I’ve never visited Russia, but I’ve lived with a powerful imagined notion of this vast country for most of my life. It began as a child watching my father’s production of The Cherry Orchard at Chester Little Theatre and being enraptured. My father loved everything Russian before he ever travelled there – I’m afraid he might even have had a leaning towards the Soviet Regime – despite misgivings. In the cupboard there was a maquette of his stage set for the play, perfectly made, with little models of the characters in their silk clothes. I’d open the door to look at it admiringly, sometimes taking it down to re-enact parts of the play. Some years later, when I was eleven, every Tuesday evening we sat down to listen to a twenty-episode dramatisation of War and Peace on Radio 4. It was marvellous. At thirteen, inspired by the radio, I attempted to read War and Peace in three volumes of tiny print, which involved skipping the war and philosophy and revelling in the romance.
My imagined Russia was a place of vast empty landscapes, planes of snow, birch and rowan trees, and long light summers, of the wild haunting folk music that runs through Rite of Spring, of The Three Sisters and their longing for Moscow. I too longed to visit. I intended to save up to go on the Trans Siberian Railway as soon as I could.
My romantic attachment was still more or less intact in recent years when I read Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes full of rich stories about the cultural history of Russia, and Helen Dunmore’s brilliant novel, The Siege, set during the siege of Leningrad. But by the time I read her sequel, Betrayal, all romantic notions of Russia had been replaced by something much darker. I can’t remember why. A crack in the illusion and the news is sobering. Reality at last caught up with me. And earlier this week I finished reading Andy Miller’s novel Snowdrops – a haunting book, powerfully evocative of the dark nature of present day Moscow.
I’ll probably never visit Russia now. The desire isn’t there any longer. But I hope that the old Russia I imagined still exists at heart, if only in the richness of its culture, folklore and religion.
Nottingham – College Street, up the stairs to the long narrow dance studio at night, I feel a sense of anticipation, wondering who else was selected from the audition. As we stand in a circle and introduce ourselves, I think – yes, this is exactly the right group – perfect. There’s that warm alertness, everyone open and ready to respond. Joe Moran is quiet and gentle in the way he works, but not intense – more as if he’s drawing us in – playful, about to tell us a secret.
How good it is to dance, like flowing through cool water. I relax into sharing this common language of movement. There are too few opportunities. I notice the difference between an internal focus on my own body in movement, and when I open my gaze to the room and to others. I’m so much happier in response, when gestures and phrases are echoed and bounced around the studio, when connections are made, developed, and let go again.
After an hour dancing, Joe talks about his work with Deborah Hay. I wish now that I’d written everything he told us, remembered better. These words she uses – the notion of ‘What if’ – seem to open possibilities of responding to any situation with an openness that counters dogma.
The dance studio is your research lab, your hours spent dancing are your research.
What if your body is your teacher?
What if where you are now is where you need to be?
We work with these words, not as new age maxims, but with a sense of curiosity and adventure.
Our performance ‘task’ is to walk, to sit, to move as one body, ten chairs into different positions in the gallery, over a period of time, from forty minutes to an hour and a half. It seems to me, after our first rehearsal, that the simplicity of the task will take on new colour, depth and tension, as time goes on – as we become more familiar with each other, listen more acutely, and explore the notion ‘what if?’
The eclectic and wonderful Candoco is holding auditions over the next few weeks to find fifteen people to take part in Jerome Bel’s piece ‘The show must go on.’ There’s no upper age limit, so I applied and was invited to audition in Birmingham last Friday, along with nineteen other men and women, both dancers and not, from seventeen to sixty-eight years old. It was a great experience that went a long way to fulfil my need to work with other dancers and performers, even in the unlikely event I’m accepted to take part.
Entering the studio we were greeted so warmly by all the company members that it was easy to relax into chatting with other people, and from the start there was an atmosphere of openness, laughter and fun, and no sense that we were competing with each other. The audition was led by three of the company dancers, and the tasks became increasingly challenging, and exposing – playing, moving, singing, miming – culminating in one-minute solos with no time for preparation. It could have been intimidating and embarrassing, but instead, it was led so skilfully that everyone rose to the occasion and shone. There were funny, eccentric, touching, and theatrical moments. I don’t envy the company the task of choosing who to shortlist.
Jerome Bel isn’t your run-of-the-mill choreographer. He’s challenging, provocative, mischievous, searching – many things. 'The show must go on,’ is not dance – or is it? Reading about the audience response to the first performances I'm reminded of the first night of Rite of Spring in Paris 1913. But I’ve only seen snatches of it on youtube. Whatever it is, I really look forward to seeing what Candoco, and those who are accepted, make of it in their tour next spring.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.