Leaving my first chalky marks on the wall. 6 metres down, around 110 metres to go.
The bridge is an endless, low serpent stepping across the marshland. I took Onyx’ bike and rode back to Scienceworks, to the long bluestone wall on the side of the Yarra. I haven’t climbed bluestone in ten years. Fingers and body remember but cannot. I walk from one end to the other and back, more than 100 metres of hard climbing in both directions, feeling the rock with fingertips and toes. I remember when I first started climbing the railway bridges in Balaclava, East St. Kilda, it took me months to be able to string together one traverse, months more to reverse it, months again to do the other side of the road. This is the same, but harder.
Climbing walls to get at science. Climbing walls around the back when there’s a locked gate up the front side. Climbing walls “like, it’s literally a metaphor, lol.” In the end, I find the first several moves. Still more than 100 metres to go.
Three Australians in Wuppertal, by way of Brussels, Madrid, and Berlin. Last time I was in Wuppertal it was for The Vase, one of three banging works I’ve seen this year. This time, Friday evening, it’s snowing to whiteout, Gala and Michael are talking about the headcasts they’ve had done for their upcoming work, New People. They want photos. Guess who brought their camera? Saturday morning, after a lazy breakfast and before lunch hamburgers, still snowing, the falling-apart printer’s workshops behind Michael’s apartment having their roofless concrete floors jackhammered by the owner, one of those old socialist tradie types who ends up with a bunch of properties and maintains them all himself. It’s proper winter cold, slush and snow and wetness, and he’s hauling shit around like Sisyphus. We bail into the one building with a roof. Milky glass-paned, rusting windows along one wall fill it with just enough light for us to get away with photography. There’s a temporary scaffolding floor erected, we tall ones are nearly smacking our heads on bits of pipe and beam. Their busts go on the ground, then on a plank, I photograph them like I would mediæval art.
Completely due to a tiny shuffle of one foot in a decrepit former book printer’s workshop out the back of Michael’s apartment (where the owner was totally having at it on a Saturday morning with jackhammers into concrete in the snow and freeing slush), I managed to do one of those mad meme-y gifs that look like they’re 3-dimensional. Tick-tock, back and forth, convinces me every time.
Ebba, Tova & Gabriel host a conversation with the Berlin-based choreographers Dasniya Sommer and Frances d’Ath, that visited Nyxxx & KokoroTwo & Rökridånfor a working residency the 28th of April-4th of May in 2015. When the conversation starts, we have just participated in a shibari yoga class guided by Dasniya. From this point of reference, we go on to discuss among many other things exoskeletons, religious metaphors and the invention of rope as a parallel to the invention of the wheel.
— NYXXX: Avsnitt #9 — Ropes & Roles
When Dasniya and I were rehearsing and performing at Rökridån in Stockholm earlier this month, Gabriel Widing—one of Rökridån’s creators/part of NYXXX took some photos. (Apparantly there’s video(s) somewhere also.) They’ve been sitting on my desktop for two weeks glaring at me; every day, “Why are we not on supernaut yet, Frances?” And every time I look at them, I want a whole hour or ninety minutes of this.
Dasniya sent me these from our Sunday performance last night, and said, It’s especially sweet if you make a slideshow and play the Swedish volk music to it.” I said, “Oooyess!” discovered the music we’d grabbed from YouTube is either deleted or seriously inaccessible, scraped it from elsewhere, either way, thanks Route 69K Stockholm bus driver on Sunday around 12:15 who was playing this!
Skalden Wennerbom from Gustaf Fröding — 39 dikter med musik av Torgny Björk by Herr T och hans Spelmän (Torgny Björk)
A slightly unannounced workshop (compared to the other two, I mean), three days of making performance with NYXXX at Rökridån, co-organised by Kokoro 2. Eleven people, some artists, one engineer (always one engineer), a social-anthropologist, part-way underground in the meat-packing district. We stay almost on the edge of Stockholm, one stop before the end of the line, Bagarmossen. The forest begins nearer than that last stop. Roads and cars encircle but do not enter. Wide, curved paths, trees, eruptions of glacier-smoothed granite. Most other places this would be the dead-end. Here, it’s like the ideal of high-modernist urban planning architecture—the antithesis of Le Corbusier—made real. It’s a little disturbing at first.
Rökridån is half-way from Bagarmossen to the centre of Stockholm, probably an half-hour walk, 15 minute brisk spin on a bike. We take the train, walk the last bit. Only four hours a day, though with warm-up before and drifting over the finish time, this stretches to five, six. And then we rehearse. I haven’t hung myself up since teaching at ImPulsTanz last year.
This is writing for remembering. Since working regularly with Florian, Dasniya’s teaching, performances, general ideas and interests have changed.
In-between stuff. Friday, we rehearse in Bagarmossen, then end the afternoon in Östasiatiskamuseet. Also walking around the harbours. Wednesday night we see a performance at MDT. It causes me to doubt that people with acceptable bodies (identities, desires) can have any understanding of those without, or even care. Sunday I go to the Historiska museet. A bus driver plays Swedish folk music. Later that night, we use it in a performance.
I eat a lot of liquorice. Sweet, salty, chewy, rubbery, stuff that melts and stuff that erodes. The sky is the kind that comes from across oceans, open, tattered clouds, the air sharp and polished. It’s often windy. Inside, or in the sun, it’s warm; if the sun was higher, it would approach harshness. As soon as the sun is gone, it chills like stone in shade. If the public transport doesn’t work, they pay for people to take taxis. I didn’t eat reindeer. Or fish.
Thursday night is Valborgsmässoafton, Walpugis Night. No burning of witches north of the Baltic, only celebrating the arrival of spring with bonfires. Stockholm seems to have a lot of immigrants. It felt a little like Sydney or Melbourne. I liked it more for that (I know it’s not straightforward or rosy).
Both Tova and Christian have a lot of books. Walls of books. Cheese comes in at least 1kg blocks. Smaller is possible but not encouraged. Coffee also. I wonder if in winter they are snowed in, and need such large amounts to get through. Granite is everywhere. The city and trees are a thin scraping on the surface, you could probably clean the whole place back to rock with a brush, vacuum cleaner, and an afternoon. It’s insanely beautiful.
The word for ‘child’ is the same as in Scots: barn, bairn. I try and not find similarities with Scotland and Northern England. When people greet you, even in shops or at work, they say, “Hey!” It’s so ridiculously friendly. If a ‘k’ is followed by an ‘ä’, it’s pronounced ‘sh’. I ask Tova who inflicted this upon them. She laughs and tells me about ‘sj’. ‘Hen’ is in the Svenska Akademiens ordlista as a gender-neutral personal pronoun. People we meet use it easily.
Monday we arrive, are met at the central bus station, cross the road to the train station, find ourselves on the T17, south-south-east to Bagarmossen. A long meal together, roast aubergine with walnuts. Tuesday we are early heading to Rökridån. Dasniya sent photos of our performance, we both took many photos throughout the week (as did everyone). I’ll defer a description in lieu of those later. NYXXX are LARPers. I found that out late in the week. When she told me it was like the secret that makes coherent everything which preceded. First day: a warmup, some exercises/tasks/trials with ropes. Second day: a warmup, Dasniya showed some of her work from rehearsals, talking about how performance is made. The difference between performance for each other, playing publicly, and performance as a branch of theatre are discussed. Third day: an assemblage of objects, ideas, wishes, things to try; an agreement of who does what with whom; experiments with rope that become installations. I said, “Wow, that’s really fucking good” to myself quite a bit.
Friday. May Day.
Saturday, Yoga and Shibari. On more familiar ground here. The performance workshop went into new things for Dasniya (and myself). Some things worked, others not completely. Working or not-working for me are somewhat questions of engineering; it’s the ground they operate on that’s either fertile or arid (pushing a shaky mixed metaphor there). I think the performance workshop, especially with LARPing was really this, several things coming together that fit so neatly and I’m kinda watching myself watching it thinking, “Faaark! This can go so far into Weirdsville…” and wanting that in all its rawness, messiness, bits of failure and bits of sublime on the stage at MDT cos it’s so much more relevant, so much more real.
Dasniya’s yoga approaches Isabelle’s warmup from different directions. I’m doing all the same all over the place. Same. Different. Slightly different. Kinda the same. We rehearse before and after. Firstly after is a Podcast dinner. NYXXX, a Tascam, a table of food (yes, large block of cheese). The talking goes from performance to stomach bacteria to cosplaying … I thought there was an interesting formality in how this was prepared, which contrasted with the informality when let to run on its own accord. After that, full stomach, more rehearsing.
Sunday. I go to the museum. The bus driver and his music. Later, after the Self-suspension workshop, Tova helps me find the music, poems of Gustav Fröding arranged by Torgny Björk. People start laughing immediately when we play it. Different people in the weekend workshops to the week one. Many the same. Different energy in Rökridån also. I try suspending myself in two different hip harnesses. I’m unsure lately if I want to hang at all. I do find some possibilities, but there’s a physical reluctance towards pain that comes from dealing with chronic injuries, as if the surface of my skin is too sensitive.
Performance. Rubber dog mask for me. Cat for Dasniya, Pig for Tova. A green bicycle. A white calico skirt, beaded green vest, also a black ballet tutu, gold glitter heels, a table and chair, a ladder. From the inside performing with masks, it can feel nothing, or stupid, or whatever, but from the outside with these not-quite human not-quite animal masks, it’s dead strange. It’s like they become blank signifier volumes. It’s not anthropomorphic either; more like becoming animal. The practicalities of dealing with much-reduced vision and hearing, the inner experience of wearing this cave-like helmet causes a different mundane physicality and movement. They’re also good for shy performers.
It takes an hour to pack the ropes,
A rope jam takes place. Stockholm people are well-handy with shibari. All quite astounding, really. Dasniya and I have a beer in the local pub. It closes early, by pub standards. The sky still has a faint tint of the sun riding the horizon at 11pm.
Monday, pack, train, lunch with Tova, we don’t manage a ferry ride and wander. Bus to airport, liquorice and chocolate. Plane makes land somewhere around the border of Germany and Poland. We see Uferhallen on the descent. Florian is at the arrivals gate with a sign, “Shibari Express” and chewy sweet stuff.
Caveats first: stupidly forgot to charge camera battery, so I missed the last two or three scenes. Camera also suffers in low or high-contrast theatre light situations, so these are mostly ones with without either, without fast movement, mainly still-ish scenes, occasionally where camera made the unexpected most of it, in a couple of moments catching the stillness in frenzy. And then there were a whole bunch that were just framed shitely. The remaining ones here are not exactly representative of the whole piece is what I’m saying.
Second seeing for me of Das Helmi’s Große Vögel, kleine Vögel, a fucking brilliant staging of Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini. I was thinking of Castorf’s Kaputt after, which I saw at the Volksbühne in December, 5 hours of monolithic, unrelenting, angry Berlin theatre, not a shred of irony or entertainment, I left that piece at midnight, utterly exhilarated and ready to see the whole thing again and after this one I thought, between the ’bühne and the Helmis, Berlin has theatre nailed.
Große Vögel, kleine Vögel is much closer to entertainment, though kinda like Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon, where he does the Carnegie Hall gigs, or when he says of entertaining the audience, “short of faking my own death or setting the theater on fire, I don’t know what else to do.”
Also was thinking of Castorf-Brecht Baal legal drama (the latter’s estate trying to shut down the production; the former calling the latter, “passé and absurd.”), and what the Helmis did to Pasolini’s film, and with both of them—I mean, what do you expect? I also thought, God (yeah, I actually asked God), why is Berlin dance so dreary and complete soul-sucking joyless bilge, why can’t it be like Castorf or the Helmis, why can’t it leave you feeling like you’ve totalled your car and you’re all laughing and feeling more alive than ever and invincible ’cos you walked out of certain death? (Even though you’re bleeding a little from your scalp.)
It’s fucking brilliant. Did I say that? Yup, I said that. Not long enough. It’s around 80 minutes and doesn’t feel it at all. There’s singing and dancing and songs and St Francis and talking birds, talking rabbits, talking other animals, gay love, more gay love, Pasolini looking sharp in a suit and Pasolini with a monster beer gut, guns, money, fucking, running, spitting, football (soccer, you know, the other football), a whole scene of Jesus coming down off the cross done as a film shoot, the Red Detachment of Women with fouettés! (I went off and watched some to remind myself of how gloriously Mao Tse-tung Thought Cultural Revolution it was. Glorious.) More songs, more St Francis, more birds, killing and eating the crow (probably had it coming), more Marxism, some whipping and bondage also, and a really unexpectedly calm, contemplative ending. Probably worth seeing a third time, says I who’ve seen now seven of their works. And! And! An ensemble who crush it! They sing (yeah probably worked that out), they dance, they play multiple roles, they play multiple instruments, they play with puppets, they make puppets, they are puppets, they go from dirty, spitting street toughs to Descent from the Cross and you believe it all. And they do it in that delightful Helmi way where it’s on the sharp edge of chaos, like they’re gonna catastrophically derail and take the audience out with them. It’s a fucking masterpiece.