Monday, 11 May 2015

Retracing Myrrha

Retracing Myrrha - notes from EOCCC residency session, 17th March 2015

Retrace (verb) [with object]

1. Go back over (the same route that one has just taken):
1.1 Discover and follow (a route taken by someone else):
1.2 Trace (something) back to its source or beginning.

For me, the very first session of our residency at the East Oxford Community Classics Centre was primarily a time to retrace and to rediscover key episodes that we had already explored. Although I had thought a lot about Myrrha since our performance in November 2014, I had not danced her. There is always a huge challenge in going back to origins, of finding those original pathways in body and in space once more, of stripping the choreography back to the source. As we warmed up to Mal's improvised work around Beckett and Joyce texts – rather appropriate for a rehearsal held on St. Patrick's Day! – I was a little fraught with thoughts as to whether Myrrha would (or indeed could) be found again, as to whether she still existed in my body somewhere and how I was going to call her out. Yet the body possesses a memory of its own, and prompted by the sound-world and, primarily by the evocative theme that Mal has developed for Myrrha, the overall patterning of the solo came back fairly quickly.

Yet there was one main difference. I usually play Myrrha with a neutral mask, and this time around, I chose not to use the mask, as an experiment to see what might happen without it. Something quite extraordinary happened. Suddenly very aware of my facial expressions, and of eye-lines, feeling 'unmasked', vulnerable, and exposed, I was also suddenly aware of my humanity as a performer and so Myrrha suddenly felt much more human. This was of course workable when she is the seductive then shamed and pregnant young woman, but her tragedy - her transformation into the tree - suddenly felt incomplete. Although the tree needs to have a human element – Myrrha is 'woman-tree' – this time my tree was all too human. I needed to re-identify with how I originally translated her transformation into tree into my own body:

'While she was still speaking, the soil covered her shins; roots, breaking from her toes, spread sideways, supporting a tall trunk; her bones strengthened, and in the midst of the remaining marrow, the blood became sap; her arms became long branches; her fingers, twigs; her skin, solid bark. And now the growing tree had drawn together over her ponderous belly, buried her breasts, and was beginning to encase her neck: she could not bear the wait, and she sank down against the wood, to meet it, and plunged her face into the bark.' (Ovid, Met 10. Kline's translation)

Originally, when first creating the solo, I had improvised around the changing quality of the body, of bone, of blood, of muscle – feeling skin hardening, bones hardening, sensing the liquidity of marrow and blood flowing like sap, sinking down to meet the rising wood, yielding to it, giving in – all this had been lost...and now needs to be found again.

Furthermore, rather than give birth as a human woman might, Myrrha gives birth through the bark:

The child, conceived in sin, had grown within the tree, and was now searching for a way to leave its mother, and reveal itself. The pregnant womb swells within the tree trunk, the burden stretching the mother. The pain cannot form words, nor can Lucina [goddess of childbirth] be called on, in the voice of a woman in labour. Nevertheless the tree bends, like one straining, and groans constantly, and is wet with falling tears. Gentle Lucina stood by the suffering branches, and laid her hands on them, speaking words that aid childbirth. At this the tree split open, and, from the torn bark, gave up its living burden, and the child cried. ' (Ovid, Met. 10, Kline's translation)

Ovid evokes the 'dat gemitus arbor' (the groan of the tree) and the 'fissa cortice' (the bark ripping open). This time, I had not found the creaking of the tree, the bark cleaving open, nor the final moment of cradling, more human tenderness before the rigidity of tree takes over once more.
The birth of Adonis and the transformation of Myrrha. 
Oil painting by Luigi Garzi (1638-1721).
Source: Wellcome Images

Next time then: a return to the mask and a concentration on the elemental...

(Susie and Ségolène observing also pointed out the need for a more explicit moment of passion in the flashback to justify the overwhelming sense of shame; as well as giving more space on the upstage right diagonal for what I call the 'weeping woman' – Myrrha wandering the desert, in exile. This should better balance the performance space: downstage left being the past, the downstage left diagonal the path between past seduction and shame / torment, and at stage centre the point of final transformation and child-birth)

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