport, and finally the view from the window there is a sense that these videos are of a different time, a different country and of course a different Pearson. Her transition from the voice behind the camera to the person before us is complete… but what of the future Pearson? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.