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Performing at the Edge: cynicism and the open-heart

July 13, 2012

Last night was performance night. Or at least, public performance night. Every night of this two week residency in Lesbos has seen performances at the end of the day. Last Saturday we had an extraordinary night of solo work which we performed to one another. But last night there was a small public audience, made up of family and friends with whom we shared the work.

We have spent two weeks training, exploring ways of creating and staging work, developing and integrating physical/imaginative/vocal skills. We have taken enormous personal risks as we push ourselves to the edges of our skills and confidence and then have pushed further. There have been times, I suspect for every one of us, when it has seemed too hard. So we have carried on.

The work last night was not a ‘show’, but a sharing of the way we work, with an audience. Actually I think that is what all performance should be, but that is another topic. We took the audience on a journey that started at the front gate of the property where we greeted them – ‘we’ being an ensemble of 20 from Greece, Sweden, China, Australia, Turkey, France, UK – with a song written by Hatzidakis. Then we led them on a journey through short poetic moments, big group choreographies, singing, improvisation, which travelled past the house, the outdoor eating areas, the olive grove at the back, the horse paddock, the path to the sea, a ruined shack on the edge of the beach, the beach itself and ultimately into the sea itself.

The audience was some family and friends of participants. To some this work was familiar, to others entirely new. There were a couple of children and some older people.

They paid by bringing food. At the end some cried. People spoke afterwards of us having made a beautiful place more beautiful. Some said that they had felt sad at some scenes and happy at others with no understanding of why that should be.

Later we sat on the beach and swam in the darkness. Even later, the sons of the farmer next door came over to teach some of us a traditional Greek dance form. Noisily.

Ah yes, the farmers next door. They are subsistence farmers – what I would call ‘peasant’ farmers except that the word ‘peasant’ in english (like so many words) has a suggestions of judgment and condescension about it. They grow vegetables and olives and raise chickens and they live off what they grow.

How easy to assume that they see the bizarre activities of this ensemble as laughable, confrontational, unwelcome. How easy also to assume that the man on the beach swimming when we reached there for our final scene was made uncomfortable by our presence. And that inside the heads of these ‘by-standers’ there was a sneering, a contempt, a cynicism.

I do not experience it as so. Eva, who has known the farmers next door all her life, tells me they are pleased we are here. Certainly his greeting to me as we walked back from the performance was more friendly than normal – and it has always been friendly enough considering we share no language. His son, riding by on a horse, shouted ‘nice!’. The farmer and his wife were with us on the beach as some of the performers walked singing into the sea. They stopped watching their sheep and watched us. Then they watched their sheep again. They do not allow what we are doing to interfere with their rhythm and they do not seem to expect us to alter our rhythm for them.

Again I can sense the cynicism – yes but what were they really thinking? Stupid actors? Pretentious dancers? Fucking artists…… I don’t think it was so. I suspect they felt no particular need to have an opinion. When a performer told (should I say ‘warned’) one of the audience there would be nudity, he shrugged. He said that we are artists and should do what needed doing. This was not a ‘bloody artists, always trying to be controversial‘ comment, it was a ‘artists have their job like everyone else‘ comment. I do not need to have an opinion about how the farmer harvests his olives. He does not seem to need an opinion on us doing what we are doing. He seems to welcome us, if not, then he does not seem to resent us. Live and let live, without the need for judgment.

There are many in the UK and beyond who will not, cannot, believe this. Cynicism runs deep. Cynicism, usually an emotional cowardice, colours everything. We are cynical because we are afraid to feel. We feed our minds on the junk food of unnecessary opinion, letting the world know what we think about things that are not in any way altered by the fact that we have opinions about them. Everyone is an expert in other people’s business.

In much the same way as I wrote about when in Athens here in Lesbos I also find an openness, a lack of sneering, an acceptance. This acceptance is not personal acceptance – that is not my concern – but an acceptance that art has value, intrinsic value which transcends whether or not any individual audience member likes a particular piece of work. Alongside this is an acceptance of the worth of the role of the artist. I have written before that the tedious, reductive, boring cynicism that pervades much of the UK masks a fear of art, a fear of feeling, a fear of being human. It sees art as a ‘tool’ to be employed to deliver a result not as a landscape. It sees artists as functionaries, not as explorers.

It is the last day here. We are continuing to explore the edges. That we are doing so in a place without judgement makes the exploration richer.

A man on a horse shouts ‘nice’ as dancers create abstractions in the heart of the real. If you are a cynic you will here sarcasm or dishonesty in that word ‘nice’. I hear only this – there is beauty, depth, possibility everywhere and everyone is able to see it. Our job as artists, without fear, is to look for how to suggest the permanent presence of the luminous. While a cynic will be scared, an open-heart will find no need for fear.







3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sviatlana permalink
    July 13, 2012 7:52 pm

    Beautiful article. I have not seen the work but I can feel It was intensive and I hope I will be able to take part in one of your workshops/performances one day.


  1. Collision #1 « DUENDE

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