Superpowers – on Motherhood, Witchcraft and Killing Bad Men

Self portrait by Vivien Maier

Self portrait by Vivien Maier

It’s Wednesday morning. It’s 8am. I am awake. Not in the way the Buddha was Awake but just, you know, up and ready to seize the day. I am wondering what I might do. I have no plan. I work in a regular job 3 days a week. On the weekends I usually do things called Workshops. And on Wednesdays and Fridays a different structure, a different rhythm, a different way of making decisions is open to me. I value this. I hate this. I want this. I choose this. I could easily spend the day surfing the net or doing admin or doing my taxes. I could clean the house. I have to cook. But this is not living. Not really. Or is it? I don’t know. I don’t care.

I was thinking of going to see a movie today. I was thinking that I might see ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ at Hackney Picturehouse at midday. I cannot remember the last time I went to the movies on my own, during the day. It is a perfect watching-a-movie-in-the-middle-of-the-day kind of weather. If the sun was shining and the birds were singing there’s no way I could contemplate it. Today, weather is my ally.

I was on the Hackney Picturehouse website moments ago and came across the new Luc Besson film: Lucy. I watched the trailer. It’s about a superhero. Her real name is Scarlett Johansson. Her character name is Lucy. Her real superpower is beauty (and maybe, talent). Her character superpower is “cerebral skills” – i.e. she can use 100% of her brain power – it is estimated that the rest of us use up to about 10%.

For the past two evenings I’ve stayed late at University of Roehampton using all of my brain power appreciating 4 presentations (2 each night) by the final year Masters by Research Choreography and Performance students. All four of them – Robin Dingemans, Hamish McPherson, Sonia Baptista & Charlotte Ashwell – have been talking about their practice(s) as Dance Artists. They have used various strategies to do this. Their ways of presenting have been singular and surprising. The content of their presentations had many links, patterns, threads, commonalities.

More or less, in all the performance-presentations, in a multiplicity of ways the following has been brought to the surface: alternative structures for making and selling art; notions of disability / frailty / vulnerability / outsider; ways of (un)becoming; ways of dismantling dominant hierarchies of thought and practice embodied by Western patriarchal systems; ways of living and working that fall within realms of Femininity such as – care, healing, collectivism, non-hierarchical structures of making / doing, living in the margins, dancing the everyday, building the future with chairs, dreaming with foxes, blowing out candles, falling open, falling apart, falling from hegemony into muscle, tissue, blood and bone, asking ‘what is beauty?’, wearing masks, taking off masks, doing and undoing, reclaiming and resting, turning lights on (and off), finding and sharing resilience.

Lucy wakes up in a bed after a night of clubbing, hung-over or perhaps, drugged. Without consent or knowledge her stomach has been cut open during the night and men (Bad Men) have slipped a package of drugs into her lower tummy. Lucy is impregnated with male greed, ambition, strength & power. Young, blonde, beautiful, innocent, white, able-bodied and woman she represents (to my mind) the female dance artist Charlotte Ashwell was speaking about in her spellbinding performance-lecture – Becoming Witch – when she referred to the 2009 conference initiated by Dance Umbrella and Dance UK called ‘Where are the Women?’ in which it was proposed that most of the female choreographers, in their 30’s (prime time for women to turn from dancers to choreographers) were absent (from the industry) due to having children.

Charlotte spoke about this category of “Women”. Not only where are they? But who are they?

A black bag is thrown over Lucy’s head. Lucy is in danger. The Bad Men in this film are Chinese. Lucy is surrounded by thugs who are not exactly black (or brown) and not exactly white. They think they’re so sexy with their tattoos and guns and martial ways. They touch her up. She hits them. They hit back. Kicking her with all their superior strength and, of all places her womb where the thing inside her breaks and begins to leak i.e. the child within begins to demand something new of her which simultaneously whilst killing her gives her new superpower(s). O, Motherhood.

Sitting in a train last night heading home a friend and colleague noted that all the women gathered in the circle to discuss Charlotte’s presentation didn’t have children. That there were many women, she named some, who would loved to have been there but didn’t or couldn’t because they did have children. We agreed that disappearing, i.e. being kidnapped by domesticity “was a thing” that affected (dancing) lives.

We watch Lucy’s eyes change colour, like the spots of a leopard, from blue to gold to amber, to green. Lucy is transformed. She goes from Victim to Victorious in a nano-second. A Bad Man enters her cell. Lucy opens her legs – the age old witchcraft. He comes closer, like all men – regardless of colour, class or creed – summoned by this simplest and most powerful of spells. When he comes close enough Lucy strikes him down in some super strong martial moves of her own, takes his gun – ultimate symbol of male power and control – escapes her solitary confinement to which she is literally shackled and does a lot of killing. It’s very satisfying to watch Lucy kill Bad Men.

Questions: Is the Buddha a superhero? Is extreme non-violence a superpower? Is eradicating Self and Ego i.e. truly being Awake to the inter-dependence of all things save this world?

Question: Is Lucy is a superhero? To Stand Up, Speak Up, Fight Back – to masterfully use all of the weapons that have ever been used against her? Having been forced to eat from the Tree of Knowledge Lucy gained Supreme Intelligence. Is Brain Power the ultimate weapon for Women of the new world?

Question: Are Dance Artists superheroes? Is shapeshifting the faultless missile? We reclaim lost ways of living, we make something out of nothing, we say yes to the unlikeliest of things and ways, like uncertainty, ambiguity and the willingness to fall in-between. We respect and give credence to Bodily Intelligence. Will this be The Answer to what the rest of the world is searching for?

I wonder about Lucy. I wonder about the way she walks out onto the street with her gun and sees two taxi drivers talking to each other. She says to one of them, pointing her gun at his head, “you speak English?”

“No” he says, terrified, “no, no, no, no” (um … he must speak some English to understand this question, and reply to it, no?) Anyway, whatever. She shoots him. Luckily for him (and for her) the other taxi driver does speak English and drives her to the hospital to give birth, to her new self.

Lucy, by the way, has been kidnapped and taken to Taipei. So when she asks these men if they speak English, she has crossed a border into another country, another language. But even in this new land, with all its right to foreignness, if you don’t speak English The Empire Strikes Back. It’s actually a funny moment in the trailer. What? You live in Taipei and don’t speak English? Die asshole! LOL.

Spoiler Alert: Lucy saves the world (and not by dancing).

Vivian Maier was a wholly different kind of woman to Lucy and a wholly different kind of artist to the four artists who presented talks in these past two day and to all the other artists who gathered to hear them speak. Robin, Hamish, Sonia and Charlie, in one way or another, spoke about visibility. Perhaps it comes with the territory of being a performing artist that you do Great Battle with being seen (or not being seen). Vivian Maier enacted her art in complete secret. She was, by the industry’s definition, a photographer and by her own, a spy. No one knew she took pictures. Her day job: Nanny. When she moved into the house to look after the children the first thing she asked her employers for, was a lock. She lived in the third floor, in an attic. Her bedroom was, much like historical China, A No Go Zone. Her photos (in hundreds of boxes and, mostly undeveloped roles of film) were discovered after her death. She had no desire to be seen. It seemed she only cared to do the looking.

Yesterday I said something in a fit of passion. I said something like “I am done with being invisible”; something like “artists need to have voices and answers” something like “I want to make art as commodity but without compromising its substantiality”.

(Sigh).

A Blonde with 100% Intelligence and 100% Beauty, a Nanny who was really an Unknown Master and a Nomad-Fox-Witch a.k.a a Dance Artist went into a bar in Taipei. They drank Tsingtao and ate Ma Po Tofu. They played the jukebox and flirted with Diplomats. They had surprisingly similar taste in music and men. One was American, one was French and one was Sri Lankan. They had a lot to say to each other. Naturally, they all spoke in Latin.

London Stories – a collective poem from a 1:1:1 storytelling performance festival at BAC

In SIMG_3575eptember 2013 Battersea Arts Centre hosted a festival of storytelling in the enormous, grand, ramshackled civic hall they call home. Every room (there’s 72) was used to place a storyteller who had a London inspired tale – from seeking refuge, to breaking hearts, to being homeless, to losing shoes – a wide variety of performers and non-performers were selected from a complex, multi-layered application and interview process. Inspired by intimacy and memory, BAC produced a 1:1:1 festival, i.e. 1 storyteller 2 audience members going on a journey through this magnificent town hall – in candle light. I told my story of the Red Shoes, Lyn Gardner came and apparently, she loved it. Read the review.

Being part of London Stories was a pleasure and a privilege – a large scale community theatre project that played with scale: an epic logistical creation in which real moments of intimacy and connection in this wonderful, difficult city were enabled. And, it was somehow life-changing to spend each night, for two weeks, in candlelight. I recommend it.

One of the things that the curators spent a long time thinking about was how to end the evening. They decided to collect all the audience members – who went on separate journeys to gather in the grand hall. We, the storytellers were all asked to write one sentence to describe London, this was edited into a single collective poem by Senior Producer, Richard Dufty and read out to the audience at the end of each night. I heard it every night, and it always touched me.

London is scooting in the park and feeling optimistic about life
London is walking in rain puddles when I used to avoid them.
London is where I write beside The River
London is a place to be seen, or to go unseen, to be who you want to be.
London is a place to hide when hiding helps
It is where I am lost and found
London is Denmark
London is Clapham Junction Station, Mile End Station, Elephant and Castle Station
London is the seen and unseen – the living and the dead
It is the voices and the violence
It is an intricate body of beauteous cells
It is a beating heart, fast flowing down streets and over bridges
It is effective support against trolls
It is a woman you can’t quite remember but clearly remembers you
It is a giant mouth; some days it lavishes you with kisses, on others it eats you alive.
It is eating egg and cress sandwiches on Islington Green
It is the one-legged pigeon that hobbles around Trafalgar Square
It is the lion’s roar, heard from Cold Blow Lane
London is the river flowing through my veins, there are always low tides and there are always high tides.
London is the scene of myriad encounters, real and imagined, feared and longed-for.
London is where I call you my husband.
It is a prehistoric jungle of magic and possibility.
It is vast, still parks and ponds to ponder
It is a watercolour; the jostling of umbrellas and wind in my hair.
London is where nobody knows your name but you’re more than welcome to come to the party anyway
London is feeling that anything can happen, and knowing it usually doesn’t
London is collected commuters connected in chaos
London is full of beautiful memories and it is where my heart lies broken on a Chiswick street
London is the place where the lights shine, where the heart is and where he died.
London is where I learned to live my life
London is where the children you see on Blue peter grow up