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Bogotá. Urban Animal. Crowdfunding (India) – it’s a crazy time at DUENDE…… (mega-news update)

June 4, 2018

Colombia

I got back from Bogotá a couple of days ago. It was a long trip and in many ways a very good one.

The work at Javeriana University split into two parts. For the first six weeks I was teaching a regular improvisation technique class and impro research laboratory. Especially in the technique class, the work was of the highest quality! The students were consistently excellent and daring, and we got to some great places.

Then for the last two weeks I stopped teaching and directed 42 first-year students in a show. Working only 4 hours a day, we made a 50 minute almost entirely non-verbal piece that was visually rich, precise and ultimately very moving to watch. They were utterly lovely people to work with. I teach around the world and the students at Javeriana rank among the best I have encountered, in terms both of technical capacity and creative imagination.

Bogota was a good place to hang out. I watched a fair number of theatre, dance and hybrid productions. The quality was good – higher than in so many places. Some of the smaller work especially, was exceptional in both conception and delivery.

I had the deep pleasure of getting to know a number of really excellent Colombian Artists in a number of disciplines. Two especially, Sara Fonseca and Rebeca Medina, became good friends and I am utterly delighted that both of them are now Associate Artists of DUENDE. I hope very much they will be able to find ways to connect with the wider DUENDE Community – their presence and the quality of their work will hugely enhance DUENDE’s capacities.

There are no firm plans in place for a return to Colombia at the moment, but there are conversations happening and I hope something will solidify soon. I would like to go further and dig deeper into the culture, contemporary performance work and landscape of the country. I’d also like to go back to Javeriana – as universities go, it’s a good one!

After 8 weeks in Bogota, I feel that I know very little of the richness of the country….

Urban Animal

While I was in Bogota, I finally got round to launching a huge DUENDE performance project – something I have been cooking in my mind for about five years. With no idea how we are going to deliver it, and no money to make it possible, I decided that it was time to go ahead anyway.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

The project is called Urban Animal. It is a massive project that we will construct piece by piece over the next few years. Each piece will be an hour-long work of performance that draws inspiration from a species of animal and looks both at the details of that animal and how its nature tells as about what it is to be a human, urban animal. The idea of each hour being named after a different animal is taken from a medieval Japanese calendar, which saw the relationship between human and non-human time as much more integrated than perhaps we experience it today. Urban Animal is a piece that seeks to re-imagine humans back into relationship with the natural biosphere we evolved from, asking us to reimagine and embrace our innate wildness: a piece that ultimately asks how we are to move beyond the alienation, individualism and dysfunction of contemporary urban life and re-embrace our collective, evolutionary and balancing animal nature.

When all of the modules of the work have been created over the next half decade, we will look to string them together to make a single, durational performance journey through the night – cast and audience meeting at dusk and working through the darkness until the dawn, examining what it is to be human through the lens of the non-human, and, beyond that, what it is to be a member of a group, a tribe, a species, a community.

One of the ancient roles of ritual performance is to create a sense of ‘communitas’ – of temporary community outside the structures of normal community – a temporary imagined space that we visit and where we can transform ourselves, so that we return to ‘normality’ with cleansed vision.

When I talked about this project a couple of years ago with a Mexican friend – visionary theatre-makes Nicolás Nuñez – he replied in typically poetic and profound a manner by saying; “Ah yes, what do we do, we who are awake while others sleep?’

I love that.

So I have launched Urban Animal. There will be more information in the coming months. Enough for now to say that the first hour will be created and performed in Athens in September. It will be called ‘The Hour of the Mayfly’ and inspired by the life cycle of an insect some varieties of which only live for 24 hours. A real sense of ‘seize the day’ because there is only one day to seize……

The DUENDE School Hardship Fund

The other big news from DUENDE is that we have launched a Crowdfunding appeal on behalf of The DUENDE School. We are looking to raise money for a Hardship Fund. This will let us subsidise fees for Indian students who might struggle to find the cash to pay to attend the school when it runs in India this year.

One of the fundamental principles of The DUENDE School is that it should offer low-cost but excellent training. We do not believe that people should be prevented from pursuing and developing their art because they come from lower-income backgrounds. That’s the case for way too much arts training in a world where being a performer is increasingly seen as a hobby or lifestyle choice that should only be open to the wealthy.

I truly despise that attitude.

However, they school costs money to run. All five artists who teach there need to be paid, and paid at a realistic rate, and though we keep administration costs to a minimum, there are still costs! People have to travel, studios need to get hired, publicity printed, accommodation paid for … etc etc.

It all adds up and, as we are not supported by nor subsidised by anyone else, we have to cover all those costs from fees. This means that the fees still end up too high for some people.

Hence the hardship fund.

If we can raise some money, we can lower fees for deserving Indian performers. Why only Indian? Put simply, it fills me with horror that we would work in a country that is relatively low-cost, and find artists from that country excluded because low-cost economies are also low-income economies. That would be a form of neo-colonialism. So though we cannot redress the inequality at the heart of so many cultures, we can do what little we can, with the help of our wider community, to mitigate some of the effects of that inequality.

We want to raise £3000. £10 from one person, £10 from another and we will get there…… If you are willing to donate something, however small or large, please go to the appeal website: bit.ly/schoolcrowdfunding

What else from DUENDE’s world.

Well I saw the wonderful Rebeca Medina in two shows in Bogota – one her own work which was utterly brilliant, and one as a cast member of a larger production, in which she was also extraordinary.

Sara Fonseca I saw in a show in my first few days in Bogota, a large-cast dance piece that she went to Costa Rica with. She is a really fantastic performer – it’s a joy to know her and to know her work. She is now about to re-rehearse Carmina Burana for a short tour of Peru. I also had the great pleasure of working with her and a circus performer/dancer called Daniel for several evenings in the studio, developing solo, duet and trio improvisation. That was just pure joy!

Eilon Morris is in previews (and is about to open) in ‘Day of the Living’: the show he has been part of developing at The Royal Shakespeare Company. I am going to watch ‘Day of the Living’ next week and to catch up with Eilon to talk about our work together at The DUENDE School in India in the autumn. Very much looking forward to that.

Enormous congratulations to two greek colleagues. Alexandra Tsotanidou has been accepted into an MA programme in Holland in September and Fenia Chatzadou succeeded in her auditions at SEAD in Salzburg. That’s a huge achievement. She will join the company in September.

Also in Greece, Eva Tsourou and Amilia Siarfarki are performing a piece they have made together inspired by Beckett’s Happy Days. ‘Beck to Beck’ performs this week.

Bella Young in Tasmania directed ‘Eurydice’ at PLOT in Hobart – it just closed and got great reviews. She is crazy busy, as she is also in creative development with Terrapin Puppet Theatre for a show that will open at Dark MOFO in June, and also working on a show with the wonderful Second Echo Ensemble for Dark MOFO. If that was not enough, she is involved in a community development film with young people from migrant communities in Tasmania. I hope she is finding time to breath amid the craziness!

Judita Vivas has been back in her native Lithuania with another friend of DUENDE, Vicci Riley. Together they are making a piece called ‘Herring Girls’ which is a mix of structure and improvisation. I saw an early draft of this work in Liverpool some time ago. It is lovely work from two deep and talented performers. There’s a FB page called ‘Herring Girls’ that you can access if you want more information.

Speaking of Lithuania – Associate Artist and DUENDE School graduate Giedre Degutyte is coming towards the end of her Masters Degree at Central School in London. She will be showing her graduation performance (which combines hula-hooping and clowning among other things) at the brink festival in London on 25th and 27th of June. You can find full details about that at her artists page – go to brinkfestival.cargocollective.com and look for the page for Giedre Degutyte. Go along if you are in London on those dates!

New DUENDE Associate – also a School Graduate – Joohn Gustavson from Sweden writes that he has just got a job as a dancer in Uppsala City Theatre’s production of ‘the Seventh Seal’ – and adaptation of the Ingmar Bergman film. He’s also going to co-teach a week long somatic balance and impro-dance class at Ry Højskole in Denmark in the beginning of August , called the “Sensatorium”.

That’ll do for now. Soon I am going to bring you news of some new Associates we have invited to join DUENDE. And of course, the continuing saga of the crowdfunding and the Urban Animal Projects!

Any thoughts – please feel free to be in touch.

John

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The DUENDE School. Why? How? Who for?

May 11, 2018

Over the last few weeks we’ve been asking some of the people who have passed through The DUENDE School during it’s three years to tell us what they got from the experience and what they are doing now. It has been really rewarding to read how diverse people’s journeys have been! I love that the DUENDE School does not create a single ‘type’ of performer, but rather we offer people the tools to make informed choices, and the skills to make their choices work for them. This was always at the heart of what I wanted to achieve when I set up the school.

Let me take you back a bit.

Though I have thought for a long time about running a school, and for a while I worked trying to deliver professional training while working at a university, about five years ago I began to notice I was having the same conversation with different people all over the world….. Young performers would ask me about how to access affordable, rigorous and professionally-focused practical training to complement or deepen the training they had experienced at university or college, or that they’d picked up from working professionally for a few years. They would be looking for tools – ways of digging into their own work – that would let them become empowered creative performers, not simply people selling skills.

Sometimes they would ask about doing that through a Master’s degree. That’s often a great choice of course, but many master’s degrees offer limited actually practical training with professional artists, instead offering a lot of space for personal research. All good – but people were asking me about how they could combine actually learning directly with people who deliver contemporary performance AND having the space for personal research.

Sometimes these conversations would be with people who had been working for a while, and had started to find their places in the performance ecosystem, and who were seeking deeper ways of understanding – ways that were intellectual coherent and practically applicable – either to deepen their work, or to reconsider their work, or to enable them to move into directing, facilitating, creating and teaching work.

I wanted to create the school to answer these needs.

So I set up The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. For three years we ran in Greece. This year we will run in India for the first time.

What are the core principles on which the school is based?

Well, I wanted to make the training as affordable as possible. Yes it costs – and the costs are prohibitive for some, which is something I deeply regret – but we do everything we can to keep fees low. We work in low-cost economies, so studio hire, accommodation, food and travel are as cheap as possible. This helps keep fees low (just imagine the level of fees if we had to hire a studio full time in London for ten weeks….). As low-cost economies are also low-income economies, we make a significant reduction in fees for local students compared to international students.

We also keep fees low by having minimal administration costs. I do not get paid for the administration I do through the year – I only get paid for my teaching. The school administrator is paid for her work – and together we are the totality of the core staff. We keep the course under thirteen weeks so that students can legally enter the country from overseas on a tourist visa. If the course was longer we would have to register as an ‘educational organisation’ and start jumping through all sorts of legal and administrative hoops to enable students to get study visas. That would require more staff and so fees would have to rise.

I am passionate about training being widely available and though I cannot offer work that everyone can afford, we do what is possible to ensure the greatest access to the widest number of people.

However, I am also fierce in expecting people to be paid for their work. So the staff – all professional working artists – are paid properly for their work. There is none of that bullshit about ‘work for free because it is good for your reputation…’. If you work for The DUENDE School we pay you as well as we can. That is basic respect for art and artists. No one is getting rich from this – but everyone is able to support themselves in part from their work. That is – for me – how it should be.

The training that we offer is personal – the group is limited in size and every student knows that her or his work is seen, appreciated and responded to personally by the teaching artists. The working environment is unconditionally supportive and feedback is positive. We learn by supporting, encouraging and appreciating each other. You learn to take risks because first you are supported by others and later you learn to offer yourself that unconditional support.

The work is physically and intellectually detailed and rigorous. Physically rigorous, because all learning happens through the body, and all performance happens in the body. If we do not know how to use our bodies we cannot perform. However the body does what the mind instructs it to do, so we need also, rigorously to be training the mind. We train the mind by training the body. This is what is meant by a psychophysical training – one that develops the integration of thought and action, that refuses the lazy dualism of ‘mind’ and ‘body’.

The process of personal change and growth that a psychophysical process requires is complex and profound. That is why the training must be intellectually rigorous too. Two of the main teachers at the school – Eilon Morris and Me – are both published authors with deep theoretical knowledge of their subjects as well as significant practical experience. The rest of the teaching crew are working artists who  combine their demonstrated practical skills with precise conceptual and intellectual understanding of the practicalities, the ethics and the politics of their work.

My ambition for the school is that the student moves from learning what we have to teach, to understand HOW to learn and thus becoming their own teacher. One of the things I loved about reading the stories of people who have graduated from the school is the sense that people have emerged from this training not only skilful, but empowered – they have learnt how to perform better – and they have learned to take ownership of their own creative and professional journeys.

So what do we actually do at the school day by day?

Well the course is split into two halves with a one week break between them for everyone to recover.

In the first part of the process we undertake intensive training in physical skills, improvisation, ensemble, performance presence, musicality, performance-making, voice, and other assorted performance techniques.

During this phase we do a lot of performing – sometimes improvised work, sometimes work that has been prepared and rehearsed, alone or in groups.

Then, after a recovery week, we enter the second phase of the course. During this we continue training and deepening our performance skills and we also start focusing more on the fact that – as performers – we need to deliver our work to audiences. So, at the start of this second half we do a pubic improvised performance night and at the end of it there is a fully staged, directed work of ensemble physical theatre – combining physicality, image making, text, song, choreography and ensemble connectedness, to make a piece of passionately live interdisciplinary performance. This show has a public season of several performances.

So though the course is only ten weeks, we travel the journey from first meeting with colleagues, through intensive training up to the delivery of professional level performance. It’s intense and exhilarating.

Each day we also travel that journey. We meet in the mornings and train for about 3 hours. There are a number of technique classes which gradually integrate to help you grow your interdisciplinary skills.

Then, after lunch we focus more into performance making, developing skills and confidence to create and share solo, small group and ensemble performance work. Sometimes we work on performances and structures over several days as we dig deeper into processes of making and communicating our work.

At the end of each day there are performances – after all we are performers so why not perform? Anyone who wants to can improvise alone or with others. It is a great way of testing yourself, becoming increasingly confident about taking risks in front of an audience.

The feedback that you will receive during the training will be continually and unconditionally supportive and positive – not because we are afraid of being ‘tough’ but because the toughest feedback is the stuff that tells you that you do not need to please teacher, that you cannot get things ‘right’, but you must continually and without excuse dig deeper and deeper into your own work, take more and more responsibility for your own work…..

So this is the journey through the school. This year the School is in India and the first part of the training will be a residential retreat in The Company Theatre’s rehearsal space in rural Maharashtra. It’s a beautiful place with two training areas and lots of outside space for rehearsing and performing. All on the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains (a lake that is rather nice to swim in…..). There the work will be led by me, Dr Eilon Morris teaching musicality, voice and physical performance, and Manjari Kaul teaching about Object, Text and Space. There will also be an input from a contemporary dancer from Mumbai, Avantika Bahl.

The second half of the school, and the show that we make, will take place in Bangalore at the wonderful dance space run by Shoonya Arts . There the teaching will be by Manjari and John (who together will also direct the final show) and there will be a second visit by Avantika and some songs taught by Bindhumalini Narayanaswami, a local Indian classical musician.

I have worked both at Kamshet and Shoonya and I think both are truly exceptional work spaces.

The course starts at Kamshet on October 14th and concludes in Bangalore on December 14th.

If you want more information, go to the Facebook page for The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. There, looks at the Notes section and you will find all the information you need. There you can also find the stories from recent graduates that I mentioned earlier. Or go to the DUENDE website (www.duende-ensemble.com) and look for the tab for the school. Or write to the school’s administrator, Manjari Kaul – her email is manjari@duende-ensemble.com

If you want to look at a conference paper I delivered in Singapore around teh teim I set up the School, discussing the history of alternative education in the arts, you can find it here.

I’m really proud of how the school in greece has delivered on the ambitions I first had for it. I think it offers something unique, profound and affordable. I am sure that India will be different but equally powerful and rich. We are about half full at the moment, which means that there are ten more places available. Contact us if you want to apply.

Why do I do it?

April 24, 2018

I am in a strange city where I know almost no-one.  I teach a few hours each day. The rest of the time is mine. Usually alone.

I walk. Eat. Read. I stare out at rainy streets.

It’s hard not to ask some key questions like: ‘What am I doing here?’

Or even: ‘What I am doing with my life?”

We live in strange, dangerous and dark times. Maybe we are witnessing humanity’s endgame. Time will tell. Environmental catastrophe looms and is perhaps unstoppable. News about sexual violence, and political indifference to it – even complicity in it – pours out of India. Utter, transparent, shameless lies, dirty money and corruption dominate politics. Truth is meaningless in public discourse. Rampant, violent, intolerant, divisive, crudely fascistic Nationalism tightens its grip on nations throughout the world – Russia, India, America, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, Australia, Hungary and so many other places – including, nauseatingly, in my home country of the UK. Income inequality is violently visible, yet the media, generally the hired and unprincipled mouthpieces of their billionaire owners, distracts us with royal babies, overpaid celebrities or, most insidious, scare-stories that our security is threatened by those with whom we actually have much more in common than we do with the rich who claim to be on our side.

And the responses of the progressive and radical? We bicker. We hide our impotence from ourselves by trying to convince our friends and the world we are morally superior to other progressives. We emphasise division, compete for evidence of disadvantage. Make competitors or enemies of those we could find common cause with. We look for evidence to prove that our perspective is right and that the perspectives of others are wrong. Binary thinking. Self-righteous. Self-indulgent.

I am as guilty as anyone else. I do not write ‘you’, or ‘them’. I write ‘we’.

It was always so it seems – Orwell wrote of seeing similar things in the 1930s – and, fighting in The Spanish Civil War, he found he had more to fear from his communist allies than his fascist opponents.

The rich, like the medieval feudal lords they now so resemble, stand on the walls of their fortified castles and watch the rest of us bicker in front of the gates below. They use their media like electric cattle-prods, their privilege like an invisibility cloak and their wealth? – well, that’s what built them the fortified castle in the first place. They watch us brawl among ourselves, delighted at our distraction, then retreat to their inner sanctums to dine well and sleep the sleep of the unassailable.

And I am sitting in a small room looking out at a rainy city where I know hardly anyone and each day I teach people a little bit about how to perform.

Yes, I ask myself: ‘What am I doing with my life?’

Before I travelled here I spent a couple of weeks at home in England and one morning met up with an old friend for coffee. She’s someone I have known most of my adult life, and we throw ideas and politics at each other on the rare occasions that we meet. We disagree on many things I suspect, but those disagreements do not matter because she is undoubtedly on the side of progress and decency and is someone whom I respect and like very much.

She sent me a message after our coffee – perhaps she had picked up that I am in a questioning phase of my life – and in that message she wrote that I am:

building expressive communities across our beleaguered globe. I know of nothing more important right now, than that’.

It was important for me to hear that.

A couple of days ago I received a message from one of the graduates of The DUENDE School in which, reflecting on the work of the school, she said:

‘Most importantly it gave me the opportunity to become a part of a magnificent community of artists around the world. People who have trained under DUENDE share the same ethics and values and no matter their origin or background speak the same “language”. The DUENDE community is such a rich artistic meeting place!’

Online I host a page called The DUENDE Community – there, sometimes, people chat, share thoughts and insights.

An Indian friend is currently building a new show with a Greek colleague. They met at The DUENDE School.

Today I talked with a Colombian student who might come to the school – building links from Colombia to India, to Europe……

In Australia a group runs – entirely independent of me but originating in part in work I used to do in Melbourne – and they are building their own new, rich, deep community.

I recall a performance at the end of the 2016 DUENDE School – to an audience from an Athens refugee camp – how much, beyond barriers of language, culture and education, we all – from so many nations – met together that night. We met. As humans.

Constantly we are told to fear the other. To defend the homeland, the family, the self. Yet, in art we can transcend that. We meet the other. We learn how to respect and merge with the other. We realise that everyone is other and no-one is other. We meet our collaborators and our audiences and – for a fragile brief time – we make new community. We laugh. We question. We provoke. We shock. We undermine. We enter into relationship. We fly. We fail. We make mistakes. We live – in community – for an hour or a week or a year or two. We learn to accept – or at least tolerate – the worst of each other and of ourselves, and we learn to focus on the best. We learn to build the things we can build together, and to accept the things that we cannot build together. We learn that if we are to make great work we must build great collaborations and not allow disagreement and self-righteousness to get in the way of that.

This at its best, is what Artists do.

This, in however flawed, failed and faltering a way, is what I try to do with DUENDE, with The DUENDE School, The DUENDE Community, The DUENDE Artists and Associates.

Dark and dangerous times. Crises – environmental, financial, political and inter-personal. If we are to survive those crises, it will require reimagining the entire way we co-exist, the economic system, the distribution of power, the relationship with others, nations, allegiances, ethics. And it will need to happen in deep and respectful harmony with our environment and its own deep wisdoms. Perhaps that above everything.

I am looking through the window at a rainy city. In the morning I will go to the studio and we will be gentle, we will laugh, we will pay attention and we will dance. We will try to ignite a fire of passion inside each one of us and let the fire spark across the gaps between us. We will try to build relationship and extend healthy collaborative relationships to other collaborators, to audiences, to our diverse communities.

We will make mistakes. We will fly. We will forgive.

Perhaps those sparks that pass between us are the final embers of a dying belief in human possibility and progress. Perhaps they are the sparks from which new community will grow. Only time will tell.

Perhaps my contribution is useful. Perhaps not. Only time will tell.

Perhaps it is too late. But maybe the next generation will do better than mine has. Only time will tell.

But this is why I do what I do.

This is an extract from Episode 8 of DUENDE Time – a Podcast I release every two weeks, in which I am giving a reading of my new book “Climbing The Mountain: The Performer’s Journey Into Presence.’

You can find all episodes here: http://duende.libsyn.com/website

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.

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.