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Collision #1

July 25, 2012

As I come to the end of a visit to Lesbos, there is much to reflect on. I wrote a little about the performance at the end of ‘Performing at the Edge’ in my last post. There are many other things in my mind as I look back on ‘Performing at the Edge’ and the week of work with DUENDE that followed it. I suspect that I will return to some of those things in future posts, for it has been a rich, deep and challenging time. It is the sort of time that makes me, and the people who work with me, feel extraordinarily, painfully, gloriously, powerfully (sometimes overpoweringly) alive.

Here though I want to write some brief thoughts about the show DUENDE presented at the end of the week following the two weeks of the ‘Performing at the Edge’ residency. The week we spent together was the first time all ten of us had worked together. I have trained all the performers at one time or another. Some of them I have only met in the last year or two. Some have been working with me, on and off, for over a decade. Many of them had worked with one another, but never had we all been together. We travelled from China, Australia, UK and Greece, bringing the shared language of my training (which underpins DUENDE), bringing individual skills in dance, music, improvisation, singing, and offering, above all, open-hearts and a willingness to be naked to one another.

For this work makes you naked. There is no hiding place – from oneself, from each other, from the audience. We bring a willingness not to want to hide, not to feel we need to hide, not to feel that we have anything we need to hide. We try to notice and overcome fear, shame, and the numerous other varieties of personal blockage that stop a performer from making a full and whole-hearted commitment to being present with her audience.

This is the ideal, but the reality is sometimes raw. We all want to hide from others, we want to defend ourselves. Most of all we want to hide from our own gaze, from the clear-eyed realisation that ‘I’ is all we have. If I refuse to accept the reality of my ‘I’ – the flawed, painful, insecure, glorious reality I encounter when I pay attention to ‘I’ – I go to war with the reality of the universe. That is a war that we can never win. Reality will remain real however much we wish it to be otherwise. Though ‘I’ changes, grows, develops, the ‘I’ I encounter today is all I have to work with here and now. If I am to perform live with my audience, if I am to be with my audience, then it is this ‘I’ that must learn to perform. It is this beautiful, perfect, flawed, extraordinary and idiotic ‘I’ that I must work with. No excuse. No hiding places. Just reality. Raw. Naked.

So what did we create in this furnace? What emerged from the work under the olive tress on the edge of Europe? We built on the ideas we had been exploring during the residency – ideas of being on the edge and of meeting. In particular I wanted to play with the notion of ‘meeting’ as, I suppose, there was an underlying sense of this ensemble meeting.

The show we performed in Mytilini was called ‘Collision #1’ – the first manifestation of a project I hope to pursue with DUENDE over the next few years (alongside DUENDE’s other work). The Collision project is looking for ways to bring together improvisation, choreography, music and text into new forms. I work a lot with improvisation and often an ensemble improvisation is thrillingly alive and dynamic and can connect viscerally with an audience. However equally often ensemble improvisation can lack a sense of dramaturgy, choreographic arc, musical structure, narrative or other internal structure. Put simply, ensemble improvisation is often live but does not resonate beyond the time of its own perfoming. (The opposite is often true of course – painfully large amounts of the theatre, dance, music I watch is rich in structure and idea but is dead at the moment of performance. Too many perfomers do not know how to be live. Too many directors/choreographers do not know how to enable their performers to be live).

It is this that the Collision Project will explore. ‘Collision #1’ was a combination of tightly choregoraphed/scripted moments, structured improvisation, free improvisation. There was song and other music interweaved through its 50 minutes. There were moments of extraordinary beauty, combinations of image and sound that will stay with me always. There were moments of excitement, humour and profundity. There was a clashing together of Cantonese, English and Greek text and a collision of languages of performance.

70 people came to see the show. The theatre did not charge us for the use of the space. We did not charge the audience. They covered a wide age range. Some were family and friends. Some had worked with me or other members of the company on previous visits to this beautiful island. Some were members of the theatre company that own the theatre we were using. Some had simply seen an announcement in the paper and decided to come along.

The work ended up with an underlying structure (starting with a solo dancer talking to the audience and ending with a sense of transcendence following death). But the structure was not the point – the point was the live encounter between an international company of performers and a very particular audience in a very particular time and place (a ‘particularity’ which of course is the essence of every live event).

The audience response was rich and beautiful. One man left half-way through, but for the rest there seemed to be a richness to the experience. Four separate people (people not connected to the company in any way) thanked me afterwards for bringing the experience to them. Many talked of seeing meanings and links that we had not intended but, nonetheless, were clearly there. They had created thier own event through engaging with the event we made.

Others cried at the final images. Actually I think they cried not at the final image, but at the reality and openness of the relationships they saw – within the ensemble, between the ensemble and the work they were performing, and between performers and audience. They cried, I think, at the human reality of this abstract piece of work.

This above all – to dare to be human. I was surprised to hear myself say this to the ensemble just before they performed. At the end of three weeks intensive work all of us were tired, raw, vulnerable. Me too. Things emerge that sometimes one might think it better to conceal – and this popped out as I spoke to them. I spoke of how, ultimately, we are performers, so our job is to bring our work to an audience. If our work with each other is to discover how to be openly, rawly, nakedly human, then this is what we bring to our audience. We bring our ‘I’ – undefended to the best of our abilty – and we trust our audience to treat it with gentleness and love. We try to be human and trust our audience to be human too.

None of us know if we ten people will meet and work together again. Already the ensemble has scattered. DUENDE has no funding or income other than what I earn from teaching and performing and what the individual company members can contribute. People have lives, careers, other aspirations. I hope we will meet again, for this ensemble is of an exceptional quality.

‘Collision #1′ is finished and ”Collision #2’ is not yet conceived. I salute the ensemble for their skill and bravery and I salute the audience in Mytilini for their generosity of spirit and their willingness to take a risk.

DUENDE has other plans which I will write about as they become more clear. But for now it is enough to acknowledge this. We really met each other and we really met an audience. We were, for a while, as human as we could be.





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