Final Blog, December 8th: Looking back

road to loop head

Well, it’s been a blast.

Taken out of our comfort zones on the 8th of September, there we were with our socks and our souls on display. Open and vulnerable. And that first day turned out to be a fine microcosm of what was to come over the following months.

It was a day of reflection for me. The beginnings of journeys often are, I guess. It marked the end of something old and the start of something new and I was determined to be curious and in the moment.

I didn’t always succeed, if I’m honest, but I’m human too so that’s okay.

The first project happened quickly and it took us out of our reverie and discomfort and into action in Fitzgerald’s Park. Doing is good – it gives focus and movement and direction. And we did good, coming together and figuring it out and contributing and collaborating. And participating in the others’ projects was positive too. Immediately I could feel a joint group goodwill to others and I think I needed that. And that too has been a feature of this whole experience, all through the following weeks and months. And it’s been enriching.

At the Headway and Inma Pavon dance performance, I was reminded again of how lucky I am. It was a privilege to be witness to the joyful bravery of five women and I was glad.

My review of Music for Wood and Strings was also reflective of experiment and the new. Again it was a participative act of creativity and I developed from this an interest in writing about the experiential in art, in what the giving word to what’s out there means to me as a way of self-expression.

Performatives – that was a new one on us too. But we got there, and we did it. And we jumped into the dark too with our architects. What I took from that was the value in trusting and also some confidence in my ability to be more flexible and adaptable than perhaps I’d given myself credit for. And maybe not to be so narrow in what I’d envisaged I’d do as a writer. Vlanka was young and fresh and positive and that’s always a pleasure to soak up. And I wrote about possible futures, and food and people. And it was challenging and scary and I wondered sometimes – but I did it anyway. And I’ll return to Firkin Crane too, I hope – why not? Life is short.

The MEmorials, as I’ve said in a previous blog, were another journey within a journey and we grew as a group and as individuals. Again, there was the leap, the new, the uncertainty, the disquiet – and then the trusting, the balm of the work, the determination and the final products which we were glad to deliver. And the mutual support and goodwill was a blessing. And I was blown away by what had been produced, what had been shared. I’m very proud of my class.

And then it was over and we were there, and we had done it. We had done it.

We had arrived.

Photo: Road to Loop Head Lighthouse taken March 2009. I LOVE lighthouses. 

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Blanca_Maria Nilsson Waller, December 4th, 2015

 

snow transforms

White is an achromatic color, literally a “color without hue”, that is a mixture of the frequencies of all the colors of the visible spectrum. It is one of the most common colors in nature, the color of sunlight, snow,milk, chalk, limestone and other common minerals. In many cultures white represents or signifies purity, innocence, and light, and is the symbolic opposite of black, or darkness. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, and exactitude

Wikipedia

When I watched this performance I was reminded of the great American painter Edward Hopper who said: “There is a sort of elation about sunlight on the upper part of a house”.

Partly because I felt that this show was more about light – specifically white light – than it was about sound or dance. In fact there were three dancers on stage at all times: the light (mainly the white light of the title, in many variations and magical forms), the sound/music (including the white noise at the start of the show) and Maria Nilsson Waller (dressed – you’ve guess it – in white).

And partly because I felt elated when watching it. And it was the light, I knew, that delighted me, entranced me most – rather than the music or the dance. But of course it was the combination of all three that made it a finished piece. Each of the three dancers completed the others, made them whole and meaningful.

But of the three, the light had the leading role. The dancer was led by the light – unlike, for example in the first dance performance we saw this year, Connections – Headway and Inma Pavon, when the movements of the dancers themselves created and formed the digital light forms. When the light was led by the dancer.

If Dusk Ahead by Junk Ensemble was about shadow and dusk and blindness – the loss of light to night and the loss of sight, this show was about the emergence of the light again and seeing – really seeing. The coming and the being of white light, for the most part – the arrival of red light towards the end of the show was grating.

All colours are, by definition, less than white. It takes all colours of the spectrum to make white. White is all colour, all light. Although at times in the performance it was so intense as to be uncomfortable.

The white from Maria Nilsson Waller’s clothes, and the snow that seemed to fall within the spotlights landing upon her. The white from reflecting and swaying moonlit water, or in the rising of the midnight sun behind fir trees in the far North of Sweden where the Sami live. Or the white from half the squares of a chess board. Or from stars, or from car lights on the other side of frozen water.

And the movement of the light was magical on the white background and the dance floor, and the dancer followed it and the music gave it body and substance. The music also bestowed something else for the dancer to shadow. And she did, elegantly, powerfully and beautifully.

And if there was an alchemy of the digital in this performance it was in that transformation of a dancer and her music (a pairing) into a rich and varied group piece. As the digital light flowed and fell over the dancer and her stage it did metamorphose and complete the experience. But if this accomplished the ancient act of chrysopoeia – the transmutation of a base metal into a noble one – it did so into the silver apples of the moon, and not the golden apples of the sun.

Image at the top: Snow on the table in our back garden, transforming it.

 

Dusk Ahead by Junk Ensemble – Firkin Crane, Friday 13th November, 2015

Blind Trust

‘What is dance? What does it do?’

‘It tells stories? Doesn’t it?’

‘But how?’

‘By movement? Physicality? Rhythm? I don’t know. By how people move together? How they interact? And with music, is there music?’

‘Yes, there’s music.’

‘And dancers?’

‘Well of course there’s dancers. Five of them. Two women and three men. And a musician, a cellist, but there’s other music too that she accompanies. In one scene the dancers play music too.’

‘And a set?’

‘Yes, the set is dark and minimalist. It is about dusk, remember. There’s a chair for one piece. There are blindfolds. It’s about blindness, or going blind, I think. The first piece was where three dancers had blindfolds and they were being led by two others around the stage, with bells. When one of the bells was rung, the three blind dancers would change direction and follow it. Blindly.’

‘What do you think it was about?’

‘Helplessness, I think. And vulnerability. Imagine being so dependent on others that you had to trust them that much. Imagine being in the dark all the time. ’

‘A lot of trust in dancing, I’d imagine. If you jump, you’d trust the other dancer to be there and catch you.’

‘In another piece two men were mock fighting. Very physically – a type of wrestling. But they had to stop when a blindfold came off. One of the others rang a bell and they stopped. And another scene where they impersonated birds – ostriches, I think – and the other dancers put their heads into boxes and they danced with their heads in boxes.’

‘You know why birds do that?’

Because they’re stupid?’

‘Yes, and they believe they are safe when they cannot see the predator. Because if they cannot see the danger, they are invisible, there is no danger. Blind trust. To blind people everything is invisible until you walk into it or it walks into you.’

‘And there’s a dog. Well, a wolf.’

‘A wolf? What does he do?’

‘Not much. It’s one of the dancers with a huge wolf’s head. Very atmospheric, he or she just walked around. But it was a sense of danger too. The night is a dangerous place and blind people live there all the time. And one of the dancers kept walking into a wall. I think that scene opened and closed the show, so I guess it’s important.’

‘Because she was blind?’

‘I suppose. And in one scene four of the dancers allowed another to walk on them. Well, not walk on them, but walk in the air on the others’ hands. The other just held out their hands and that one dancer walked along them. But the trust! If your hand wasn’t there…’

‘If you were blind you’d have to have somebody you really trusted. Imagine if you’re on the side of the street and somebody said it’s okay to walk across the street, there are no cars coming. Total trust.’

‘Total. In another scene, two men were using a chair. Well one of them couldn’t walk or move very well and the other let him sit on the chair and then kept knocking him off it. That sounds stupid and slapstick but it wasn’t at all – it was… beautiful, in a way. The able bodied man kept knocking the disabled man, but it was still lovely. Strange.’

‘It sounds strange.’

‘Yes but it’s like describing art or music, or sport – you can do it but not do it justice. There was a scene where a man and woman were kissing. But it wasn’t really kissing. It was like they were attached by the lips but they still have to move, to dance, to walk, to swing around. Amazing. And another when two women were attached by their hair and another where two dancers were attached by a rope. I think it was a story about attachment and dependence and trust. And safety and danger, and daring, and hurt. She was hurt when she kept walking into the wall. She got cut when she was kissing that man. They got hurt when they were wrestling.’

‘It was about a lot of things, so.’

‘It was.’

Music for Wood and Strings by Bryce Dessner and LEAV Fitzgerald Park 18 September – 17 October 2015*

How do we experience music nowadays? We take for granted so many options: on the move, on mobile devices, in our rooms, from radio, online, via apps, computers, on our phones, live, etc. When I started to listen to music there was only the choice between the radio and the record player. Or a concert, and there were few enough of those, unlike now.

And what do we listen to now? What’s our choice? It’s limitless, really with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music and Soundcloud or the many online non-legal options. And we can create our own playlists and collections from whatever we want, and listen to them whenever we want, wherever we want, however we want. The nice people at Spotify have helpfully created a multiplicity of variations, depending on your activity, favourite genre or mood. In the mood category, my favourites are ‘Walking like a Badass’ (73,454 followers), ‘The PMS Playlist’ (yes, really) (123,769 followers) and ‘Office Detox’ (35,451 followers).

Now, as part of the Sounds from a Safe Harbour Festival, Bryce Dessner and the people from the app LEAV have created a new option for people in Cork City whereby what you listen to is shaped by where you are. The specific location on offer is Fitzgerald Park and the music options are Parts I, II or III of Dessner’s composition Music for Wood and Strings, depending on where in the park you are situated. And if you walk around, the music changes. As is says in the blurb: ‘You become the conductor!’

fitzgerald park
Fitzgerald Park – photo courtesy of http://culturenightcork.ie/

So far so good, but as I discovered, the technology hasn’t yet caught up with the idea. When you move from one LEAV zone to another in the park the music stops and you get a pop-up message on your phone to tell you that. Then you accept this and you can select the option from the new zone you have entered. When I asked one of the volunteers in the park about this he directed me to Bobby Maher from 6 Impossible Things, the company that created LEAV who was helpfully sitting nearby. Bobby told that this is a problem with Apple and the iPhone but they are hoping to have it fixed sometime. Good luck with that, Bobby.

leav app
The LEAV app – photo courtesy of leav.co

The problem is that the musical experience is fractured by the stopping, the clicking and the selecting. I had expected to be wandering tranquilly about the park, being enchanted and surprised by the mix and variety of the music. And to be in control of the sounds, and to be walking now here, now there, now back, now forward − empowered to enhance and adjust my own seamless and personal preferential experience. Not to be. Yet. I’m sure the technology will catch up.

And the music? Well, the music is full of harmony and repetition and rhythm. It’s orchestral and moody using an experimental instrument called the Chordstick, which Dessner co-designed; an amalgamation of hammer dulcimer and electric guitar hybrid. Hence the wood and strings, I guess. Four of these are played by Sō Percussion, a Brooklyn quartet to great effect in the piece, slowly and reflectively in Section I, with cello-like tones. Section II is also slow, dominated by a more strumming effect; and in Section III the instruments comes into their own, with interplaying faster repeated strains, flashes of percussion, and a wonderful variety of rising and fading sounds and rhythms.

music for wood and strings
Music for Wood and Strings

And it was this diversity of the three pieces that made me most disappointed that I couldn’t seamlessly move between them as I walked around. Because for me the experience of music is at its core. It’s not just the music or the musician or the instruments; it’s what I’m doing, where I am, how I feel at the time, who I’m with, the time of day, the day of the week, the weather, the venue, and so on. Because music is such an emotional experience, there are many factors impacting on what it means – and yes, the delivery method is also crucial.

So is this the future of music? Probably not, but who knows? It may be part of it. Once they can get the nice folk at Apple to dispense with their pop-ups.

*This is instead of Dance on Film – IndieCork Festival/Firkin Crane, October 9th which I cannot attend as I will be out of the country. 

Connections – Headway and Inma Pavon. Sept 24th, Firkin Crane Cork

I took some photos at this event thinking that I could use one for this blog and maybe share them with some of my classmates.

But I didn’t want to have the flash on in case it disturbed the dancers. So then my exposure was too long and they all came out blurry. So I thought, no, they’re useless.

And then I looked again and I decided to use this one, of Holly, when she came out first on the stage, with her name on those boxes (which I initially imagined as keyboards on a piano for some reason).

DSC_0286

I decided to use it because in a way the haziness of the image is a valid representation of acquired brain injury. The blur, where something is almost but not quite right, could be a visual statement of what people who experience this injury might have to face.

The feeling that they can move, but not just in the right way. That they are themselves, but not really. That their lives and their relationships do continue, but not quite as sharply, and not in the way they used to be.

And I like the idea of Holly being just at the edge of this photo and that, when she received her injury, she probably felt at the edge of her own life. That she was almost out of the picture of her own life, but not quite. That’s she’s still there, her life is still continuing – but not as it had been for sure, that somehow she’s at the margins, not really front and centre.

Those are the letters of her name there on the screen, but they’re somewhat out of sync, out of kilter, out of focus. Like her new brain, like her new body. The floor is solid and strong as it used to be. The screen is still and clear. The camera and its sensor is working fine. But Holly is a blur in the corner, her name is shaky and out of focus.

I also decoded to include a second photo, of the group of five women after the event.

IMG_4306

This was the highlight of the experience for me. Their joy, their pride, and their relief was written all over their faces and it shows in the photo. The flowers, the birthday cake, the attention, the admiration and the love that was showered upon those five brave women. And what it meant to them.

And now, the women are in focus. They are happy. Their smiles are sharp. They’ve done something big.

They are front and centre of their achievement and what it means to them and their families. How this dance performance and what it took to create can help shape their lives into a more crisp and defined and colourful future.

How they can be present and in focus and at the heart of their own lives.