BODIES

As the Body Is, So it Knows // Kopano Maroga

Kopano begins this workshop by offering a congratulation to the participants for taking the time to honour yourself in a society that doesn’t want you to. For often pressures on our time remove us from our bodies and the things that they know, cutting us off from the knowledge contained in bones, muscles and the way we move. Our time here together asserts writing as a bodily practice as well as a cerebral one, and it asks its participants to share intimacies with each other as they share the space, filling pages with dialogue as we fill the space with our dance and shouting.  

Many of the movement exercises engage with the trauma that lives in the body by borrowing movement practices from somatic therapy. The notion that trauma is a physical reality is one that is increasingly understood by psychiatric professionals - a biological process where the rush of adrenalin migrates deep into the core of tissue. Within the workshop, Kopano instructs us in an extended period of shaking and trembling designed to free whatever experience of this form of trapped history we may own. We then turn from this movement to the writing of letters to those people or things that we might want to forgive in our lives, linking this freeing of emotion through movement to the production of text. Writing in silence before sharing these letters with a partner, the movement sparks new connections across language, nationality and experience. 

Its paradoxical that self-care can become an added pressure to an already hectic life. Competitive wellness is a fundamentally modern phenomenon, with time spent in exercise construed as achievement. What the time here in this workshop reminds its participants is that the brain and body are not only linked but one and the same, with subjectivity created through being and relation rather than internal definition. My body is what writes, and my mind and emotions are what direct my body to move. By taking time to link the two once again, I understand the extent to which my practice relies on this relation.

- Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

 Kopano Maroga - As the Body Is, So it Knows

Time to Move Beyond the Mind/Body Split - The British Medical Journal

Working with Traumatic Memory in the Body - NICABM

Somatic Therapy - Psychology Today

Writing Dance - Lila Dance UK

Self-Care Won’t Save Us - Current Affairs

YAYAYA AYAYAY // Ultimate Dancer and Robbie Thomson

Entering one by one through dark curtains, the start of this performance feels ritualistic. Inside: darkness. Ushers guide the audience using glow-in-the-dark gloves that gleam like palm pilots. The eye is drawn irresistibly to every scrap of phosphorescent tape and each tiny LED – the depth of the dark is disorientating. But rather than confuse, it seems designed only to gently remove our preoccupation with time and space. Darkness can do that, especially when coupled with isolation, like people who have spent weeks living in unlit caves, or five days in a darkness retreat in Berlin conceiving a show. Our eyes are given time to adapt to the dark, but even though the performance is just an hour, it is still hard to know how fast time is passing, if at all. 

The Greek meaning of ‘theatre’ was ‘the seeing place’. To perform in total darkness may seem counterproductive, yet it has been a rich source of experimentation since at least 1998, when Battersea Arts Centre put on a seminal programme of theatre, music, dinner, comedy and poetry, all consumed in the dark. This season's aim was to unleash the power of the spoken word. In YAYAYA AYAYAY, the few spoken words are slowed, stretched and repeated with the help of digital manipulation amid throbbing tones and waveforms from the mixing desk. The sounds that make up the words are isolated, distorted, reunited; new articulations emerge – mantras and roars – before revealing their original meaning.

Apparently tethered to the sound of the voice, lights encroach fleetingly and then start to dispel the darkness, moving through it, revealing something of the space around. Under the right conditions, the human eye can respond to a single photon of light. For most people, the light continually around us stops us ever seeing that sensitively. In the half-light, the tenth-light, the hundredth-light of this performance, the eye catches and latches on to glimpses, mirages, illusions; a primal body materialising from the shimmering gloom and fading back into darkness. The effect is mind-altering, magical, cathartic.

And whether it was seeing this performance or just the start of spring in the city, the light the following morning had a different, more magical quality.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis

YAYAYA AYAYAY - Ultimate Dancer

Ultimate Dancer - Exeunt

Performing Arts' Relationship with Ritual - UNESCO

Why Does It Take So Long for Our Eyes to Adjust to A Darkened Room?  - Scientific American 

The Caves of Forgotten Time – The Atlantic

BAC’s Playing in the Dark Programme,1998

Theatre in the Dark: Shadow, Gloom and Blackout in Contemporary Theatre (2017)

Life In the Dark – Neuroanthropology Blog 

What Are the Limits of Human Vision? - BBC Future

Hymen Manoeuvre // Evelyn Mok

During her teenage years, Evleyn Mok protected her hymen with ‘a ninja-like focus’. Such candid humour effervesces throughout her show Hymen Manoeuvre. Mok weaves a multi-stranded show around her heritage, generational differences, sex, body shaming, and the personal/political intersections of institutionalised racism, classism and sexism. In the intimate setting of Bunker 1 (Pleasance), Mok losing her virginity at twenty-five is the story tussled into the foreground with plenty of awkward interaction with male audience members. Mok repeating the word ‘vagina’ or ‘my vagina’ feeling palpably radical to some.

And there it is - the discomfort that some may feel at a woman of colour speaking about her vagina a lot, giving a detailed description of her breasts out of a bra, preferring cake to her ‘first time’, shrieking a little, taking up space like she is meant to be there, being funny and maybe - more disruptive in a comedy show - not being funny…

Mok’s writing upends expectations. She critiques racist, sexist, fat-phobic stereotypes by teasing, unravelling and morphing them. More often than not, after a story that sees her bemused, abused or disempowered, her punchlines land the agency firmly back in her hands. This feminist act of claiming power is one in need of tireless repetition to counter the daily aggressors - the manspreaders, the revenge porn video senders, the stand up comedians who spill the beans to their other stand up mates about sleeping with a 25 year old virgin, these mates who then make comedy routines about it…The latter happened to Mok. Her intimacies and right over them became appropriated into someone else’s material. 

Patriarchy teaches girls to be nervous that boys will be trading secrets about them i.e. school gossip or sexting made public. Women are taught simultaneously to guard our bodies for fear of humiliation but loosen them up just the right amount for male pleasure. Mok’s is the too familiar tale of public shaming and Hymen Manoeuvre could be seen as Mok’s way of wrestling back control and making sure people hear her experiences on her own terms. 

As she hurtles us through her autobiography, what opens up is patriarchy’s messages that there is something essentially shameful about the female form and female pleasure. It seems to be only some time after losing her virginity, that Mok asks herself if she had good time. She did not. The suppression of talking about female pleasure within sex education and wider media accompanies the shame many girls and women feel about their bodies. What’s more, female bodies frequently become funny - something to draw ridicule from and, as in the case of Mok, this humour is leveraged to assert male social power. 

Oppressive power structures take so much multi-stranded work to undo. In tales that continually resist collapse into any singularity, we glimpse the burden of this effort. She wonders whether by making the show she is indulging in her shame. She shares the incessant, looping questions she has about someone’s intentions when she first encounters them. At times, there is a sharpness to her tone and the room is silent. The shield of her wit sometimes slips and we as audience are sitting quietly with someone un-filtering themselves and letting us in. Maybe to be this funny and defiant, you have to cut close to your own bones. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hymen ManoeuvreEvelyn Mok 

The Pleasure Principle - International Woman’s Health Coalition

Bitch Media

Eight Women Of Color Comedians on Sexism, Racism and Making People Laugh - Wear Your Voice

Misogyny on Facebook: A Rant About ‘Vagina Cleavage’ - Gal Dem

Together Alone // Chen-Wei Lee and Zoltan Vakulya

The space is bare - white dance floor laid down in a black box theatre. Three scribbles of white florescent lights are suspended near the back. Within this abstracted space, the nude figures of choreographers and performers Zoltan Vakulya and Chen-Wei Lee resist static objecthood and make their first contact. This sparse arena hosts two people musing upon one another, gently meeting through touch. 

Our non-verbal communication/haptic communication develops so that we may know ourselves, others and the world through touch. Haptic knowledges are a key source material for dancing and coming to understand the world non-verbally in this way is shared across many species. It can be argued that such touch-led perceptions hold a lower status that our rational, verbal modes of communicating, relating and coming to know our environments. In contrast, this dance of swings, curves and counterbalances prioritises sensorial knowledge. As Vakulya and Lee’s bodies ride the momentum that their bodies conjure up from the ground; catching, sharing and releasing gravity between them, constant touch becomes a driving force. 

In their deft and assured movement, the sculptures ‘We Two’ and ‘Embrace’ by Gaylord Ho come to mind. In these works, contact points between two figures are foregrounded over the rest of the forms. Sometimes parts of the body are absent, further highlighting the sites of connection. There is a similar experience watching Together Alone - flickerings of flesh meeting are highlighted as bodies organise and re-organise themselves around points of contact, orbiting each other's centres. 

A question about pleasure hangs in the air. So too do associations with touch that can heal, support, communicate, trigger sensations of violence, of love and of care. 

A memory comes to me of Nancy Stark-Smith dancing in Fall After Newton, specifically, the lines her body swings through space.

At one point, Vakulya and Lee’s shadows are cast on the floor next to them. These shadows make the contact between their iliac crests blend into one another. The shadows are more porous than their bodies are and my question about pleasure begins to be answered. I think about sweat, temperature, the sensation of how it must feel to be so close to another and swing arms while exhaling warmth into the face of the person opposite you. I think of the places bodies fit together and how this interlocking can fuel movement. Eye to chin, armpit to kneecap, nape to forearm; each link propelling the search for the next. 

Charleston-like steps appear and bodies reveal their buoyancy, laughing and shimmering with abandon. In the closing parts, everything slows. The figures knot and unknot. They return to sculptural forms but their combination is now twin-like, pod-like and into an amorphous biped creature. 

Vakulya and Lee continue, sensitively indulging in their articulations with soft gazes, until they finish, spinning into black.

- Alexandrina Hemsley

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Taiwan Season: Together Alone

Meet the Artists: Chen-Wei Lee and Zoltan Vakulya

Fall After Newton Clip (1987)

Embrace - Gaylord Ho

We Two - Gaylord Ho

The Power of Touch - Psychology Today

Haptic Communication - Changing Minds

Haptic Perception - WiseGeek

Primates // Tessa Coates

A stack of hefty hardback books wobbles next to the microphone throughout Tessa Coates's stand-up show. An aged academic tome sharing the title Primates is there, but also Girl's Own Adventures and the Famous Five - and is that a Harry Potter towards the bottom of the pile? Yes it is, and despite the initial suspicion that these books have been chosen solely for their looks, it turns out that they are all pertinent to the show.

Coates begins by thanking the audience profusely for coming, establishing her persona as an earnest, prudish and perhaps rather posh anthropology graduate who is going to share with us her passion for the study of humans, in particular the study of penises. But she adopts an alternative persona - a cool American - in order to express this as 'I love dick'. And she plays another character, her former lecturer, to introduce the subject. With a background in sketch comedy, Coates is a natural at putting on funny characters, but there is surely an anthropological angle to why it is easier to say certain things sincerely only when playing at being someone else.

Anthropology is the frame for the show. While we learn the reason for the human penis having the shape it does and why some sperm have been called 'kamikaze' by scientists, the content is mostly observational comedy about sex, dating and relationships. Perhaps that is a large part of anthropology, too. But if we understand modern human behaviour as simply the results of past evolutionary pressure and biology, does that reduce our experience of life and love? Like scientists from other disciplines (such as neuroscientist Anil Seth), Coates grapples with this dilemma, and earnestly concludes - in the character of the professor - that while life is essentially meaningless, we are all special.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Primates - Tessa Coates

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? - Huffington Post

Nothing to Be Afraid Of (Anil K. Seth) - Granta 

The Meaning of Life and the Search for Happiness - Popular Social Science (2013) 

Debating Self, Identity, and Culture in Anthropology - Current Anthropology (1999)

Is the Presented Self Sincere? Goffman, Impression Management and the Postmodern Self - Theory, Culture and Society (1992) 

I Am A Tree // Jamie Wood

I Am a Tree is not a return to nature as much as a reassertion that the separation between humans and other living things is not absolute, that the human body and its processes are as natural in their rhythms as the growth of a tree or the migrations of birds. It is a memory and a eulogy, to nomadism and to mortality and the fallibility of living things. Jamie Wood greets the audience by listening to their hearts, laying his head on their chests and expelling their worries like a cresting whale.

The show loosely follows the progress of Wood’s journey by foot from Coventry to South Wales, leaving his young baby and partner at home in order to reconnect to the wild. The story meanders like its protagonist, but like any journey the progress is more important than the destination. His walk is a peculiar kind of mindfulness exercise, a mental health time-out in a relentless period of change. Wood’s life at home haunts the piece, never really spoken of in detail but always lurking beyond the next hill. Questions of responsibility vie with a commitment to self-realisation. The comedy in his journey too is always on the verge of tipping into abstraction and doubt. Wood’s clowning and slapstick blurs into meditative tasks, an unlooping of bootlaces slowly moving from Chaplin to Mona Hatoum.

I Am a Tree also asks that the audience use their own bodies in service of the story, whether using a blowdart to pop the ‘weight of death’ that hangs above Wood’s head during a speech about his grandfather, or asking several spectators to move on stage as animals whilst he cradles another. Participants are gifted a vegetable reward for their efforts, hacked from a broccoli tree. A plant-based replacement for the energy they expel. These actions are measured by a slow drip of water from a red bladder that marks the duration of the show. These images remain, half remembered and fleeting, like moments from a walk.

-       Lewis Church

This diagnosis is based on a preview performance at Ovalhouse, London. I Am a Tree runs in Edinburgh at Assembly George Square from the 14-27th of August.

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Jamie Wood – I Am a Tree

What is Walking Meditation?Wild Mind

Humans Need to Reconnect with NatureTree Hugger

Walking and Grief The Globe and Mail

Parental Burnout – NYMag 

Charlie Chaplin Eat His Shoes - From The Gold Rush (1925)

Mona Hatoum – Performance Still (1985/1995)

F*CKING MEN / King's Head Theatre

F*CKING MEN / King's Head Theatre

Ten interlocking scenes present separate sets of lovers, each semi-ironically riffing on different ‘aspects’ of love. The platonic ideal. ‘Simple’ carnal lust. Tortured archetypes (‘Actor’ and ‘Journalist’) playing out and struggling with their desires, counter-desires and the simple physical fact of their bodies. 

FLESH / Poliana and Ugne

FLESH / Poliana and Ugne

The performance starts with twisting shapes, shadowed yet hyper-exposed under multi-angled lighting, that seek to start the audience into a conversation about the body, its place in the physical world and its essential rootlessness. Does the body have a place and a function outside of its ‘sensual nature’, and can we find it in the act of movement? Or- more specifically- dance?

DROPPED / Gobsmacked Theatre Company

DROPPED / Gobsmacked Theatre Company

It’s an irony as old as time. Women may be seen as fit subjects for every conceivable violence, but they are not suitable for fight in war. From recent conflicts in Iraq, Afganistan and elsewhere, women's roles in the armed forces seem to extend little past the 2D. Physical, mental, societal violence is fit and fair game. But for a woman to fight in times of conflict has, until very recently, been seen as a frightening or morally disgusting transgression.  

TRAVESTY / Fight in the Dog

TRAVESTY / Fight in the Dog

Travesty is a play dealing with transitions. From one state of life to the next. Between innocence and ageing masquerading as experience. From a romantic relationships move from cradle to grave. From early 20s insouciance to the creeping fear that this might be all you’ve got. From dissatisfaction to, well, what exactly?

COSMIC SURGERY / Alma Haser

COSMIC SURGERY / Alma Haser

Our modern Western perception of the world drives us to divide lines and shapes into two great antithetical groups; on the one hand, the curved lines and on the other, the straight ones. If the former instinctively recall an idea of organic unity, of a living and genuine shape, the latter can not but suggest the regularity programmed by humans, i.e. artificiality. 

BUBBLE SCHMEISIS / Nick Cassenbaum

BUBBLE SCHMEISIS / Nick Cassenbaum

Cultural identity is made out of little, everyday things, just as the character of a neighbourhood is made up of the everyday rather than the exceptional. The best sign of gentrification in London’s East End isn’t the Cereal Killer Café, but the slow closure of its greasy spoons and corner shops and their replacement with more Pret A Mangers. Nick Cassenbaum’s performance is about Jewish identity, and the self-care ritual of the Schvitz, an intergenerational steam bath that unfolds as a psychogeographic narrative of the Jewish East End. It has orbiting interests of personal, urban and cultural history, and through them questions the identities of individuals, groups and cities.

TRIGGER / Christeene

TRIGGER / Christeene

Christeene comes riding in on an inner pony, an imaginary animal representing self-esteem and unapologetic sexuality. Each night, working whilst a shedload of explosives explodes from Edinburgh castle above her, Christeene is at work to create the ambience of the kind of sex disco that you always wished you were invited to but are not quite convinced you’d know what to do at if you were. The inner-pony is a my-little metaphor of freedom, a call to abandon proprieties and niceties in favour of a new kind of holistic sexual transcendence.

CAMILLE / Kamila Klamut

CAMILLE / Kamila Klamut

History has painted Camille Claudin as 'Rodin's tragic lover' - a muse-turned-artist-turned-asylum patient, desperate and alone. But although her 10 year love affair with the master of French sculpture has defined her, she's increasingly recognised as an artist in her own right: the 70th anniversary of her death was marked with asignificant retrospective of her work at the Rodin Museum.

ELEPHANT OF MY HEART / Prospero Theatre

ELEPHANT OF MY HEART / Prospero Theatre

There’s a long and rich interplay between meditation and the arts, including music and artworks including the ancient Indian tradition of mandalas. But bringing meditation into conventional theatre is a little more unusual. ‘Elephant of my Heart’ is a stage adaptation of Jessica Clements’ book of the same name: Clements herself even performs in the show’s chorus. It’s a memoir of her time in hospital recovering from a brain haemorrhage as a nine year old child. She believes that the inner travels she went on, guided by an elephant, triggered her healing process. 

DANCER / Gary Gardiner, Ian Johnston, Adrian Howells

DANCER / Gary Gardiner, Ian Johnston, Adrian Howells

Two dapper gentlemen dance on a stage, tuxedoed and practised and feeling their songs. To pop hits and mirrorball classics, they induct the audience into their friendship and collaboration, with jokes and stories and practised moments of quiet. One has a disability, the other does not, but neither are trained and their movement is open to anyone.

5 OUT OF 10 MEN / Deep Diving Ensemble

5 OUT OF 10 MEN / Deep Diving Ensemble

Male suicide is at epidemic proportions, the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales, an undiscussed wave of futile waste. Like mental health provisions across the UK, support for young men has been eroded, and the new societies of the 21st century have less use for the strong, silent and stoic men still lionised by those who advocate ‘traditional values’ and roles.

AND THE ROPE STILL TUGGING HER FEET / Caroline Burns Cooke

AND THE ROPE STILL TUGGING HER FEET / Caroline Burns Cooke

Abortion is still illegal in Ireland, as it was during 1984 when the Kerry Babies scandal raged forth from the intertwined powers of church and state. It was a cruel culmination of a logic that imposes shame on women’s bodies, on their sexual activity whilst excusing men, and on their ability to choose to not follow through with an unwanted pregnancy. For all the difference between then and now, on the day that I saw And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet, #TwoWomenTravel was trending.