by Petra Söör
One morning on the way into rehearsals on site, I sit in the back of the car with Mary Oliver’s “Dream Work” in my hand and randomly open a page. My eyes fall on the following lines midway through a poem –
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
frog voice, now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,
which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.
(Extract from the poem One or two things by Mary Oliver)
It’s Monday and we’re just about to begin our last creation week of Is this a Waste Land? on site in Corby.
After more than a month spent on site I feel like writing some kind of postcard with a few words related to parts of my experience of this place.
This last creation phase of ITAWL after two years of R&D has in my freelancer’s life been a quite substantial amount of time of being in one place. I have gradually experienced this place moving up into my body through my feet and under my skin and it’s beginning to feel strange that I’m about to come to the cut off point where our access to this site and this place will return to no longer be legitimate as we’re not on common land.
As I navigate the topography of this place, every day, my feet are in conversation with this ground – negotiating hard and softer areas of the site, stones and rubble – and feeding information up through the ankles and the whole of my body – changing it and living inside of it. Through my soft and connective tissues, my joints and nervous system I feel like I’ve come to know this place, intimately and differently than through my cognitive and rational brain. But what has become a way of being here, a corporeal relationship of intimacy will soon be a law breaking thing so I have a sense of privilege in sharing some time with this “boarded off place”, tucked away in between the recognised and the wanted. Through this spring time and period of change I’ve been surprised, as in many of these places, witnessing a surging vitality expressed in the unexpected amounts of flowers and green growth coming through the rubble. What and who finds a space and a way to be here?
It is Tuesday and it is snowing. For the first time in these five weeks we make use of the offer to spend time in the cinema next door to our site. I realise that all the way through we’ve been outside and in the middle of it all, of this place, morning to evening, our bodies and faces changing as we’ve been here, in this meeting – growing the work and working things out, orientating ourselves weathered by wind, light, place.
People watch us as we rehearse, from the bus stop, from windows in the buildings next to the site, passing by, whilst entering and exiting the Euro Market off license shop across the road. On the other side, towards the woods where there is no opening in the fence we must also be heard even though we can’t be seen. What surrounds the edges of these kinds of spaces? What are the conditions and who knows the edges of this site as part of their daily life and on what terms? The threshold of the border is so clear and yet so thin. A few centimetres can make such distinct difference in the embodied sense of place. Where and in what kind of spaces do we feel safe and can act with a sense of agency? Thrive in basic relationships of giving and taking, just being? Where can we have the relationship to place that enables a sense of rest when we’re exhausted? I’m thinking about what permits or enables us to experientially inhabit this space differently, about different forms of cultures of behaviour and about the permitted. (I’m often lying down on the ground here, a place where we’ve been exploring, playing, imagining, attending and interacting, together and alone, expanding what is ordinary behaviour and permissible on these sites under normal circumstances. At some point I find myself lying down on the ground with my arm reaching out through a gap in the fence resting on the pavement by the bus stop, the threshold of this edge is so palpable and I feel aware of what we include as acceptable ways of being here and how outside of it – lying down on the ground is being vulnerable as well as potentially questioned. Along the way during the research and making of this work we’re coming across the presence and traces of people with a very different relationship to the conditions of these liminal spaces, visible and invisible.)
Later in the day, steel grey clouds pass over and around us, the winds are high and we’re back outside working with the sail deliberately to learn more about how we find ourselves in it in these conditions when the winds are strong and changing direction. Someone says they feel such an enhanced sensation of being so immediately there, more responsive and connected in their body when the winds pick up and we’re working with this material, moving and anchoring. I feel similarly. It’s often a challenging effort involved but it’s also kind of thrilling with immediate feedback in this constant physical negotiation and conversation – within and as extension of the group, with ground, wind and a wider sense place.
These days there is work happening late into the night and the early hours of the morning, gigabytes and gigabytes of sound files being minutely arranged, people have been repairing the sail and its meters of fabric have been spreading across the kitchen table and floor in the shared space where we’re staying. Sticks, pieces of wood and unwanted stuff sourced out of skips is collected and carried – collectively and by individual muscle fibres and the rumour that something is happening seem to have reached the local recycling center.
It’s Wednesday and it’s hailing. In my body I have a sense of how we’re weathered and tethered in different ways by (this) place and one another, on goingly and always, with greater or less distance whether aware or unaware. I have a feeling I’ll miss this time in Corby and our site here but I’m looking forward to meeting and spending time with people and new places through the rehearsal periods on other sites and through time in performances.
Last week we gathered to do a test run with an invited audience and whilst they waited at the entrance of the site people started talking to one another I overheard a conversation where a Corby resident was telling a non Corby resident about people walking from Scotland to Corby in the 1930’s to find work here in the steelworks, sleeping in the hedges along the way. We’re about to start and I have a list of things in my head having to do with the real time practicalities of the “here and now” of this piece with the intricacies of the choreographic matrix of the work, but I’m also standing there with a whisper of how the work as it begins to tour might come to encounter more and more stories of people and communities.
As we end the work on site for the day and do the usual bringing in of materials back into our container, this reoccurring collecting, gathering, carrying, wheeling in of stuff feels familiar. A tired but vivid and dynamic sense of gratitude is humming in me and my end-of-the-day-body for being part of this with an inspiring team of hard working people making this happen in their different ways and contributions. Kite and crow circling each other seems to be a daily reoccurrence. The EuroMarket across the road seem to have a lot of customers. The rowan at the Job Centre Plus side of the fence in bloom.
Friday. We stay on site until the time the performances will take place in the evening and we’re able to listen to the amazing sound world that Tom and James have been working on creating. Tomorrow is time to welcome the first public audience into Is this a Waste Land? which feels exciting. I enjoy being outdoors as the light shifts into dusk and twilight in general but this place is particularly beautiful to experience in this transition hour. Hope to see you and spend time together in a waste land somewhere sometime soon. Bring an object.