some days in london … part one

Arriving late. Dasniya and I caught the ring S-Bahn to Flughaven Schönefeld certainly one of the most dreary airports belonging to a capital city I have found myself in, and reminding me of the old Beijing one. Back to London, Gatwick even, and a long train ride to London Bridge. This was both my and her first time proper in the city, though I passed through on my way to Whitstable in late-2008. A woman helps us find the Underground route to Bethnal Green. In a city of over seven million it is proof of the possibilities of randomness that when we depart four nights later, we bump into her in exactly the same place.

Arriving later. Dasniya had been invited to perform and teach at the London Festival of the Art of Japanese Bondage some time ago, and without knowing anyone in the city, took up the offer of staying in the Resistance Gallery studio/gallery/bar/bricked in arch beneath the Overground line halfway between Cambridge Heath and the eponymous Underground station. Squashed with people and noise and play scenes when we arrived, I took off for a wander around to get the some hours of Berlin-London out of me.

The festival had already started that morning, with workshops from Kinoko Hajime and Arise, something I would have liked to have attended having done workshops with both Osada Steve and Arisue Go, but watching him demonstrate Mata Nawa at least gave me a sense of his style and so a bit more of an understanding of the diversity in Shibari in Japan. (As an aside, I haven’t blogged on Arisue Go, but found his loose style, minimal (though secure) approach to tying off, and general playfulness quite inspiring.)

Perhaps around 1am, or maybe later people were kicked out and we made our den in the far corner of the mezzanine, walls and a table on three sides, and several other visitors piled on the floor or sofas. Our home for the next nights. No shower and no windows, bar cracks of light at the far end of the gallery made the weekend feel like a peculiar hiking trip. Our venue manager, blanket supplier and all-round organiser – perhaps the sanest person in the venue – regaled us with stories of growing up in squats and late Saturday night took to suspending herself naked in the frame beside our beds. The other most calm and collected person, the stage manager for Sunday night had a similar peccadillo, once the shows were over stripping naked and dancing lasciviously in front of any group of women he could find.

Saturday. Workshops at a rate of one every 45 minutes. After one hour everything was running one hour late. Not that anyone really noticed or cared. I wandered through many in passing, having a look in, seeing if I found anything interesting, swapping back and forth or just sitting around. Some I did attend both fully in body and attention, Rod MacDonald’s Bondage Photography, Esinem’s Suspension & Nerve Injury, Kinoko, several others, and also assisting Dasniya in a workshop/demonstration on Inverted Suspension.

Having bought my camera with me (and feeling diminutive next to the current craze for consumer DSLRs), I started the day with Rod and photography, nothing especially new, though I managed to reframe what I thought of light, zoom, camera and subject position into a simple diagram that brought back memories of JC teaching lighting at VCA. Mostly directed at those working in a studio, I still found it useful for thinking about how I photograph outdoors, or point my camera surreptitiously at people around me.

There were a number of photographers around during the weekend, some with their work on display – my favourite being the dark, moody shots from a Parisian whose name I’ve forgotten, of Nawashi Murakawa tying women in kimonos. Rope, fabric, makeup, hair and skin, beautiful darkness.

Later the same day Shadow did a short workshop on self-suspension. Seeming to have amused myself mostly with this, I found her method of getting airborne clever, yet as with so much ropework, I wonder why so few bother to study what goes on in climbing. Self-rescue, prussiking, setting up belay stations or bivouacs, even some basic hitches are all highly applicable to Shibari, either in practice or just in thinking about possibilities. Also all of the safety concerns with placing hanging points, rope management and so on have been dealt with obsessively, normally resulting in ISO certification. It seems odd to often see this being reinvented as though it never happened before.

Kinoko and Arise’s workshops, (I am getting hazy on what came next, but one was on Mata Nawa, “designed to spread the cunt”), funny and smart, and also from a couple of things he said gave me more to think about than anything I saw or did in the weekend.

He talked about rope dynamics, moving it slow with long motions or quick and sharp, the sound of the rope, moving over the body close to the ear or slapping as it dropped to the floor, whipping in the air. These things he drew comparisons with Kabuki and Noh, which when he said that, thinking of the music and opera staging, I thought, “Oh, of course, how obvious!”. He also talked about Ma, which loosely could be translated as negative space, something hugely important in making dance and performance, probably one of the first concepts I was really introduced to as a student.

(Dasniya reminds me later he also referred to Aikido in this, in the energy from the center, explosive attacks with accompanying sound.)

Dasniya ended up teaching more than once, first filling in for someone else, then running extra beginners’ classes for the many that couldn’t fit in or didn’t have the skills for the advanced classes being taught. For one on inverted suspension, despite my rather sore body, I found myself spinning in a pleasant back arch on the mezzanine. Having spent much of the last year learning from her, and not infrequently being her assistant, it is the dynamic between us that people comment on, not so unusual really, considering how much this comes to the fore in her teaching Shibari.

Later, something of an early night for those staybehinds who didn’t go to Subversion. Some yoga for me in the morning, and then a somewhat rushed rehearsal with Dasniya amidst vacuum cleaners and loud music. A proper runthrough of our piece, to find out mainly if it would even work. Lucky it did, mostly just a question of what happens where, what to do if things aren’t working, what to try also. Raw and loose, which for me – so long as I’m not anxious about disaster and have some idea of what I’m meant to do – is quite fine.

More workshops. More sushi, cups of tea, wandering outside for brief minutes, chocolate. Felix is there also. Occasional conversations, but mostly just wandering around and watching. Closing and reopening. Resistance fills up. We are on second, and the stage manager (yes, the calm one), gives us instructions. Nice to drift in the normality of a theatre routine, how ever vague it might be.

This is my first time performing with Dasniya. A little over a year since I stumbled into her class one afternoon, and much talking and learning and doing inbetween. I only have a faint idea what it looked like, but when Dasniya finally became airborne, much excitement ensued. Ah, to be on stage, I don’t do it enough, yet I like being there very much.

Later I saw some of Shadow and Felix, and some of Nawashi Murakawa also, as well as Kinoko and Arise, who have given me far too much to think about from just a few words and actions. I looked over the mezzanine at some of the others, but found the standard approach to tying, roles, and appearance didn’t interest me so much. Boy Kitten was the most punk and queer, Marilyn Manson of the lot, something I felt was not so present over the weekend.

A very late sleep, we go out for food and it is already light. In and out all day, needing some sun and light. Monday is calmer, discussions on various things, John talks of his pilgrimage to Japan, with drawings of the temples, and later organises the life drawing class which finishes the festival, and which I wrote of before. Tuesday we play tourists and after much train-hopping, I fall asleep as the plane hurtles airborne.