Jul 16, 13
How on earth am I going to start writing about this project? I mean, it's so sort of, massive in every respect. In what it means to me and to us, the team that has gathered around it. The origins, its inception - a good decade ago in a café mid-winter near Kollwitzplatz, Berlin where I was living at the time, sitting with my dear friend Joanna and talking about the power of dance to communicate certain things that words can not. Certain extreme states - madness, transcendence, overwhelming sadness and beauty. Yes, that's what music is also for, but to combine those two elements...well, wow.
So I could hardly have imagined that many years on from that initial, rich and fascinating discussion (you know, the kind where you feel sparks are literally flying about the table, and the flow of ideas are seamlessly interconnected), I would be sitting in a meeting at the Royal Opera House with RB dancer Ludovic Ondiviela, and the director Kevin O'Hare, discussing ways of bringing this project into reality with some of the best dancers in the world.
Once again, the chain that led me to that meeting came about through a series of coincidences - Kate Church, my long time film-making collaborator and great friend trained at the Royal Ballet School (yep, it really is as tough as it's reputed to be, children getting picked off each year if they fail to meet the rigorous standards required) and brought Ludo along to a concert of mine at the Vortex. Beforehand, during sound check, I'd been playing a song of mine, 'Halos', and I could see Kate dancing beautifully to the music, out of the corner of my eye. "We have to do a project with you dancing!" I said. So that got the ball rolling. And once Ludo expressed enthusiasm (he's rapidly moving from Royal Ballet dancer to in-demand choreographer), that was it.
Me and Ludo at the Royal Opera House // Me and Kate Keara Pelen enjoying the Welsh sea front // Kate Church in Kensal Green cemetery during the shoot of Oracles, 2011
From there, it was an absolute no-brainer to get another talented long-term collaborator (as visual artist/photographer/singer/glockenspiel-ist) and also great friend, Kate Keara Pelen on board (she and Kate C have been close friends since University, and may be referred to for convenience as DupliKate). As the core team of 4, we have developed the concept of this project, entitled 'Soliloquy for Cassandra', and will also be co-directing it. It's astonishing how in synch we all are with the vision of this piece, whilst having our own particular perspectives to enrich the process as a whole.
The title, "Soliloquy..." refers to a poem by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who was introduced to me by my terrific (and terrifically erudite) friend Benjamin Ramm. I received a book of Szymborska's poems from him as a present, and was extremely struck by the image of the mythic character who loses her mind when granted the gift of prophecy thanks (?) to Apollo. This legend marks a starting point in our work for a reflection on what it means to be "insane" in our modern-day world; how society reacts to this state of being; and the complexity of the experience itself. Of course this theme has deeply personal resonances for me, and more on that as we go. But perhaps this quote from Pascal sums it up for now: ‘Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness’ - (Les Pensées).
We start our official 10 day R&D period with all the dancers at the Royal Opera House on the 12th August, including our own Kate C, Royal Ballet principals Lauren Cuthbertson, Mara Galeazzi plus soloist Tom Whitehead. We're on a last minute search for dancer number 5 so candidates, please step forward. (Do you do a great Macarena at weddings? Always thought you have an unusual capacity to star jump? Maybe it's you?).
For the past few months, the core foursome (and our names satisfyingly create the acronym ALKK...mmm, cocktails) have been busy working, composing, envisaging, conceptualising, chatting excitedly, occasionally annoying each other and making up and hugging (trees, dogs, each other, you know..) and we're all super excited that the wheels are now properly in motion.
Today (Wednesday) is our first day properly "Cassandra-ing', shooting a video component to the piece at Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead with dancer Dominique Baron-Bonarjee whom I met in a bar in Dalston a few years back. We stayed in touch a little over the years, and amazingly she's now coming on board to play the onscreen role of Cassandra. She's trained for the past few years in Japanese Butoh, a mesmeric dance form that uses slow, hyper-controlled movement, so it should be a really interesting meeting of worlds.
Coincidentally, her parents live in the same place that Ludo is from in France (Perpignon). This morning they will meet for the first time to work through some movements, and then we will begin shooting.
Kate Church and I went to scope the theatre out on Monday. It's run by an old friend of my late mother's, Leonie Scott-Matthews, and she had as many tales to tell as the number of nights the theatre has been up and running (since 1968...you do the maths!). Disastrous marriages, the hilarious one-upmanship of actresses, small time drug dealers and stories of her own Technicolour life, lived with a commitment to (capital A) Art, bohemian Hampstead in the 70's, her son who left home never to appear again, and her daughter who searched for him on the advice of a psychic in India and Paris for months on end, in vain. She also fondly recalled my mother in the following way: "Ah yes, your mother, she was so beautiful. Terrible attention span though. Did some work for me, a bit of typing, attention wandered after 5 minutes. But what a 60s child, I'll always remember her, with her scent of patchouli and her long dark hair falling over her face, perched on a bar in the Hollybush pub up the road waiting for a bloke to buy her a drink. It never took very long". Kate, who never met my mother, said it made her laugh as Leonie was describing her in precisely the way she'd seen her in her mind's eye.
Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead
I performed in a production of Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Intimacy' 10 years back at Pentameters, and by strange coincidence the exact same production is about to be reprised with the very same actresses I worked with all that time ago. It was also the year Leonie's son went missing.
Kate and fluffy mog on Monday, Well Walk, Hampstead
Yesterday we were at the Royal Opera House for one last meeting before the R&D begins and to talk through tomorrow's shoot.
Kate & Ludo at my favourite cafe, Notes (white chocolate brownie just in shot)
London, as seen from Royal Opera House backstage
and we bumped into Mara and her sweet baby daughter, who may be joining us for some rehearsals (who knows, maybe she'll land a part...).
Let the dancing begin!