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Keeping it real

July 5, 2012

A performer is sitting in the dust beneath a tree. It is an olive tree, twisted and awkward. She is motionless and her head is down. Another performer is sitting at the base of the tree’s trunk. The second performer is holding and blowing a Ney, a Turkish flute with a deep and breathy sound like the singing of wind. There is wind in the trees, gusts and silence. From behind where we, the audience, sit, the sound of bells around the necks of sheep – a toneless and continual rattling.

It is dusk. It has been a hot day.

In the distance the sound of the sea.

There is not much movement, just sound.

Some time later the performance has grown from this image – an image that could have been seen anytime in the last several thousand years – into an improvisation through contemporary dance that spoke directly of being a Turkish woman today.

Later there is a beautiful and dark performance by an Australian man, dance and gymnastics and text taking us from a gentle start to a place of horror and dark. Nooses in trees and bodies swinging in the twilight.

The previous night we had watched a performer use gestures from Bollywood movies, constructing a performance that combined her familial language – Punjabi – with the language of the society she grew up in – English. She was exploring how to perform with an unexpected (and thankfully temporary) injury. It was a performance that could only happen at the moment and in the place that it happened.

Last night – for every evening of work on this residency ends with a performance – three performers created an extraordinary nightmarish journey of connection, loss, haunted memory. From the UK, China, Greece, the trio found an inter-relationship and discovered imagery – again with the sound of sheep bells and the sea to guide them – that were utterly unique to that time, that place, those performers, that audience. It was a performance that could only be those people, in that place at that moment.

On the first night I duetted with a dancer I have only once before performed with, publicly. We had to find each other, to find our performance, to find our space and shape. We could do it only by being utterly real. We looked, listened, paid attention to the reality of what was happening, in the moment, in front of our audience. It was abstract, poetic and utterly real.

However abstract, however ‘unreal’, performance is always real, for it happens here and it happens now.

Here in Fara, there are performers from Turkey, France, Sweden, China, Greece, UK, Australia, All of us, from all different cultures, are not somehow ‘all the same’. We are all gloriously different. Yet we are undoubtedly all similar for we are all human.

We are working with being entirely real. We are working to bring ourselves to others and to find what performance, what spark, what communication, what relationship, might be possible in that meeting. If the meeting, the relationship, the moment, is not real, but is a ‘clever idea’, or the imposing of one person’s will on another, or is an attempt by someone to hide from the reality of themselves and to project a false image to others, then the meeting will be dead. Performance is a meeting and a meeting must be real. If it is not real, then though we might ‘get the idea’, we do not get the tightness in the throat, the rising of the hairs on the neck, the unstoppable smile, the unbearable sadness of encountering the deep beauty of a unique human. It is not real.

For thousands of years these images; two people beneath a tree, meeting through music, dance, touch; a swinging hangman’s rope; two figures leaving a third, like nightmares slipping away from a waking figure in a lonely house; two people discovering each other in dance; a woman talking to us in a language we do not speak but can still understand. For thousands of years – and still today – an audience watching. Thousands of years of live moments, unchanging, all the same, all gloriously different.

And still today, nothing has changed. For all the extraordinary developments in media, in communication, in global-connectedness, live performance still happens here and now. It still requires a meeting at a specific time and place. And that meeting must be real.

We are of a tradition, a tradition as vital now as it has always been. It is a tradition of meeting. We must learn, and continually relearn, how to make every meeting with each other, every meeting with our audience, every meeting with ourselves, however ‘unrealistic’, as real as we possibly can. It is a lifetime’s learning, learning how to meet.

Watching a woman and a man, sitting in the dust beneath a tree, in that moment, I know why my absolute commitment is to live performance. It is a commitment to the reality of meeting, here, now.



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