I am waiting
for life to begin
and I am waiting for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness….
… and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder.
(Lawrence Ferlinghetti – ‘I am Waiting’)
I have just returned home from Lesbos. For the third year, along with colleagues from DUENDE, I have been running a two week residential training and performance workshop in a remote valley on the edge of the sea there. Eight to nine hours of work each day – physical, mental, vocal, musical, improvisational – and a lot of performing. We were a mixed group from all around the world, dancers, teachers, actors, musicians, visual artists, improvisors, others, all committed to traveling a journey together towards and across our personal ‘edge’.
We worked under the olive trees, in the olive trees, on hillsides, in bushes, in a concrete mixer, on the beach, in the sea. We filled our beautiful, wild, remote, goat-grazed edge-of-the-world with sound, image and relationship.
It sounds idyllic.
It was idyllic.
It was idyllic work.
Deeply joyous and enjoyable work.
Our work was to grow, to travel into ourselves and into the spaces between ourselves and others, ourselves and the world. Our work is to rediscover the wonder of being present and available in the here and now. It was about the simple (and deeply complex) abundance of the here and now.
An image – one evening we gathered on the stony path from the house to the beach. A woman sat blocking our way. She talked and created sound and, as she did so, drew our attention to the sound of wasps in the nearby undergrowth. She connected. She connected with herself and helped us connect with ourselves, with each other and with our world. She could have come from any time and space yet was precisely and specifically present in the moment we shared.
Later that same evening a young woman transformed herself from animal to old man, from old man to ancient Indian archetype, howling her pain and fury in Hindi on the edge of the sea. There, in that dusk, that young Indian performer stood on the edge of Greece and Turkey, land and sea, earth and the skies, howling a story that had traveled to us through time. All time and geography swirling into the single pinpoint of here and now. Connection.
A man seated naked on a rock gently letting his language, a mix of Greek and English, dance with the sound of the sea, as a smile gently danced on his face. He could have come from any time to be in this moment with us.
Here and now. A time of wonderment.
It is not an easy-won wonderment. To connect and to draw others to connection requires rigour, attention, bravery, openness, honesty and technique. Those are the things DUEDNE trains. And though the work is joyous, it is also tough. To achieve the transcendent moment of connectedness, often, the performer must face her demons, her blockages, her doubts, her fears. Sometimes we can be together in a moment on the beach only because the performer has sat, alone, desolate under those same skies on the edge of that same sea, drowning in doubt and insecurity.
That too is part of the work – part of my work – to sit with people when they feel desperately alone so that they know that we are all, at times, desperately alone. And sometimes desperately lonely. That is why we yearn to connect and why moments of connection are so transcendent.
Often, as the intense experience of the workshop draws towards its close, participants wonder how to transition from the remote valley back to the ‘real world’ – how to translate the profound experiences of connectedness (with self and with others) from the bubble of our community on the sea’s edge to the complex noise of their daily life.
I wonder if we should not think the other way. Why is life more ‘real’ when I am less really myself? Why is ‘real life’ the place where I am least in touch with who I really experience myself to be, and whom I most aspire to be? Who decided ‘reality’ should be the place of maximum compromise, self-denial and disappointment?
Might it not be a better idea if the ‘rediscovery of wonder’, of our connection with the here and now, which is at the heart of a DUENDE workshop, is carried into the less-real world of our cities and communities and complex of relationships? Could that even be our job as artists, to help our communities (re)discover the wonder of each passing moment and the connections between us, across time and geography?
An image – at the end of the fortnight we offer a show to anyone who wants to come. About twenty people made it to the end of the dirt track, and paid for the evening with food and beer (a pretty fair exchange I think). During the show (as we passed through the same place where we had rediscovered the buzzing of wasps) six performers created a sound-scape of voices. I saw a young child’s eyes widen with quite extraordinary delight. She looked around as if seeing and hearing her world for the first time. A little later, some performers sat in trees making music with bells and small cymbals. There was a faint wind and we could hear the sea. An old man whispered to me in Greek, eyes brimming: ‘Beautiful. Perfect.’
Now we are dispersed – our temporary community of the remote valley in Lesbos scattered to Stockholm and Melbourne, to India, the UK, Greece, Norway and elsewhere….. But it is not a return to ‘real life’, it is a continuation of our real lives. Real life happens here and now. Part of what we do as artists is continually to rediscover and value the wonderment of being alive here and now. We train as artists so that we can communicate that wonderment to others and help them to discover it for themselves. We develop technique and mental discipline so we can remain constantly curious about discovering each moment and, in doing so, can encourage others also to connect with this moment and with each other in this moment. We are technicians of the wondrous present.
Perhaps this is a definition of being fully human – having the capacity for wonderment.
Though we have left the valley in Lesbos, we have neither left nor returned to reality. We have simply transferred our capacity for wonder from one place to another. It is a capacity that perhaps we will be brave enough (for it takes bravery to be wondrous in a cynical and anti-human culture) to share that wonderful capacity with our communities, our classrooms, our colleagues. Perhaps we will be brave and disciplined enough to keep that capacity alive in ourselves. Perhaps we will be brave enough to live a real life.
Next week I teach a week long residency at the Celebration Barn in Maine, USA. Then, in September, I run residentials in France. They will, I am certain, be wonderfully full of wonderment.
I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers of the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder.
(Lawrence Ferlinghetti – ‘I am Waiting’)