I don’t even know why I’m trying to write about something that is specifically outside of the realm of what I can talk about. If I don’t know it, how in the world can I write about it?
A better question might be, why open this post for writing at a quarter to 5AM?
I’m in between clowning workshops, having taken one and looking at two more this weekend. And last week I participated in a Butoh workshop, though it was largely meditation and then free form movement set to live music. There’s no one way to do Butoh, I’m assured, so I just let myself go with the only rule being “don’t be perfect.” And as for the clowning… well it was rather a lot like improv but far more freeing in several ways…because in many ways there were more restrictions on what I could do when out in front of everyone.
No great epiphanies – yet – but the returning thought that these are so much easier and solid to perform when I don’t think. Just go on stage with a couple of ideas to rub together and find all the space between the parameters set out by the instructor and… lo and behold I’m performing.
Maybe I’m thinking about it tonight because I got to see Matt Maguire’s Wild Man in Rome. It was thrilling, of course, that’s the central thing. But I sat front row center and watched Maguire work. When you’re that close to performers you really can see them work, fight, push, discover, ride, live their show. And I kept thinking (quite possible prompted by his references to commedia dell’arte) that there’s a lot of clowning that is deep inside this work. But the thing is – and this is why clowning _is_not_ improv – the piece was wordy, a tour of sites of Rome taken at a breakneck speed as The Wild Man races away from Il Diavolo. There were SO MANY WORDS, so many sites to see, so many experiences I couldn’t track them all; but of course Maguire had to. And even as the Wild Man careened through Rome, Maguire had to hold on tight to his performance.
I once wrote about Butoh:
Rather than muscle tension, butoh calls for nerve tension of a living moment. This moment should be created by shattering the higher mind of language. Maro Akaji said, “the thought is that the body gets support and help from…something which is impossible to find with language. The body consequently gets support from something that lives inside of it.”
When I sort out exactly what that means, I’ll come back and tell you all about it. For now, I take it to mean finding a way to get your body to do something without knowing the words for it. Contrast knowing the words (fifth position, plie, jete, fifth position) with there not really being words for each movement (break away from defenders, fake pass, twist, 3-point throw, nothing but net). Of course, when dancers perform they aren’t thinking “plie, jete” they’re simply performing. And basketball players don’t get to high level execution without hours upon hours of training and correction. But performing physical actions don’t need words. You don’t verbally order your arm to lift to pull a book from a shelf. You can’t tell me you know how you do it…but you know how to do it.
I personally can’t think of the word “mysteries” without thinking of the sacred mysteries from the Catholic faith. I grew up praying the rosary with my family and at home it’s still prayed every night. They’re the moments important to the Scriptures – the angel Gabriel announcing that Mary will bear the Son of God, the birth of Jesus, the scourging at the pillar and then His crucifixion, the resurrection and the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles, etc. And then there’s the new fangled Luminous mysteries, taken from the life of Jesus, like his baptism. They’re not all when something spectacular happens like the resurrection, but they all have to do with the idea of encountering God or God’s plan. For example the Visitation is when pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with a boy who will become John the Baptist. When Mary and Elizabeth meet the children in their respective wombs leap and they understand the children know each other. There is also the Coronation of Mary, a scene that happens entirely in Heaven where Mary, mother of Jesus, assumes the position of Queen of Heaven.
Obviously all of these refer to stories that require faith. And that’s rather the point. There’s nothing that can measure the objective truth of these claims that can be devised by waking, living intellect. There’s no speaking about these things happening in the same way we can talk about the distance to the moon or manipulating a radio frequency. But from what I’ve gleaned of the Catholic faith, it’s all about living in mystery, the confidence of knowing things that can’t be solidly explained with words but must be lived if we are to express ourselves truthfully.
Maybe that’s also on my mind, again, because of The Wild Man. I kept thinking about how all those medieval and Renaissance artists depicted religious ecstasy – coming into contact with the divine – and how it established cultural semiotics for both what is sacred and what is profane. Art historians have broken it down far better than I ever will, but you and I still know it when we see it.
As for why I’m still writing at 530am. *shrug* Who knows.