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Climbing The Mountain: The Performer’s Journey Into Presence

July 20, 2017
I am proud and delighted to announce the publication of a new book. After three years of writing on planes, in coffee shops and hotel rooms, I am launching ‘Climbing The Mountain: The Performer’s Journey Into Presence’.
The book contains thirty short talks – talks that follow a six-week training programme from first hesitant meetings, through increasingly complex understanding, through to the ensemble’s final farewells. It’s a journey you are invited to share.
Climbing The Mountain’ is practical, anecdotal, philosophical, theoretical, spiritual, irreverent, poetic, informal, precise and – most importantly – written in the authentic voice of the rehearsal room. This is how we talk when we train, full of paradox, repetition, metaphor, contradiction, humour and life.
The topics explored include: Presence, Liveness, Spontaneity, Blockage, Reactivity, Improvisation, Physical Actions, Pleasure, Positive Feedback, Self-Reflection, Self-Acceptance, Attention, The Use of the Senses, Multi-Tasking, Self-Disicpline, The Repetitive Nature of Practice, Ensemble, Ethics, Easefulness and Personal Empowerment. These are building blocks for dynamic, powerfully charismatic performance across art forms and aesthetics. The talks roam across history, disciplines and cultures, bringing everything I have to bear on the elusive task of being present in ones work in each transcendent moment.
Climbing The Mountain’ offers the most authentic encounter I can give you (apart from having you in the room with me) with the Self-With-Others, the improvisational, principle-based psycho-physical training that’s at the heart of all my work, and of the training at The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre.
At the moment ‘Climbing The Mountain’ is only available as an e-book. I hope to make a printed version available later in the year.
The nature of practice is this: however far you climbed the mountain yesterday, today you start again from the bottom. Each day we must do our work, walk our path, learn what we are ready to learn. However well you know the mountain, you still have to climb it today if you want to get to the top today.
Climbing The Mountainis available from the following e-retailers:
Amazon Kindle Store: http://bit.ly/ctmamazon
Books on Google Play: http://bit.ly/ctmgoogle
10% of profits from the sale of Climbing The Mountainwill be used to support research into epilepsy in children.
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The new fascism. (A personal and artistic response).

November 21, 2016

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‘It is far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism.’ Dee Hock

We are again living in the shadow of fascism. I don’t use the term lightly or as an insult. I am describing what I see.

I never imagined this. The history I learned in school playing out again. I assumed history was the past, would remain the past. History as warning, lesson, curiosity. Not prophecy.

The American election is just the latest, catastrophic manifestation of a new fascism: the re-election of the human-rights abusing government in Australia; Golden Dawn in Greece; the Polish Government; The NF in France; Brexit, with it’s Nazi-era propaganda posters. The chief strategist of the incoming US administration is openly linked to white-supremacism. Openly neo-fascist parties across Europe say they expect huge gains off the back of the recent US election. Beyond ‘The West’ violent, inhuman voices dominate the media and thug-governments, not from the fringes but at the very centre of power and wealth.

Dispossession and disempowerment, debt and despair – a landscape of fury where the powerless turn on the equally powerless, justified by gender, nation, race or religion. It is  actively encouraged by the powerful oligarchs and corporations who bestride the globe.

The powerful and rich are doing what they have always done, entrenching their power and wealth. They meet in Davos and watch the world burn. It is as if human history is a blood sport to them, watched gleefully from the corporate hospitality tent.

We are in the shadow of resurgent fascism. The President-elect claims to represent the ‘common man’. A commodity-trading UKIP con-man brands himself  a ‘man-of-the-people’. They stir up primal hatred then ascend in a gold-plated lift to the Penthouse and leave us to fight among ourselves.

Buffoons. Fascist buffoons. Like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco. Narcissistic heralds of apocalypse.

Sometimes people ask why ‘decent’ people in Germany in the 1930s did not protest, resist, rebel. One day that will be asked of us.

What did I do when the fascists came back?
How to respond?

***

I propose this to myself.

I can only propose to myself.

Others must make their own choices – that’s the world I believe in; a world where difference is celebrated, where we respect the right of others to make other choices.

I speak to myself at this time, and write this to see if I can live according to the ethics that I claim to live by.

I am an artist.
I will not apologise that I am an artist.

I will continue to be an artist.
Making art is not trivial or indulgent.
I do not see art as only an instrument in some other struggle.
I celebrate art, in all its indefinable permutations.

The future is imagined in art.
The present is made beautiful, understandable, communal by art.
The past is remembered through art.
Life needs art.

I will not tell others what art should be.How can I celebrate diversity if I demand homogeneity?
I will not let others tell me what my art should be.

I will find my way to serve.
I will serve.

Art is individual, social and political.

In a time of fascism, the social and political are unavoidable.
I will consider the consequences and implications of my work with redoubled scrutiny.

I will ask if my work connects me with those I want to be allied with, or, by default, with those who are the oppressors.

If I am offered work or funding, I will ask myself what is being bought from me.
If a government offers funding, what are they buying from me?
If a business wants me – a university or a corporation – what are they buying?

Am I willing to sell?
If I am funded to represent my country as an artist when my country is nationalistic and racist, does the good I hope my work achieves outweigh the damage done by legitimising the new fascism?

Does my work give succour, concealment or legitimacy to those who destroy my friends, my colleagues, my communities?
Am I being paid to normalise and legitimise the unforgivable?

I will NEVER normalise fascism.

We are asked to accept the ideology of these times as ‘part of the acceptable spectrum’.

I reject that.

Fascism, racism, nationalism, prejudice, oppression, are off the ‘acceptable spectrum’, however many vote for them.

If I accept some facet of fascism as normal, I open the door to the next ‘unacceptable’ becoming normal.

I will not be complicit in this.

When fascists appear in public, on the media, on our streets, they must be named as extremists, as inhumane, as dangerous.
Politely, if necessary, but uncompromisingly.

We will be asked, continually, to normalise extremism.

This is what the powerful want.

I refuse.

I will be unconditionally supportive and generous towards those who make different choices to mine.

I do not own other people’s ethics.
I do not own other artists’ work.
I will enthusiastically support and promote work and work-practices I do not like, if I feel they are genuine attempts to offer a progressive vision.
I will not make enemies of allies by assuming I know how they should act.

I will unconditionally accept those whose anger or fear is turned towards me because I make different choices to theirs.
I will not hate those who support fascism. They too, mainly, are the powerless and dispossessed.
My battle is with the system that breeds fascism, with the rich and powerful who manipulate it.

I will not try to silence those with whom I disagree or who make me uncomfortable.
I will not apologise for who I am, nor ask others to apologise for who they are.
I acknowledge privileges I enjoy and know that sometimes my privilege must be willingly given away.

 

I will support those who work inside the system.
I will support those who work outside the system.
I will support those who work against the system.
I will support those who work in the cracks between systems.
I acknowledge that I mainly occupy cracks between systems.

That is where my major efforts lie.
Others will work in other ways.

There will be compromises.

There are always compromises.

I will consider, accept, justify and own my compromises.
I will respect the compromises others make.

If I question their choices, I will respect their right to be different.
I will support those who choose to resist differently to the ways I choose to resist.

This above all:

I will redouble my commitment to laughter, to joy, to enthusiasm, to passion, to ridiculousness, to kindness, to radical generosity, to experimentation, to the truth of the body, to learning, to self-reflection and to love. 

Yes. Love.

We must build visions and realities that are so filled with joy and love that those who currently embrace hatred and fear want to dance with us instead.

We must, all in our own ways, build better ways of being together.

I will celebrate diversity, even when it makes me fearful and uncomfortable.
I am allowed to be fearful and uncomfortable.

***

Some years ago I sat with a South Indian dancer and her partner in Chennai. We talked about the spectres of right-wing extremism she identified in India, and that I saw in Europe. I wondered if we were in a re-run of the 1950s – a dark decade that served as prelude to an explosion of radical hope. She wondered if we were in a re-run of the 1930s, the prelude to holocaust and catastrophe.

I do not know.

Perhaps it will be decided by how each of us now chooses to respond.

‘This above all. To refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that, I can do nothing.’ Margaret Atwood.

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Teaching

March 24, 2016

prova duende (16)A recent graduate of The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre wrote to me. She is about to start running workshops and asked if I had any tips….

I realised I’ve been doing this for 25 years.

I thought I’d attempt a ‘top-ten tips’. These encapsulate how I approach the wonderful, ungraspable and fascinating world of teaching and learning.

They are in no particular order. And they are based on nothing but that pesky 25 years…

 

1. You don’t need to know everything – you need to be further down a path than your students so you can guide them.

2. Keep traveling your path. Don’t stand still and wait for others to catch up. That’s laziness! Learn through your teaching.

3. You do not need to know where any lesson will lead, but you do need to know why you are asking students to do what you are suggesting. It is fine, sometimes, to refuse to tell a student why you are suggesting a certain exercise if, by explaining in advance, you might prevent them having a strong experience. It is not your job to be liked, it is your job to be effective.

4. We learn through experience. Even conceptual learning happens experientially – through the senses. Your job is to sculpt and guide the total environment of learning.

5. You cannot control the experience students have. You provide an environment – they learn what they are going to learn. You stand beside them as they learn, helping them decode their experiences.

6. They are not YOUR students. They are students.

7. You have earned the right to be their teacher through the work you have done on yourself. You do not need to apologise for your skill, nor do you need to apologise if they end up not liking what you do, provided you have honoured your contract with them. Your contract is to provide a place for them to learn, not to force their learning.

8. Learning is a complex process. It is never possible to define, to describe or to understand EXACTLY what has been learned. As time passes, we reinterpret experience. Today’s ‘not-knowing’, today’s confusion, today’s frustration might be essential to tomorrow’s insight.

9. If the student is not enjoying herself, at some level, she is not learning effectively. Encourage her to give herself permission to enjoy her journey, however tough. Learn to enjoy discomfort.

10. If you are not enjoying yourself, you are not teaching well.

 

I am becoming…

January 19, 2016

I’m becoming my father.

Standing at the hotel reception this morning, chatting, I gestured with my right hand. I saw its movement. It was his gesture, not mine. I remember him doing it. I remember him making exactly that gesture.

I saw it, and experienced it. He is in me. I am becoming him.

It’s not the first time this has happened.

It is no surprise. I have inherited a lot from him – his body type and occasional social awkwardness. His receding hair-line, fearful romanticism and a chronic illness. His darkness and his light.

He was fifty when I was born. I turned fifty eighteen months ago. I am now the age he was when first he entered into my infant consciousness.

In the foyer  I experience him in me. A gesture I saw a thousand times while growing up, I experience from the inside. I experience its motivation and its intention. The self-doubt I guess he must have so often felt, appears in that movement of my hand. Fragments of his inner landscape live in me alongside his other legacies.

I think about my job, as performer, teacher, director. I train to experience the motivations and intentions of people I am not. I imagine and create the ambiguous emotional and psychic swamplands from which someone’s concrete actions emerge. I become other.

To become other I must first become me. I must encounter, experience and try to bring to focus the unknowable drivers of my own actions.

But ‘I’ am not fixed. ‘I’ am becoming. Becoming my father. Becoming myself. Becoming other.

I am changing. Even as I start to seeing something of myself, time passes and I am becoming other. There is no self to see, only a becoming, a being-in-flux. Yet from that slippery ambiguity I craft actions that communicate ‘me’. I craft my life.

It is like sculpting a fast-flowing river.

‘Becoming’ asks me to be generous and to give up certainty. In the foyer, as I see my father – long dead – living still in me, as I experience the echoes of his experience, his childhood, his pain and hope, living still in this cold Stockholm morning, I am a little appalled. I am losing the ‘self’ I thought I was.

Then I realise that I can choose another reaction –  I can be generous to my evolution.

This is, after all, the process of art and my work as an artist: to see the possibility of other in me and to communicate my sense of me to others.

It is a process based in generosity and empathy.

To be creative is to let go of certainty. That is, potentially, a subversive act. It questions the fixedness of  ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It asks how “I’ might – imaginatively at least – become ‘you’. Who would I be if my homeland was bombed and my children faced physical or psychic assault? Would I risk their lives in an overcrowded boat on a dangerous sea? How might I be, if I had lived what ‘you’ have lived? Does the binary of ‘you’ and ‘I’ exist?

Generosity and empathy.

It is no accident, in a time of repression, that the powerful, desperate to keep grip on their iniquitous and sickening privilege, try to co-opt art and artists, or they neuter us by making us ‘legitimate’, or they censor us, or squeeze us into silence with the austere financial tyranny they impose on everyone except themselves.

The powerful do not retain power by encouraging generosity and empathy. They rule through certainty, selfishness and division. The binary of ‘people-like-us’ against ‘the rest’.

Creativity is generous – a giving of unique parts of oneself to the world. It requires the cultivation of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for oneself. Enthusiasm for others. Enthusiasm for the other in oneself.

It requires an act of becoming.

You see, standing in the foyer this morning, I understood something of my father that I had not understood before. Not perhaps something I can put into words, but something which, now, I know. Things about him which, growing up, appalled and embarrassed me, I now experience in me.

If I choose to reject my father-in-me, then I reject myself. If I choose to be appalled by the things I find inside me, then I am appalled by myself. If I am appalled by what I can imagine, I am appalled by myself. I close down. I lose my generosity. I lose my enthusiasm – because how can I be enthusiastic if I loathe myself? If I loathe myself I will reinforce the boundaries of the limited self I can accept, and refuse to become anything else. I will refuse to become.

When I find the other in myself, I find myself in the other. We become one. I learn empathy.

So I welcome my father in me. I smile at my initial horror and realise that I am swimming with the accelerating current of time. I’m catching up with him.

I realise that I am, in this moment, also a father. I am the father of the man I’ll be ten years from now. I am the child of my forty-year-old self.

I hope my father loved me. I hope he respected me, though I know there were things he did not understand. I hope that I can love and respect the person I am in the process of becoming right now. As a father, I hope I can love the child who is being born from this moment. Not understand perhaps, but unconditionally accept.

To become, from uncertainty into uncertainty – making concrete choices from ambiguous and unknowable possibility. To realise, welcome, that everything is a process of becoming.

I am my own father, and I am becoming another me.

I must be gentle, for birth is a wonderful and terrifying thing. A time of hope and unconditional love.

Work! Work! Work!

March 20, 2015
Life Story. Padatik Theatre.  Kolkata, India.

Life Story.
Padatik Theatre.
Kolkata, India.

Last weekend I opened a show in Kolkata (Calcutta).

‘Life Story’ was created with Padatik Theatre, using ‘obituaries’ as inspiration. It’s an great stimulus – short pieces of writing that, in the immediate aftermath of a death, make a first attempt to ‘sum up’ the achievements of a person’s life.

How do you write about a life?

We dealt with some big names – Albert Einstein, Satyajit Ray – as well as (often much more revealing) ‘unknowns’ – a pick-pocket killed in a bar fight in 1842, a Honolulu postmaster, an ex-serviceman with no living relatives.

It was a very beautiful show which – though put together quickly – became a meditation on life, death and memory. Alternately contemplative and raucous, melancholy and celebratory.

At a Q&A session with the audience afterwards, a range of topics were broached – including how the idea of ‘remembering after death’ is altered if one believes in reincarnation. It was a fascinating and rich evening.

Then – as is so often the case when I am interviewed – a final question, made perhaps more pertinent on an evening when we had been exploring the ‘shape of a life’:

‘Do you have any advice for young artists, just starting out?’

I answered as I always do:

‘Work! Work! Work! Find your work. Do your work. Love your work.’

It is the only advice I really think is useful.

When I am asked to expand on my answer – as I usually am – here are a few things I usually suggest:

1.  Work is play.

’Work’ and ‘Play’  – for artists at least – must be the same thing. If your work is not play, it is not your work. It is just something you are doing. There is a deep difference between something you are ‘just doing’ and your real work.

As artists our work is to play until we find our work, then to carry on playing at doing our work. We find our work by messing about, doodling, chatting, staring out of the window, until something urgently grabs our attention, until something fascinates us, until something forces us to get up and play with it until we have exhausted its possibilities. That exhaustive playing with the possibilities of what fascinates us, is our work. Perhaps our life’s work.

What we do as artists is profoundly important – can you imagine how unbearable it would be to exist in a society devoid of culture? It is precisely because it is so important that we must treat it lightly. Even the most serious of content requires a lightness of touch in its creative process and performance. We must consistently insist on the fact that we are just playing.

2.  Your work is to find pleasure.

Life Story. Padatik Theatre.  Kolkata, India.

Life Story.
Padatik Theatre.
Kolkata, India.

You cannot be an artist only because you want applause, or wealth, or fame or security. That may be the consequence of your work, but it is not your work. Your work is to get into a rehearsal room, or in front of a blank piece of paper, or with your instrument, and to play. Your pleasure in your work must be intrinsic to the process of work. Your work is the pursuit of pleasure. If you are working only because of the anticipated results of your work – it is not your work.

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward… (Bhagavad Gita)

If you are not enjoying your work, you have not yet found your path. You must keep playing around until you do, until you find the stimulus, the approach, the subject, the relationship, the community, that so fascinates you, there is nothing you would rather do than explore it. Your ‘work’ becomes the thing that absorbs you, delights you, feeds you. The doing of your work becomes the pure pursuit of pleasure.

3. If you want to go somewhere, you have to travel a path.

You will get nowhere sitting on the sofa waiting for the phone to ring. Do something. Play. Explore, Take risks. Travel a path. If you travel a path you will get somewhere – even if:

‘the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ (T.S Eliot).

If you do not travel a path you will stay exactly where you are. If you work, there will be a result – even if you cannot predict or control what that result will be.

If you do the work you will get a result. If you don’t, you won’t.

You do not have to know where the path will take you. Travel for the joy of traveling. Enjoy the scenery. Take unexpected forks off the path. Abandon your plans. Be surprised by both the destination and by the view along the way. Take pleasure in your work.

4. If you have no work, work anyway.

Never let anyone stop you working/playing.

No funding? Make your work anyway, or put it on the back-burner with a promise that the time will come when it will be possible.

No job? Get together with others (really or online) and do things. Talk. Dance. Read plays. Write. Photograph. Listen to music.

No performing opportunities? Go to your living room with a friend and do an improvisation while being watched. Then talk about it. That is performing. You do not need anyone’s permission to perform.

Rejected at audition? Smile. Breathe. Get on with your work.

No money? Write a poem. Do a dance on the bus in a way that no one knows you are dancing. Making art can be free.

You do not need permission of validation to be an artist. You need to work. An artist is someone who makes art. If you do not work at making art (paid or unpaid), you are not an artist. Simple huh?

Do something that keeps your passion living.

If you are working to someone else’s agenda (waiting on their money, their acceptance, their approval) then it is not your work – it is their’s. It is your work when you find deep and urgent life-giving joy in what you are doing, whether or not you receive money, acceptance, approval.

Never, never, never let anyone stop you doing your work.

Play. then play again.

That is your work.

Life Story. Padatik Theatre.  Kolkata, India.

Life Story.
Padatik Theatre.
Kolkata, India.

5. If you do not like your work – find how to like it, or do something else.

We all have to do work we do not like. There are bills to be paid, obligations to be met. If you are engaged in work that you know is not ‘your’ work (because it does not contain its necessary pleasure), then find how to make it ‘your’ work. Find how to do what needs to be done in a way that gives you pleasure, so it nourishes. enlivens and deepens you. Not liking something is no reason not to work. Our work is not to ‘have fun’, it is ‘pursue deep pleasure’.

If you can find no pleasure in something – even if it is something you used to love – fulfil your obligations and move on.

The world does not benefit from your unhappiness. It benefits from your joy.

****

Thinking about life stories and obituaries, inevitably one thinks of epitaphs.

Somehow ‘She/He worked’ seems a little sad. ‘She/He played’ sounds a little trivial. Perhaps they could be combined into ‘She/He found a path and traveled it, full of joy. There was no final destination’.

***

If you are interested in attending residential workshop with DUENDE this summer – where we dig deep into the importance of pleasure in finding one’s artistic voice – then there are still spaces on the residencies we are running in Lesbos, Greece, and in the South of France.

'Performing at the Edge' Residential Workshop Lesbos, Greece.

‘Performing at the Edge’
Residential Workshop
Lesbos, Greece.

Details are as follows:

Performing at the Edge #4 – Lesvos. 9 – 23 July. Theatre/Dance/Improvisation/Site-Specific, solo/ensemble performance on the edge of land and sea…..

http://duende-ensemble.com/performing-at-the-edge-4/

Ensemble Physical Improvisation: Au Brana Cultural Centre, France, 2-7 September. Six days of ensemble training and improvising inside and outside at this beautiful rural retreat in the South of France.

http://duende-ensemble.com/swo-ensemble-physical-improvisation-au-brana-france/

Collective Creation for Solo Performers: Au Brana Cultural Centre, France, 10 – 15 September. Six days of shared training and mentored/supported input to developing your own projects. An exercise in building creative community.

http://duende-ensemble.com/swo-collective-creation-for-solo-performers-au-brana-france/

(Please note there is a discount for those who choose to attend both the weeks at Au Brana)

The residential workshops are rich and transformative experiences. One participant at last year’s Lesvos workshop wrote:

The workshop was 14 midsummer nights & days of complete happiness. It takes courage to enjoy it – and I have never enjoyed my work as an artist so much’. 

A participant at one of last year’s Au Brana residencies wrote: ‘

“I arrived at Au Brana raw and bleeding, I left raw and healed. This was one of the best weeks of my life, I shall carry the generous, creative energy of the people and the place in my bones forever.”

A living lineage (The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre)

November 1, 2014

_MG_7476There’s a conversation I often have with performers. All over the world. It’s about training, learning, growing.

Where do I go to learn?
Where can I find training that’s practical and rigorous?
Should I do an MA?
Will an MA train me to perform?
Are Drama Schools any good?
How can I afford to train, learn, grow, explore and be fed, artistically and professionally?

I try to answer as honestly as I can:

Drama Schools:   Some, of course, are excellent, but often they are very expensive and all-too-often old fashioned – serving the culture that existed when their teachers (or founders) were growing up, not necessarily the culture that exists now. Or they are so commercial and industry-orientated that they foster the skills to earn a living, at the expense of the passion that led the student to the School in the first place. They breed ‘professional cynicism’ as often as they breed skilled engagement.
Conservatories: Almost by definition they are highly-selective and – however they might try to level the playing-field – the best way to get into elite training (at least in many countries) is to be born to a wealthy background. Often by the time a performer is in her/his mid-twenties, a Conservatory is no longer an option.
MA Courses: They are seldom really practical. The business model of European Universities does not permit the sort of long and deep contact between professionals and small groups of students that is the heart of good training. Their business model (and sometimes their pedagogical logic) promotes ‘individual research’ and ‘student-centred learning’ – entirely laudable and often yielding great results, but often not a ‘practical training’ (I know, I used to run an MA at a British University. I understand the pressures….).
Workshops (short and longer): They are great ways to encounter styles of work and ways of teaching. They are also fantastic ways to learn or deepen skills and to network. But a student is at the mercy of the quality of the teaching, the space where the teaching takes place, the commitment of the participants, the integrity of the organisation.

All of these forms of training – and many others – have real value. I am not criticising them (indeed I have, and continue, to work in all of them).

BUT…..

I keep having that conversation…. Young and emerging artists who do not feel that there is a training out there for them, at least P1070690one they can afford.

There is another conversation that I have often with people like me, experienced, a little older, immersed in the process of making art and training artists, who fear for the next generation. We feel that the opportunities that our generation had (and those opportunities felt sparse enough at the time!) are not there for this generation.

What can we do? How can we try to ensure that the rich, passionate, technically demanding, joyous lineages that we emerged from and feed off are passed on? That those lineages continue to evolve and grow? After all, a lineage is preserved not in books or museums, it is preserved and developed in the bodies of practitioners.

For around a decade now I have been mulling on these questions, wondering how to extend the work I already do through workshop and residency, in ways that will, perhaps, help meet the needs of this and future generations of performers.

I think the time has come.

Two days ago I announced the establishment of The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. It is a peripatetic or nomadic school –  in other words, it is not located in any particular building and it is not associated with any governIMG_3629 - Version 2ment, any institution, or corporation. It is just what it is: a small and focused attempt to offer excellent and specific training to a small group of students, in a form they can afford and that will serve their growth  – now and into their futures.

Initial indications are that there is significant interest out there – in the 36 hours since the FB page went live, nearly 500 people have linked to it.

The first outing for the school will be in Athens in Autumn 2015. A ten-week journey through Ensemble and Physical Performance Training, that will culminate in a full, directed, professional-level performance. The course is a pedagogically-based modelling of a professional creative and rehearsal process.

There are a few basic principles that inform my thinking as I  – along with colleagues in DUENDE – plan this new venture.

Cost:

We will run the School in locations where costs are low – hence, among other reasons, the choice of Greece for this first training course. This will help us keep fees as low as possible. It means that International Students, though they will have to travel to Greece and find accommodation, will incur living expenses there are relatively cheap. We would love to offer scholarships and discounts, but we have no funding  – DUENDE survives on what I earn as teacher, director and performer. But if we cannot offer scholarships, we can, at least, keep costs as low as possible. If we are funded by governments, universities, or other external organisations, there will be additional costs, which will have to be reflected in the fees. So we will keep ourselves free of ties and simply charge students for the work they receive.

P1000731Specificity:

We are not going to offer a ‘general’ performance training. I don’t believe such a thing is possible. Our work is precise. We work through a psychophysical approach to training, we work experientially, we work through physical precision, we work through improvisation, we work through joy and passion, we work in ensemble. There are many other courses, many other schools, many  MAs out there in the world. We will do our work and not claim to do what we are not interested in or experts at. This is our integrity.

Internationalism:

DUENDE is utterly and unashamedly international in perspective and composition. The company has 15 Associates in six countries. My personal beliefs are profoundly anti-nationalist, anti-racist, anti-discriminatory. While I don’t ‘teach’ my politics, my politics are inseparable from how and what I teach, and the principles I teach from. So while we will make the fees as cheap as possible for everyone, we will make them even cheaper for the inhabitants of the country where we are working. I don’t want to run a school where overseas artists can study but local artists – for financial reasons – find themselves excluded. We want a mix of local and international students, so that international collaboration is embedded into the daily fabric of the work. And as well as serving our students, we want our presence in a community to be a force for good and for artistic growth, not a drain on local resources. We have already contacted some of the main artists in the physical performance community in Athens to begin dialogue about how The DUENDE School coming to Athens can enhance what they are already doing.

Interdisciplinary:

2Part of the ‘specific’ nature of DUENDE’s work – and of what we offer to those who train with us – is that we sit proudly on the edge of art forms. Our work is dance/theatre/improvisation/sound/site-specific/live-art/music/comedy/clown/circus/whatever. Our work is utterly about live, ‘present’ physical performance. I have very little interest in definitions when they are used to exclude and limit. I love the specificity of different skills training, but skill should, surely, be used to aid communication and to structure a performer’s passion, not be used to limit and curtail expressive possibilities. So DUENDE offers a training that transcends discipline-definition. It is applicable to performance within disciplines and to work that is interdisciplinary.

Passion and Pleasure:

At the heart of this training is a simple thought – nobody becomes an artist because they hate it. We perform from passion and we create in joyousness. Any training that damages, undervalues or belittles a performer’s sheer joy in her/his own work is a training that is failing. About that I am certain. So while the work of the school will be demanding, tiring, confronting, rigorous (physically and intellectually), it will be fuelled by laughter, by delight and by absolute and unequivocal mutual respect.

 

 

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There is a long history of alternative educations/trainings in the Arts and in Performance. I am currently reading about  The Black Mountain College in America in the 1930s – a passionate and magnificently problematic experiment in education that changed the face of American Art. I have a colleague in Delhi who is setting up a new training initiative. Last year I had lunch with one of the founding faculty at Del’Arte in California. This summer I taught at a beautiful rural retreat in New England, ‘Celebration Barn’, founded by a performer who, himself, was taught by those who developed European Mime. I have friends in LA with whom I have a continuing and exciting conversation about training and the evolution of our art forms. We are an evolving lineage. Those who we train will continue and develop that lineage.

I have no enormous ambitions for The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. My inclinations are modest. However, I am certain that it is time to make a new offer to young and mid-career performers.

Wish us well – as I wish all who are looking for training, and all my colleagues around the world  in existing institutions or who are considering establishing new models – I wish us all well.

P1000905What we are doing is living in a living tradition. There are some who claim our lineages of live performance are of diminishing importance in this ‘digitised’ world. They are wrong.  There is NOTHING that can substitute for the experience of being in intimate, detailed and live relationship with another human being  – whether fellow performer or audience. That’s our lineage – the lineage of being a living, expressive, interconnected human.

If you want to know more about the DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre, please visit our FB page https://www.facebook.com/DuendeSchool

Or all of this information will be on the DUENDE website very soon:
www.duende-ensemble.com
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Real Life

July 20, 2014

 

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I am waiting

for life to begin

and I am waiting for the storms of life

to be over

and I am waiting

to set sail for happiness….

… and I am waiting

for the lost music to sound again

in the Lost Continent

in a new rebirth of wonder.

(Lawrence Ferlinghetti – ‘I am Waiting’)

 

I have just returned home from Lesbos. For the third year, along with colleagues from DUENDE, I have been running a two week residential training and performance workshop in a remote valley on the edge of the sea there. Eight to nine hours of work each day – physical, mental, vocal, musical, improvisational – and a lot of performing. We were a mixed group from all around the world, dancers, teachers, actors, musicians, visual artists, improvisors, others, all committed to traveling a journey together towards and across our personal ‘edge’.

P1090179We worked under the olive trees, in the olive trees, on hillsides, in bushes, in a concrete mixer, on the beach, in the sea. We filled our beautiful, wild, remote, goat-grazed edge-of-the-world with sound, image and relationship.

It sounds idyllic.

It was idyllic.

It was idyllic work.

Work.

Deeply joyous and enjoyable work.

Our work was to grow, to travel into ourselves and into the spaces between ourselves and others, ourselves and the world. Our work is to rediscover the wonder of being present and available in the here and now. It was about the simple (and deeply complex) abundance of the here and now.

An image – one evening we gathered on the stony path from the house to the beach. A woman sat blocking our way. She talked and created sound and, as she did so, drew our attention to the sound of wasps in the nearby undergrowth. She connected. She connected with herself and helped us connect with ourselves, with each other and with our world. She could have come from any time and space yet was precisely and specifically present in the moment we shared.P1090502

Later that same evening a young woman transformed herself from animal to old man, from old man to ancient Indian archetype, howling her pain and fury in Hindi on the edge of the sea. There, in that dusk, that young Indian performer stood on the edge of Greece and Turkey, land and sea, earth and the skies, howling a story that had traveled to us through time. All time and geography swirling into the single pinpoint of here and now. Connection.

A man seated naked on a rock gently letting his language, a mix of Greek and English, dance with the sound of the sea, as a smile gently danced on his face. He could have come from any time to be in this moment with us.

Here and now. A time of wonderment.

It is not an easy-won wonderment. To connect and to draw others to connection requires rigour, attention, bravery, openness, honesty and technique. Those are the things DUEDNE trains. And though the work is joyous, it is also tough. To achieve the transcendent moment of connectedness, often, the performer must face her demons, her blockages, her doubts, her fears. Sometimes we can be together in a moment on the beach only because the performer has sat, alone, desolate under those same skies on the edge of that same sea, drowning in doubt and insecurity.IMG_0892

That too is part of the work – part of my work – to sit with people when they feel desperately alone so that they know that we are all, at times, desperately alone. And sometimes desperately lonely. That is why we yearn to connect and why moments of connection are so transcendent.

Often, as the intense experience of the workshop draws towards its close, participants wonder how to transition from the remote valley back to the ‘real world’ – how to translate the profound experiences of connectedness (with self and with others) from the bubble of our community on the sea’s edge to the complex noise of their daily life.

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I wonder if we should not think the other way. Why is life more ‘real’ when I am less really myself? Why is ‘real life’ the place where I am least in touch with who I really experience myself to be, and whom I most aspire to be? Who decided ‘reality’ should be the place of maximum compromise, self-denial and disappointment?

Might it not be a better idea if the ‘rediscovery of wonder’, of our connection with the here and now, which is at the heart of a DUENDE workshop, is carried into the less-real world of our cities and communities and complex of relationships? Could that even be our job as artists, to help our communities (re)discover the wonder of each passing moment and the connections between us, across time and geography?

An image – at the end of the fortnight we offer a show to anyone who wants to come. About twenty people made it to the end of the dirt track, and paid for the evening with food and beer (a pretty fair exchange I think). During the show (as we passed through the same place where we had rediscovered the buzzing of wasps) six performers created a sound-scape of voices. I saw a young child’s eyes widen with quite extraordinary delight. She looked around as if seeing and hearing her world for the first time. A little later, some performers sat in trees making music with bells and small cymbals. There was a faint wind and we could hear the sea. An old man whispered to me in Greek, eyes brimming: ‘Beautiful. Perfect.’

The rediscovery of wonder.P1090440

Now we are dispersed – our temporary community of the remote valley in Lesbos scattered to Stockholm and Melbourne, to India, the UK, Greece, Norway and elsewhere….. But it is not a return to ‘real life’, it is a continuation of our real lives. Real life happens here and now. Part of what we do as artists is continually to rediscover and value the wonderment of being alive here and now. We train as artists so that we can communicate that wonderment to others and help them to discover it for themselves. We develop technique and mental discipline so we can remain constantly curious about discovering each moment and, in doing so, can encourage others also to connect with this moment and with each other in this moment. We are technicians of the wondrous present.

Perhaps this is a definition of being fully human – having the capacity for wonderment.

Though we have left the valley in Lesbos, we have neither left nor returned to reality. We have simply transferred our capacity for wonder from one place to another. It is a capacity that perhaps we will be brave enough (for it takes bravery to be wondrous in a cynical and anti-human culture) to share that wonderful capacity with our communities, our classrooms, our colleagues. Perhaps we will be brave and disciplined enough to keep that capacity alive in ourselves. Perhaps we will be brave enough to live a real life.P1090153

Next week I teach a week long residency at the Celebration Barn in Maine, USA. Then, in September, I run residentials in France. They will, I am certain, be wonderfully full of wonderment.

 

 

I am waiting

for the last long careless rapture

and I am perpetually waiting

for the fleeing lovers of the Grecian Urn

to catch each other up at last

and embrace

and I am awaiting

perpetually and forever

a renaissance of wonder.

(Lawrence Ferlinghetti – ‘I am Waiting’)

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