Theatre & the Death of Ritual/Searching for a Vision Part 2

“Never before, when it is life itself that is in question, has there been so much talk of civilization and culture. And there is a curious parallel between this generalized collapse of life at the root of our present demoralization and our concern for a culture, which has never been coincident with life, which in fact has been devised to tyrannize over life. All our ideas about life must be revised in a period when nothing any longer adheres to life; it is this painful cleavage, which is responsible for the revenge of things. The contemporary theater is decadent because it has lost the feeling on the one hand for seriousness and on the other for laughter; because it has broken away from gravity, from effects that are immediate and painful – in a word, from Danger.”  Theatre and it’s Double - Antonin Artaud

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“It is going to work! This will be an amazing night!” I said to myself as we ascended the R train stop on 36th St, in the not yet fashionable Sunset Park, Brooklyn where I lived. I had it all planned. Before I left my “Bachelor Pad” walk up, I cleaned the house, changed the sheets, put up clean towels and threw out the garbage. I did an extra 50 pushups and 100 sit ups, just to be on the safe side.

We had a great dinner; and then saw an art house film downtown. The conversation about the film was animated. I remarked casually, at the perfect moment, that the subway to my place in Brooklyn was a lot shorter then her trip to Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. I said it perfectly, friendly, without a hint premeditated seduction. “I live alone, and I have a big comfy couch. I would love to show you my photographs.” Lorna was a woman I picked up at a Contact Improvisation dance class. Literally...

 Contact Improv is to dance what free jazz is to music. But instead of improvisational music being played at its edge, Contact’s building blocks are a free form of lifts, body weight explorations. The dance has a flow that could start Zen like, and then explode within a blink of an eye! It is a wild and sometimes ferocious experience. Back in the day, Contact was still an underground dance scene where dancers would go to let off steam. The Tuesday night jams was held at the Mecca of Avant-garde Performance Art, P.S.122.

Someone I met at a party told me about the class. I felt inspired to go check it out. I had no dance background, so to speak. Walking into the theatre/studio the first time felt like I was entering a dojo. But instead of martial art fighters of different lineages training, it was a room where the downtown elite of experimental dancers got together to push the boundaries of their expression. This was like nothing I had experienced before. It was like a sea of human water beautifully moving in undulations of chaotic, and yet precise chorography. It was breathtaking. I was intimidated. Well just for a moment, until I realized that I could hold my own with my martial training in falls, and rolls. Besides at least half the dancers there were beautiful women who had perfect command of their bodies and glistened under the stage lighting. “You know Mark, this Contact thing might be a good balance for my Kung-Fu workouts.” I started to go religiously. I was accepted into that community of amazing dancers.

And then one night I met Lorna...

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She was mature, powerfully reserved and yet confident. She moved with a masterful grace, and with a sensuality that was as deep as the ocean. I asked for her number. She gave me a card for her solo performance at an Off-Off Broadway theatre. I went to her show a week later. It was her homage to surrealism.  She walked on stage eating an apple, carrying a large vintage suitcase. Playing was a soundtrack that sounded like Tom Waits music mixed by Eno. Lorna spoke text from an obscure French surrealist manifesto. She opened the suitcase and hundreds of apples came pouring out. She stood on the suitcase, eating an apple and having blood-curdling orgasm on stage.  She wore an almost painted-on skintight black dress, slicked back hair. On her breasts was giant eye sculptures. It was an amazing performance. She was stunning. I was enthralled and hooked.

"Women are traps, which lie in wait for men everywhere, in order to drag them down into the finite." Franz Kafka

The Brooklyn night air was balmy as we walked from the Subway. Lorna was talking about her dance background. My mind was distracted with thoughts of the night ahead. When all of a sudden she spoke nine words that would change my perception about being an artist, forever.

“Well you know, theatre was the death of ritual.”

“What the hell did you just say? Oh FUCK!”

I stopped in my tracks. A car almost ran into me. We were crossing 4th Ave. A block from my house. I had no idea what she meant, but every part of my body felt the truth of what she said.

“When I was performing in Europe I trained with disciples of Grotowski, the Polish director. It was the most physically demanding training I ever experienced. Directors like Grotowski point was that when theatre, as we know it, came into being, we as a society separated our spiritual life and religious experiences, from our entertainment. The shaman’s telling stories around ancient’s fires, was how we learned about ourselves, and our place in the great unknown. Before I came back to New York from France, I ended up in a theatrical company where we would put ourselves in trance states for 8-hour rehearsals. We were the resident company for this Count, and we lived in his castle. The Theatre of Cruelty, by Artaud was our Bible. It was very shamanic and I almost went insane. It was like a Ken Russell film. I am so grateful to have had that experience. It moved me to leave the world of traditional dance and to go deeper.”

I had a moment of feeling like the rug was pulled out underneath me and I was free falling.  I flashed upon The Wizard of Oz film, the scene when Dorothy has landed in Oz and walks out onto a Technicolor set of strange new beauty...and soon to be terror. We reached my front door. I just looked at her and thought, “Who the hell is this person? I guess I just left Kansas. ” At least I thought I was thinking that. Maybe I said it out loud because Lorna laughed and said; “Let’s go upstairs and I will tell you about my life...You could also show me your photos or whatever.” Now here I was thinking, I was the great romancer and artist and all that. But that night this woman opened a door and showed me what an artist really was.

Lorna shared her life with me. At a very young age she started training to be a Prima Ballerina by two teachers who taught Nijinsky. She was going to be their last serious student, but broke their hearts when she discovered Fosse and Martha Graham and wanted to follow that path. They never spoke to her again. Years of studying every form of modern dance eventually brought Lorna to Europe. She performed on many of the great stages with some of the most adventurous dance companies at the time. She married the son of a French dignitary and politician.

Eventually she became a member of a theater company that found home in a 17th century castle own by a French Count who was their patron. They would rehearse and perform under intense states of trance. It sounded liked they lived a fully immersed Fellini, Ken Russel and Alejandro Jodorowsky 5D film, for the better part of 18 months. Lorna said her life unraveled, her marriage ended and she came back to the states and put together her own performances. There were so many stories, trials and tribulations she shared with me that night. I was enthralled with her tales and her sparkle.  We fell asleep in each others arms. I never did end up showing her my photos that night.

I awoke at dawn. I watched the sky become red and hazy in the August stillness of a sleepy Sunday in Brooklyn. I watched Lorna sleep next to me. I thought about my Vision at the Rainbow Gathering. There seamed to be a connection, but I had no idea what it would be at the time. I also had no idea at the time that I was lying next to my future first wife, creative muse, and eventually the lead performer of my own ritual theatrical company. A company that brought together edgy performers from the East Village, musicians from the fetish scene, and ritual pagan hippie magicians.

Everything has a cycle of birth, maturity, endings and transitions. Eventually Night Vision/Electric Earth ended and Lorna and I got divorced. We somehow lost touch. We both remarried. After 9-11 I reformulated Night Vision and formed Body Temple (a company that is worthy of at least a half a dozen of its own blog entries). I continue with my mission of bringing the mythic into pop culture with the films I am developing. I will always be grateful for my life with Lorna and the inspiration and the expansion of my mind of what art and performance could be. All the people who were touched in the past, and will be in the future, by my works, will have Lorna to thank. Thank You Lorna...

Years after Body Temple I finally read Theatre and it’s Double by Antonin Artaud. I knew that Artaud influenced Grotowski, and many others. Somehow when I heard he wrote the Theatre of Cruelty I imagined that he was writing some form of brutal entertainment. When I did finally read it, I realized that what was created with Body Temple, and its predecessor, was a fully realized version of Artaud’s vision. I read his book with an awe struck appreciation of the collective consciousness of humanity, that I could have created his vision without ever reading his writings. What Artaud dreamt of was a theater that would give the audience an experience of creation itself. He eventually died in an asylum, I think because he was so far ahead of his time, and he had no community to fully grasp his genius. We are fortunate to live in the post Beat/Hippie/Rave/Burning Man world where “anything goes” has a context to the ecstatic and the tribal. Let us always be grateful and honor our influences and ancestors.

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There is a mysterious identity of essence between the principle of the theater and that of alchemy.  I propose to bring back into the theater this elementary magical idea. Everything in this theater is immersed in a profound intoxication, which restores to us the very elements of ecstasy. Let me explain. Perhaps it has already been understood that the genre of theater to which I refer has nothing to do with the kind of realistic, social theater. We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind, which will become the theater of the action. A direct communication will be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator, placed in the middle of the action, is engulfed and physically affected by it.“ - Theatre and it’s Double - Antonin Artaud

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