PSi#21 Fluid States - Bahamas: Deep Anatomy, 'Horizontal Blue', by Tracy C Davis, Bahamas Correspondent


Horizontal Blue

by Tracy C Davis

10 May 2015

Psi #21 Fluid States - Deep Anatomy
Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island, Bahamas

PDF available here

The cameras are particularly noticeable at the dive site—at the water line and below—though thanks to telephoto lenses they are also on the cliffs above and at the shoreline. Professionals and amateurs document assiduously. The spatial arrangement is conducive to this: within the diving pen room is made not only for the safety divers but also photographers; the platform squarely faces the cliff with the accessible aspect; and even at the shore’s edge there is a devoted professional photographer who tries to capture the emotions exhibited by divers when they emerge from the water and make their way to shore. A limited range of angles of view is exploited over and over in the iterations of dives. Each one (the descent, the emergence, checking for lucidity, and the aftermath that could be interventionist or gently triumphant) develops a codified style recombinant into a narrative with limited variability. This mise en scène (literally, putting into the scene) is notable not just because it creates documentation but because, in a sense, good documentation will promulgate the aim of publicizing, proliferating, and recruiting to the pursuit of freediving.

In cinematography, the mise en scène constitutes everything before the camera. It is the culmination of all departments (costume, make-up, set dressing, lighting) choreographed in a shot as captured by a camera. In theatre, where the term originated, the mise en scène also constitutes the input of all visual elements as well as the pattern of movement undertaken by actors (and, for example, lighting); in contrast to a script, which is merely the blueprint for performance, a mise en scène is the entirety of the realized performance. Whereas Erving Goffman would classify the dive site as the stage and everything else as backstage, what I argue is the mise en scène encompasses both. At Dean’s Blue Hole, the theatrical mise en scène is not limited to what is framed by a lens, or even what is designated as athletic performance, but extends to the entirety of the activity at Turtle Bay.

At Deep Blue this distinction between cinematographic and theatrical mise en scène matters, for the on-camera action is only one facet of the entire undertaking. I struggle to describe the mise en scène of a dive because apart from the flip to descend, the reemergence, and regulation checks the performance per se is invisible. The underwater cameras don’t even capture most of it, especially for the more ambitious depths. But thinking about this formalist compositional problem as a theatre scholar (rather than a filmic challenge) brings me to an insight about the totality of the event: it is perpendicular to the dives’ axis and so I call it Horizontal Blue.

There cannot be multiple mise en scènes, for this would countervail the idea of the theatrical concept. Instead, there are multiple plotlines quietly working to make up the totality of the event. Succinctly, their arcs are:

  1. Officials’ preparation for dives, including setting the depth line, setting wrist depth meters, checking batteries and equipment
  2. Each diver’s arrival, preparation, execution, and aftermath
  3. Documentation, including photography, but also extending also to the capture, verification, and recording of dive results and medical data collected by officials (judges, timekeepers, platform medics, and statisticians) who manage the event of diving, adjudicate the success of dives, and record outcomes
  4. The spectators, who include members of the public, other divers, and families who enjoy the beach as well as the diving (sometimes assiduously, distractedly, or alternately), prepare artwork as part of Fluid States, and interview participants
  5. A concurrent but also future-oriented focus on the physiological monitoring of divers (this includes the Masimo corporation’s sponsorship of oximeter readings pre/post dive). Less conspicuously, Dr. Juan Martin Valdivia Valdivia, a neurosurgeon volunteering at the site, examines some divers for neurological issues and considers how to advise AIDA on the implementation of protocols. There is an overt narrative about increasing the safety of freediving, and this feeds into it.


Photo credits: Meredith Smye


Copyright –  Tracy C Davis (2015) “Horizontal Blue”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available

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