35 Days Later
It’s not another zombie flick. It’s a story of intense emotions told through the medium of dance. Yeah… Since the last entry my life can be described with a single word: work. 35 days on the trot. The past month saw a reprise of Susanna Leinonen’s And The Line Begins To Blur…, another couple of days of Engel, a few workshops and a couple of premieres. All the projects I’ve been working to bring to fruition ever since I returned to Finland on the 19th of August are done now. The babies have been delivered. Another month in the office. A freelancer can’t whinge.
Today I’d like to talk, rather than whinge, about responsibility and communication. Those seem to be the main themes I keep bumping into whereever I turn my head. That’s possibly because I haven’t been too good at either in my past. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to things that remind me of my own shortcomings. The aspects of myself I’m trying to improve upon irk me in other people. Wouldn’t be the first time. Occasionally there is nothing tougher, or more annoying, than looking in the mirror. Needs must. Got to be done. Be a better man. Leave behind a better world.
Over the past couple of months I have had the pleasure of being able to test my own organisational and communication skills while creating Aikala at the Finnish National Ballet. My job was essentially to be the cultural interpreter, fixer and movement monkey. All I want to say about the process was that the piece was delivered on time, the dancers were happy, the choreographer was happy, the artistic director was happy, the staff were happy and the audience were happy. Happy days all round. Mission accomplished. What I also got to work on during that period was knowing my place and staying there. Suffice it to say that it was a good experience for me. I felt that I had a fair amount of responsibility and I felt I could make a difference, but ultimately I was only helping other people make someone else’s imagination into flesh.
As a performer I feel that my job is to put the meat on the bones that the choreographer has given me. As a rehearsal director I felt that it was my duty to help the dancers do that same job. Not only that but also to give them the tools to carry on enriching and developing the piece, the characters, the story and the world it all happens in. To be honest that’s what I do as a teacher, a choreographer and a director. I believe that it all comes down to having an idea and wanting to communicate it with the best of one’s ability or to the best of one’s ability helping others to do that to the best of their abilities. In the process the abilities develop step by step a little further and that’s how magic eventually happens. When I grow up I want to be a magician.
The flip side of having such a strong view on how things should be done is that I can occasionally get rather irritated. I do my best to leave the feelings to their own devices and deal with them later after the work has been done. On occasion I do have to bite my lip, though. More often than not I try to suggest a few possible solutions to the problems that can be seen on the horizon, are at hand or are already steaming in the pants. If that fails and I am not in a position of responsibility I’ll just have to kick back, roll with the punches and set the stage on fire once I finally get there even if I had no idea whatsoever about the choreography or the reasoning behind it. The joys of being a performer. The job of being a performer. Flesh to the bones, my friend.
So what does responsibility and communication have to do with all that? I think that it’s good for everyone involved if everybody knows who’s responsible for what. Also it is very useful if the person that has the responsibility for something actually takes that responsibility and communicates clearly what they need from others to make that thing that they are responsible for happen. Err… You catch my drift? It should be pretty obvious, but so often it just doesn’t seem to be. This same basic idea can be applied regardless of the scale of the operation from massive theatres to the smallest independent productions and even one’s day-to-day life. However much we would like them to, things don’t just magically happen. They have to be actually done. And that’s also how magic eventually happens. The magic of theatre.
What can we do as individuals every day to help transform each other’s magic ideas into magic worlds of flesh, light, sound, costumes, sets, props, sweat, tears and laughter? The simple answer is: “Our job.” If we all understand what it is we need to do to achieve a common goal, try to do it to the best of our abilities and be nice people while doing it, this mud ball of ours wouldn’t be all that bad a place to live in.
Where this idealistic view of harmony falls flat on its proverbial face is the “common goal.” Raise your hand if you’ve never been a selfish twat. Come on now… Honestly, Jesus? That’s what I thought… Unfortunately I see no hands and neither of my own even twitched in the midst of hammering out words. This is where communication rears its hopeful head again. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could talk to each other, have a bit of empathy and understanding for other viewpoints and occasionally even grasp the rudimentary ideas of cause and effect? Rather than going for instant gratification and seeing colleagues as adversaries, could we find common goals that eventually have an indirect, or occasionally even direct, positive impact on our lives? The thing is that I, and mostl likely most of you readers, live in a democracy of sorts. In a democratic society the majority rules. A lone gunner can only get so much done. That’s why infighting within a small group of people is just plain stupid and hurts the image of that entire group. A group with a bad rep has a hard time to justify why it should get what it wants. Of course there is also the flip side to it: if you make enough noise someone will give you something just to keep you quiet for a while. It depends on the context what that something is. A kid throwing a wobbler in a store might get a bit of candy. A spoiled little brat gets a pony. A diva gets a role. A choreographer gets the overtime rehearsals. Again in my opinion there is no need for it. It is again simply childish and stupid.
If you’ve got enough balls let your work talk for itself. Do the job. Don’t just do it well. Give it your best and eventually your best will be outstanding. Maybe even groundbreaking. Work hard, work intelligently and play nice with others. It’s not exactly rocket science, but just occasionally it seems to be bloody hard for us. What the Engel helped me to realise was that if the task is clearly set and the environment is favourable it is actually quite easy just to keep chipping away and eventually end up in some very weird and wonderful places. All it take is setting clear goals and an environment that makes it possible to keep at them. That in itself is quite a challenge in the fragmented life of a freelancer. Relish the challenge. Butter it. Slice it up. Eat it. Do it. Dooo it!
On a concrete note, this blog is a couple of weeks late already. Busy doing it rather than talking about it, I guess. As if the work wasn’t quite enough I’ve been doing a bit of studying on the side as well. A course about creating site-specific performances, to be precise. The past month really has been like a massive deli sandwich: thin slices of me barely containing five thick layers of ballet ham and contemporary cheese. That’s not entirely right. Some of it was actually really tasty and of a very good quality. More like a massive gourmet burger with a stack of huge, juicy, steaks and a few ever-so-slightly soggy fries on the side. Man vs Dance. It was interesting, but I’m really looking forward to a bit more chilled-out schedule again. Next up is a quick gig in Luxembourg and Grenoble dancing for Anu Sistonen. Learn a piece in a week, perform it once and get the hell out of Dodge. If you guys are around for the [Re]connaissance festival in Grenoble on the 22nd of November, come and say hi or just make some noise in the audience! The next in line after that is a new work with Tero Saarinen and just before the Christmas comes rolling in there’ll be just enough time to start yet another new project, this time with Satu Tuomisto. A freelancer can’t complain. A freelancer smiles, cracks a crap joke and gives it all he’s got. I’ll be spilling the beans proper about the projects in a couple of weeks’ time, for the time has come to love you and leave you for a bit. Man must feed. Ugh. May the gods of rock ’n roll look favourably upon you, my friend.
(Only dead fish swim downstream)