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If a body meet a body….

May 11, 2012

As so often when I write this blog, I am sitting in the hut in my garden I use as my workroom. The grass in the field outside my window is starting to grow long and will, a few months from now, be waist-high and ready for harvesting. The sunlight catches the top of the green blades of grass as the wind ripples through them. It is a sea-scape on a mountain-top.

Sea-scape. My thoughts slip to Crete, about which I wrote in my last post. To Lesbos where I was before I travelled to Athens and Crete. To Thessaloniki, in sunshine, with snow-capped mountains sitting across the blue-spring-sunlit sea. I am drinking Greek Mountain tea, maybe that is what is driving my thoughts back to last month, when really I intended to spend the morning thinking about the big education project DUENDE is running for the next two weeks….

Greece was an immense experience this time. I’ve written previously about thoughts and impressions of being there and you (regular readers) know how much it means to me. There is a depth of civility and cultured-ness. There is chaos and flow. There is the present and the past. (I am not trying to write about ‘Greece’ – others will do that, and it would be better if those others were Greek. I am writing about the Greece and the Greeks that I met, as a privileged visitor to a country under stress). More than anything I experience a kind of good-natured willingness not to interfere with other people, to ignore authority and to get on with trying to live your own life the best you can.

The final week of my trip, Thessaloniki, was an extraordinary one. A four day workshop followed by a weekend workshop. An additional half-day workshop with school students (freely giving up their Sunday morning for the chance to participate) crammed into the final day – and three performances of ‘Echo Chamber’ in there as well. It was one of the harder weeks of my working life. Everything was fully booked. The workshops were full and there were waiting lists for them. The first performance had a good audience, the second was full, the third packed, people crammed onto the stage itself. Attentive, passionate, engaged. Though some spoke no English, they talked with me afterwards, with friends translating, about what they had taken from the show. The theatre owner suggested I stay another week as he was certain he could sell another five shows…….

The workshops themselves were wonderful – right across Greece – but I am writing specifically about the two in Thessaloniki. There was an extraordinary energy – a physical, sensual energy. People were utterly connecting with the reality of their own bodies being in relationship with other bodies. They were looking for the reality of being present with one another. I imagine a similar energy must have existed in the 60s, as people re-took ownership of their own bodies and their own experiences, rejecting the ‘conventional’ and the ‘expected’ and instead returning to trust in their own ability to find appropriate relationship with one another. As the great feminist essay of the sixties put it, ‘The Personal is Political’.

It’s obvious why Greek performers might be wanting to take power back into themselves, but I sense the same urge everywhere. Governments, business, bureaucracy have failed us. The careers we were told might exist for us, like the pensions we were told to save for, have evaporated. Privilege preserves the power of privilege. The best predictor of success is to be born rich. We are expected to be consumers and citizens, seldom are we encouraged to be individuals and idiosyncratic. Artists are expected to serve some policy-agenda or other. Students arrive at University asking ‘What is the message’ of a piece of theatre or ‘what was the point you were trying to put across?’ as if somehow the only point of art is for artists to preach, or to convey a governmental ‘message’, or implement some social policy with a compliant audience. Of course this is frequently very well-intentioned. But the system has failed. We need to reimagine the whole damn thing.

I am not interested in telling people what to think or how to live. I am interested in human relationship. As an artist, I structure and communicate facets of what it is, in my very limited experience, to be human. I try to do so in ways that resonate, that are perhaps poetic, that speak to, but do not try to dominate, the experiences of those (either in the studio when I am teaching or in the audience when I am performing) with whom I am sharing a little time. Of course I like it when people like what I do. I would like it if those who had access to the subsidy that would enable me to expand my work liked what I did. But there is not very much I can do about that, except learn to lie about what I understand about being human. While all art might be a lie, it is a lie which contains a truth, not a lie which conceals a cynical lie.

Perhaps in Greece, just as the crisis in consumerist-capitalism that is going to engulf us all is a little more advanced, so some of the people I worked with are a little further down the road of understanding solutions. The solutions must lie in ourselves, in our re-imagining (and taking personal responsibility for) our relationships with others. This was one of the major drivers to the work of the late 50s and early 60s – work that it is easy to sneer at now because we see how it later became corrupted and debased – but which we should perhaps take a fresh look at. We need to take ownership of, and give respect to , the details of our own experience of being human instead of looking to business to sell us a ‘lifestyle’ or celebrities to give us a second-hand experience of a ‘perfect’ life.  We need to reclaim our right to be uniquely and perfectly human.

This is what artists do, of course. We try to communicate being human in ways that resonate with other humans. It’s sometimes messy. It’s always ambiguous. It sometimes fails. But if we can’t get being human right, and we can’t get being a human with another human right, what possible chance is there of getting anything else right….?

On Monday DUENDE starts two weeks of work with 85 students, Eva Tsourou is flying in from Greece. Eilon Morris is finishing performing in France and rushing back to Huddersfield. A team of associates and friends is gathering. We are going to make a huge show. There will be no ‘message’, only a complex of conflicting messages. There will be relationship. There will be contact. We will be asking a pretty basic question: “if you had no home, what would be your home?”. I have no idea what will emerge, but it will be whatever it is that this group of nearly 100 people can make at this time in this place. It will be real. Maybe it will be a happening.

Maybe it’s time to reclaim the 1960s, to take the idealism of that time back from the businesses who stole it, packaged and cynically marketed it back to us as a ‘life-style’. Maybe it’s time to relocate our power into our own experience of being here, now.

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