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The Duet

Simon Ellis and Colin Poole are two independent contemporary dance artists who together form the performance duo Colin, Simon and I. I met up with them to talk about their performance A Separation [1] which I saw when it was first presented in 2014.

A Separation (2:30 min edit) Video and edit: Stacie Lee Bennett

Hamish MacPherson: Can you explain what happen in the piece, maybe starting with your entrance?

Colin Poole: [Simon’s] entrance?

H: No your entrance.

C: I'm carried in. So...Simon comes and get me mid way in the performance. And he's going to transport me just a few steps into the space...

Simon Ellis: Over my shoulder.

C: ...Over his shoulder. And lying me down on my front and I'm going to spend quite a bit of time there until he drags me from stage left to stage right. He's going to take off my top...

S: Sit on you.

C: Sit on me, undress me and then leave me half off the stage and I will stay with just my legs revealed to the audience until everyone's left the theatre. So that's kind of the entrance to me but I don't have an exit.

H: Who are you in the piece?

S: Me?

H: Both of you.

C: I’m Colin. I think it becomes more an issue that I’m Colin rather than just a performer. Because I've tried to be a performer but people keep saying 'You're Colin!’ ... ‘You've not got up to take a bow’ for instance, 'as a performer' and 'you're Colin who is part of this performance'. I'm the person outside of the stage as well. That's become part of my role in this space, how I think about it. So at first I was just going to be a dummy...

S: A prop.

C: A prop. But there's been quite a bit of objection to that.

H: From who?

C: From people demanding more or...especially if I don't get up to take a bow then the performance is over.

S: They don't like that eh?

C: I should snap out of this role now and we want to see Colin take a bow for example for the performance. It's kind of bit of a sticking point.

H: So when you say you're Colin, [you mean] you're Colin the choreographer of that piece, the co-choreographer?

C: Something like that. It's funny because I'm working on doing nothing and in that situation people aren't looking for signs of life, they quite quickly accept that he's not moving whereas the project we did before I was a still life so I was a dummy on a chair, stay awake, put an apple in my mouth.

S: It was an early development of the same work

C: Early development of the same work where I was more active in that passive role and...

S: Aware of your breath..holding yourself upright.

C: Yeah so I was having to work more in the performance role of being the prop and so people were looking for signs of life - can they see me breathing can they see any movement it became.. you know all the micro movements of me become the interesting thing whereas in this project I really am someone dumped in the space like an extra. I don't know if you've ever worked as an extra, you can just have a second life thinking about all sorts of other things, what I'm getting for dinner, when's this going to end, you're not under the spotlight in the same way. So I'm Colin in a sense, there's that kind of funny role of being on stage but having this much space to really be in the shadows basically. I am half in the shadows the lighting is part of the effect.

H: Do you ever meet people after the show?

C: So everyone has to leave.

H: But when you leave the building do you make sure no one sees you?

C: No no no no. You'd think the magic would be over...but somehow the performance keeps going or something about the show continues. It continues in quite a few different directions in terms of maybe people being upset or offended or disgruntled or unsettled.

H: In that's come out in subsequent meetings and conversations with people?

C: It came up straight away really.

S: Post-show discussions, also just people coming up to us.

H: I'll come back to that. Who are you [Simon] in it?

S: One of the things in various work I've done with Colin is that I have this experience of people coming up to me afterwards and saying 'are you OK?', people who I know, people who are friends and whatever, 'are you OK?' like they're expressing concern for my wellbeing. So from that question, I think that they are looking at me as not representing me or my beliefs of my opinions. That somehow I'm a version of a white human being doing things that are about some of the privileges or pleasures of being a privileges white human being. And certainly on stage I don't go 'I'm Simon Ellis' or there's no naming of me. When I think of another review we had which was someone who didn't like the work who mentioned my role as a professor [2], she thought this was fucking scandalous [3].

C: In Campers.

S: In Camper shoes, yeah there was a comment about the shoes. And she thought this was scandalous that a professor, whose responsibility as a teacher...that somehow this representation of a white man shouldn't be allowed. I'm reading between the lines a little bit. So yeah there’s a curious thing about people projecting me onto me or people not doing that and how different people deal with their previous knowledge of me. I mean did you think I was me when you saw it? Or who did you think I was?  

H: No, I think you were a character. But I think you made that character or you agreed to perform that character.

S: So I'm complicit?

H: I don't know, I suppose in dance one is drawing on one’s own subjectivity as they say, maybe more ambiguously or more so than in something that is clearly theatre. But [therefore there’s] a different sort of expectation of who that person is, so it's drawing on that understanding of performance.

S: I mean when we were rehearsing Colin pushed me pretty hard in the sense that we were trying to be really clearly present or owning the words, actions so there's no sense of ambiguity or lack of commitment in whatever it was that I was physically doing. So yeah I agree with that in the sense that I'm there, I'm there even if it's not me you understand...

C: The same question for me I guess. Who do you think I was?

H: I thought you were....Colin. I thought you were...It's hard to remember. I saw you representing, being symbolic I suppose. I was looking at the trailer again, where you [Simon] are taking the shirt off your [Colin] back so that feels like a symbolic gesture. Maybe because...I don't know maybe this sounds're one of a few people of colour as a dancer maybe I'm projecting more into you. I'm seeing more in you, maybe [also] because you're doing less. It's more of an open image.

S: Was I you? Did you understand me to be you? Could you imagine me to be you?

H: Maybe you were...the devil in the audience. Somehow you're confronting the audience: ‘Are you going to distance yourself from these acts, are you going to condemn it or am I going to think “how much of this is me?”’ Maybe the description of the piece you gave earlier [in the interview] doesn't cover all the things of your character. It's quite a menacing, nasty character but not so much that it's easy to dismiss it.

S: I'm also using the n-word a lot.

C: Well that's the first thing you hear isn't it.

H: Asking if there are the house?

S: No, I say 'we need to discuss the nigger problem'.

C: I think that opening line frames something about... a raced relation. He's clearly stepped into a space that... you don't hear that very often. I guess in terms of my role in relation to that that quietness and stillness becomes, maybe response which is reflected elsewhere. I'm thinking of when we made this, just after that I think were these die-ins as protests against anti-black police violence in America. So in a sense there is some way of looking at this in more lenses than just a performance just opens up the imagination to a host of different symbolic readings I think. And so then the roles become entangled with that as well i.e. we're dealing with race issues. You don't start a performance with 'we need to discuss the nigger problem' and expect not to be dealing with that unpleasantness of racial politics.

S: I use the pronoun 'we' but Colin's not there so the discussion is clearly needed to happen between me and the other people present, the audience. So Colin's marked by absence initially and presence later. And as you were talking I was reminded of a performance I saw years ago by company in Melbourne and they committed kind of abuse on a Southeast Asian guy, a guy from Thailand I think he was. And he was physically abused in the work and it reminded me because one of the things about it is… there's kind of images, I mean I pretend to spit at Colin, I call him a nigger in his passivity but I'm not kicking him, there's a sense of me looking after him at the same time and I think that's more problematic, I think if we'd gone to a place of physical abuse while he's just lying there taking it then I think people would be able to dismiss me as a terrible human being. I'm putting it in rather a base kind of way. But in this way Colin's passivity and my relative care of him creates ambiguity about how they see me and how they see him and how they see us in relationship.

H: When you were exploring this did you ever go to that less caring, more extreme...

C: The project we did before was called Because We Care and in that we explored more physical violence. There's one scene in particular where I'm slapping you. I've pinned him down and he's repeating lines that I say.... 

S: Didn't hurt a bit.

C: Yeah he's being slapped until he's going red.

C:  I think in A Separation, Simon is taking care of the situation. I think taking care of a situation, i.e. understanding what the situation is in the studio as much as he can, how to handle that with care so we’re focussed on that situation or the performance and we sort of know our materials; what we’re playing with. This sort of care. Because the criticism we’ve faced prior to this one was, not a criticism but I remember it was like ‘do you guys know what you’re playing with?’ kind of thing.

S: Like it was too hot to handle.

C: Yeah so I think care came about... 

S: This was in the development of A Separation, not in Because We Care.

C: So we had developed it at Choreodrome [4].

S: Almost a year before.

C: we were very much focused on what kind of care was needed for developing this work further.

S: Care of the subject matter, care of each other.... I don't remember us spending any time at all on the possibility that I would somehow mirror what Colin had done to me in Because We Care. I don't have any recollection of us considering that or going to that....

C: No it was always much more delicate. In the development he would take clippings of my nails, cut some of my hair off, so very delicate acts of violence. Take things out of my pockets, kind of rob me but very politely, gently...

S: Measured...

C: ...Put little clippings in plastic containers...

S: Bags, sealable bags.

Simon Ellis and Colin Poole in A Separation by Colin, Simon and I performed 27 March 2014, Lilian Baylis Studio, London. Image by Camilla Greenwell.

C: So there was a lot of care in the violence going on prior to this.

H: Was your passivity always a feature in the process? Was it always an early idea that this was going to be a key element in the work?

C: Yeah pretty much. It was very clear that we would have different roles and I put it to Simon very quickly what my role was and my role was to kind of play dead and he had to choose a role for himself in relation to that. We both had roles. This is how I remember. And my role came about in relation to... I was reading I think it was Žižek [5] commenting on Kierkegaard [6] about the good neighbour. I think it's Žižek saying Søren Kierkegaard says 'the best neighbour is a dead neighbour', What I understood from this is that only under these conditions of the neighbour being dead can the other show their true colours, really be who they are. So I was quite taken by that in relation to neighbourliness and the problems of being neighbours, in collaboration for instance and how we might explore that through the work.

S: I remember it slightly differently.

C: What do you remember?

S: I don't think it matters that much but I remember it happening later that you were directing me for sure and there was a point where,...I thought we were at Roehampton so we would have done all that work at Laban... I don't think it matters, but we'd done all that work at Laban you know and we had all that development and for some reason my memory of it is that it was this kind of 'what if you were dragged on and how would that read if you continued to be inert and to always be present like a prop...

C: Yeah but I was a prop already in the development... S: Yeah yeah that's why my recollection is not a strong one. Like I say I'm not sure it matters.

C: Does it matter to you [Hamish]?

H: I think it’s interesting. this is interesting. A very practical question; if you're in the studio lying face down how does that affect your ability to see what's happening, choreograph, or direct...

C: Well it gives you a lot of space because quite a lot of the time Simon's in the space without me so there's a way into the choreography where one person doesn't need to be there in the space. So taking up this role gave me a lot of freedom to be in and out in a completely different way to Simon. He's in all the time, I'm on the outside and the inside.

S: Even when you're in you're out and so it's not a big deal to pretend to sit, to squat on Colin and then to spit and to call him that while Colin's imagining himself there.

H: OK so you wouldn't always be there.

C: No.... I guess this also relates to a theme going on about absence of Colin in the work anyway, right from the first collaboration I ended up in the audience watching the rest of the show. The audience were directed to only look at one person whose name was on a piece of paper that everyone had. It just so happens they all read 'Simon.' And so you know we've been playing with this idea for a while now that somehow I would disappear in order for him to appear. And I think that's how we got to that role, why I say this thing a bit the role I would disappear as a gesture really, as a neighbourly gesture for the other person to fully appear. Because one of the problems we were having was that I was finding it easier to find my role to be absent or disappear or be inert or something, but the problem was how is Simon going to fill the space.

S: It's funny in a way, when you recalling all that it makes me think A Separation has quite a strong connection with the first collaboration...

C: Yeah absolutely.

S: ...More in a way than Because We Care. It's very interesting.

C: The second one I always say is really to do with symmetry whereas these works are very asymmetric.

H: Is it an offer or a challenge of 'OK, if you want people of colour to disappear then here's a look at it’? Or maybe we don't need to be shown it because it's a already happening everywhere around us.

C: It's more a case of 'if we want white people to appear'. That's more the question going on. And if I'm going to be in a narrative set up where the white person's going to appear I found the best way to go about that is for me to step aside.

H: Why?

C: Because it mirrors in a sense what's going on anyway. I've been thinking about this, like whenever you see a...I don't know if you've been an extra...

H: You keep asking me this!

C: Not that you look like the stereotypical extra!

H: I have actually and I'm actually quite committed when I'm an extra.

C: I have been an extra where they need a black guy in the background kind of thing. It's called the blackground actually that kind of process of two white people in the foreground and the director says 'wait, wait, wait stop stop something's missing. Show me the casting sheet. OK put that black guy in the background. OK action!" So there's part of that, what do black people do anyway in relation to white people. What is our role in many things when it comes to preserving some kind of normality.

S: So for me that creates the conditions in which the volume on my whiteness can be turned up, dialled up.

C: And then there's something about, 'I'm in this narrative how am I going to collude with as a black guy?' So I found the best way of being there is just have a what I call a quiet still refusal. So I'm there but I'm not going to help any more than just being there.

S: And he didn't.

C: And I don't. And that's my job.

H: Was there a knack to being lifted?

C: I had to stand on a chair to be lifted. Not that I'm too heavy it's just he's not used to lifting from so low. And the knack of it is to really relax my neck muscles because when I look back on the video and if you look at it online you'll see that I drop to the floor but my head doesn't go down it comes down afterwards. So you know I had to work on that. And it's quite hard work being a dummy you know really.

H: Was there a knack to...

S: Being an arsehole.

H: Yeah!

S: You know what one of the things that we...I remember pretty clearly we were at Roehampton actually and it was about being able to say the word 'nigger' without wanting to swallow my words, without wanting to not say it so we spent quite a long time practicing that. I felt 'hmm ..that's not a word I'm supposed to say, that's not a word that people..white people are supposed to say and so for it reminded me of a getting in touch with things that are bad if you like. This is a ridiculous word to use but at the same time I was trying to find some pleasure in it in a way that I remember when I was very young where...when people are very young where you're paying with words that you know you're not supposed to say and the pleasure of using those words and so there was something about that for me. It's not about a knack but we certainly spent time on it.

C: That's one of those things where it's good to be in the outside, really far away and shouting 'I don't believe you.'

S: Colin's going 'you can't even say it'.

C: 'I don't believe you' and this is what I mean about taking care of the situation. He had to make a journey to be able to convince me that 'Okay I hear you now. I know you're used to being seen but I can't hear you' and so by the end...And that thing of taking pleasure in it, I think one of the disturbing things about it is it seemed by the end, unashamedly taking pleasure in what he was doing. But from those opening lines that relationship of 'I don't believe you, that doesn't ring true, I can't hear you'.

S: We had a whole scene which was this massive incredible long list of different kinds of niggers. And there's a fragment of that still in the work, it was playful or absurd or serious so part of the remnants of that scene were... partly the repetition.. just getting used to the way in which that word may frame other words. I mean we did it a lot.

C: Yeah a lot.

S: And I like the way you've said Colin, the care of that. There's nothing flippant. It's not dropped in for effect although it has an effect. It's being choreographed and deeply considered in the way it's being used, ignored, overladen, repeated.

H: You talk about it having an effect but does it have such a powerful effect that it distorts the audience's ability to see the piece as you would like? Does it make people raise their hackles?

S: I remember there was a guy there that night at Lilian Baylis [dance theatre in London], in the questions afterwards he was really preoccupied by that word and he was, the way I remembered it he couldn't get over that word and our use of it. And how dare we.. and we shouldn't have done that and so in a way he was an exemplar of what you're saying but I think my sense is that reveals so much about how profound and how deep seated the problem of white supremacy is that on this occasion all he could worry about was whether I was using the word nigger not about ... It was kind of an exterior symbol of 'There isn't a problem; If I'm not using that word there isn't a problem'. So as long as he was comfortable with the idea that there's not an issue here, but as soon as that word is used it reveals all sorts of, it’s like letting the cat out of the bag big time. And I think he wanted it shoved right back in. That would be my [guess]...I've never talked to him other than that exchange. It's ugly. For me it's not so much that the word is ugly it’s what it reveals when it's used and hidden and shamed and all sorts of things that are far uglier and far more systemic and systemically problematic.

C: You heard that word during the performance. What effect did it have on you?

H: I can remember the exact feeling. I suppose because I knew Simon...maybe if I didn't know you I would have gone to an automatic response of 'white people shouldn't say the word, not now, not for the next few hundred years or something. It's a sort of no go because there isn't the sensitivity to understand how to use it or when to use. So let's not take any chances. So that's the kind of reaction this guy had but because I knew you and because I'd seen the previous work Because We Care I could give myself some more space..It was quite shocking to hear it. But I think I had a distance from that, not to be drawn into that offence or disgust or disturbance.

How do people see your authorship of the work if you’re playing dead. How does that affect people seeing your agency as a choreographer?

C: It depends. Some people who are familiar with the work I've been making seem to see a kind of relationship with this work as 'ah, that kind of provocation. We've seen Colin in that space before' so they assume my authorship in the work. And people who don't know me and they just come and see the show they just think Simon's made this work...

S: Really?

C: ...Even though it says 'Colin, Simon'. Because of the way he's become so assured and convincing in doing what he's doing it just seems like it's coming from him basically. And because I'm lying on the floor afterwards and I haven't seemed to have participated to assert a certain kind of agency for them it leaves all eyes on him.

S: I take a bow, don't pay any attention to Colin

C: So authorship becomes an issue that way. And I've always from the beginning thought that, that could be an interesting problem for the audience. Probably provoke more thought or a different kind of thought than if it seemed too clear to them that Colin made the work for instance. It might produce a different way of looking at the work. What are your thoughts?

S: I don't think I have anything to add to that. I think that's how I remember our discussions. Put it this way if it just said 'Choreography - Colin Poole, performance - Simon Ellis' that I think it would soften the blow, 'oh it's OK a black man has given Simon permission'. So as Colin said, the ambiguity creates.. it just turns up the volume of the problem.

C: And it's another way of looking at the absence – presence thing as well.

S: I mean also we're in a company we call ourselves 'Colin, Simon and I’; I mean it's kind of on the label. 

H: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

S: Colin's very good at being inert and is very heavy. 

C: Simon's an arsehole. 

H: Are you still showing the work?

C: We showed it in the Hate Festival in Luxembourg and then there was another hate festival that wanted us but we haven't heard anything since

S: It's like we cornered the hate market

C: Because it's full of hate speech I guess. I mean it seems criminal that we've only show it here [in the UK] once. And it seems to be a timely work really, or maybe just a little bit too ahead of its time. It comes before Trump and Brexit and all that kind of stuff and I think people would probably understand it, see it differently now.

S: A kind of white anger

C: Yeah, white rage, white resentment. And also the focus on blackness, on anti-black violence

S: You want to present it somewhere?

H: I don't know. Maybe.

C: And also we've moved on, we've also made the one that you were part of Our White Friend [7], kind of ongoing, I'm working on White Charlie with [dance artist] Charlie Morrissey.

H: My presumption is that it's been shown to predominantly white audiences but have there been differences in reactions between white and black and other audience members.

C: Well we don't have much to go on. We presented at Lilian Bayliss and we had I think one review from Jamila [Johnson-Small] I think she starts the review with 'I was deeply offended by the work', she hadn't been considered. There were two other reviews by white reviewers, or three I think who seemed to think the work had, as I remember had gone quite far in the direction that was necessary to engage with the problem of racism.

H: But when you made it was there space for audience members of colour?

C: When I made it? I was there.

H: But were you assuming the audience would be all white?

C: Well based on the kind of audience I usually see and usually participate in as an audience member or as a performer in front of audiences, they are predominantly white.

H: Not exclusively

C: Not exclusively, I said predominantly. They're predominantly white. And even when I've made work specifically around black themes or anti-black violence or racism I've still been surrounded by mostly white audiences. I'm not saying that I only imagine a white audience, I'm saying I mostly see white audiences. Does that answer your question?

H: Yeah, that's an answer to my question. Thank you.

C: Is there anything you haven't asked us you were most curious about?

H: No...well we didn't quite come directly to the audience reaction but I feel like that was touched on in different ways.

C: It's a tricky one. I mean I think it's rude to ignore your audience. I can tell you I see them; they're mostly white.

S: But did we consider the two or three or four people [that weren’t white]?

C: That's what I said; I was one of them that was considered. Because I was there. I'm the first audience on the outside looking at what's going on. I'm doing it for me as a black person first and foremost. I want to see this truth and hear this truth and I'm used to that as a black man growing up with Richard Pryor [8] and black comedy and all sorts of things where the truth of these kinds of relations are kind of out there, not in a very politically correct way. I think the question is ‘do I have a concern over whether it's class issue?’, that somehow [if you’re] a certain class, whether you're black or white, you start to not be able to hear certain things because I can tell you a lot of people I've grown up with and I can still show you young black people who actually appreciate hearing things quite clearly rather than pussyfooting around something. Like 'this is what we're here to talk about, we need to discuss the nigger problem. OK it's out there we know where we are’. And there's a whole tradition of that; you hear Malcolm X [9], you hear the black radical tradition. Like that's what it is; not just the devil, the white devil. And we're dealing with this question. That's the audience as a black person I bring to looking at the work primarily and then of course we're thinking about the middle class audience and whether they're black or white I've experienced the same thing, white and black audience members offended. I think it's more of a class issue. It's too crude. What do you think? What do you hear from what I'm saying?

H: Yeah I mean...the class….people are more careful.

C: Because we're in a white space. The theatre is conditioned by certain tastes certain class to begin with.

S: It's also because of class that I wasn't able to say the word. Because I'd learned because of my environment and those mostly class-based systems, this is a word I should not use it. If I don't use it I then I cross the path into the non-racist, again rather crudely put.

H: I don't know if people who aren't middle class use the word more...are less conscious of its power or less worried about it. I wouldn't want to state that.

C: When we listen to rap music and they try to outlaw the n-word in rap music and it's mostly black conservatives and white conservatives, middle class people in America and the UK. Who's offended by the n-word? I mean you're talking about urban black kids in America.

H: Well I presume people are offended when they're called that by someone in the street.

C: Yeah but we're not in the street.

H: The argument is that having the word openly available means that...

C: It doesn't make it openly available it just means that. It's clearly put in the context. I mean I have warned Simon before 'don't think you can go saying this word anywhere else. It's clearly just in relation to what we've been doing'. Most people understand this word as something you should only use if you've ever been called it basically.

H: But there's a good reason for there to be a taboo around it because it's related to racism and actual violence.

C: And the context is that we are exploring that. That's why we're here today, we're clearly looking at this problem. It's a critical look at that. I don't know how you can explore racism without there being racists. I know that's the premise that somehow racism is here but there are no racists around but I don't believe that so how you going to explore racism?...

[long pause]

H: I'm scratching my face.

C: ...I mean if you're going to go there. S: I like the word pussyfooting, You know I like the way you say that 'there's no point fucking pussyfooting around this' I mean I've learned this from working with Colin: it can't be tasteful. It just can't be tasteful. If this were tasteful it would be so easily digested and so easily dismissed and people would go 'mmm, yeah' and that would be white people and that would be middle class people, it would be me. 'That was really moving, that was really effective, but this is... 

H: I mean also there's a need to be considerate of language and for people to be careful. Pussyfooting is maybe the flip side of being considerate in the same way that I wouldn't be anti-political correctness because often it's about choosing your words. Although that can be used to hide other forms of racism...

C: What are you saying?

S: We're talking about theatre anyway. The conversation for me was about the theatre and the care taken in the context...

H: We were talking about using the n-word more generally in society.

C: what I'm saying is that he would know if he used it more generally in society, I sort of warned him 'don't think you've got a pass here'.

S: I don't need the warning but thanks anyway.

C: Like it's just in this context. Like even when he's mentioning it here between us it's still charged. And we're just recounting the performance and the process of making it and it’s still charged. It's not something unconsidered or unthought about at all. It's like 'this is what we're doing, this is framing the next 30 minutes of engagement with the audience. We considered it quite a few different ways. It's offensive. But I find racism offensive. How are you going to understand that?

S: ...Without being offended.

C: How are we going to understand that? I don't think Black History Month is going to get rid of racism. Just showing heroics of black people who are no longer considered niggers for instance. Or it isn't anyway I mean no one believes that anyway. But that's another class issue.

H: Black History Month?

C: I think this idea of social upliftment and somehow we show our achievement and the one in a million made good is somehow going to make us forget all this horror and racism that has been ongoing through history, I don't think anyone believes that.

H: Who says it's going to make people forget?

C: Well that's what you do when you think about the achievements of one person you forget about the misery a huge amount of other people. S: It's a disguising.

C: Isn't that the whole thing how we start to change our relationship to history. It’s a history of people, all those people who are missing.

[1] Colin, Simon and I (2014) A Separation

[2] Simon was a professor in the dance department at Roehampton University at the time.

[3] Jamila Johnson-Small (2014) ‘Wild Card: Eva Recacha: Dear Devil’ in, 12 April 2014

[4] Choreodrome is a research and development programme for British-based dance makers.

[5] Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher.

[6] Søren Kierkegaard was an Danish philosopher writing in the early 19th Century. He is often thought of as the father of existentialism.

[7] Colin, Simon and I (2016) Our White Friend

[8] Richard Pryor was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and social critic, often considered one of the greatest stand-ups of all time.

[9] Malcolm X was an African American leader and prominent member of the Nation of Islam. In contrast to Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violent civil rights approach he urged followers to defend themselves against white aggression “by any means necessary”.

September 2017. This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Images by Camilla Greenwell, courtesy of Simon Ellis and Colin Poole. A Separation by Colin, Simon and I performed 27 March 2014, Lilian Baylis Studio, London.