The air is cool and dry. Fresh. My mind is clear as the sky, not a cloud to scud across it.
The circle finds a pulse, a rhythm. Our leader is a beacon of energy, she’s rockin’ it like a rock star, but she’s also focused as a monk. Intent on where she is steering our ship.
Hold that little bird in your chest, the bird of the ensemble, keep it safe. Let your limbs relax. Let your vision relax into the distance so you can see everyone in your periphery. The beat. That beat we all share, in our breath, in our voice, in our bodies. The beat carries us all into unknown lands of emotion and crescendo and the comfort of being together. It’s what holds us all as one.
I panic, thinking, am I doing it right? But I remember to look to the ensemble, hold that little bird, allow my limbs and hips and shoulders to let go and become part of this shared mo(ve)ment. I melt into this rhythm. I trust this work and it cradles me.
Soon there are solos of clapping, breath, steps. We support the soloist and accept her or him back into our collective body the moment they lose energy, the same moment when we push forth another soloist, and another and another.
This was the beginning of the theatre workshop I attended at Infinite Souls Retreat, just outside Bangalore.
I could tell you about the seven days in similar imagery, or snatched details that I remember, but I wouldn’t do it justice. Anna-Helena Mclean, who led the workshop, is a force unto herself, and she brought that to us, brought it out in us. I revelled in the intensity of the work, in the delight, the pangs of insecurity, and the support of the ensemble. The little plant inside me that was craving water and sunlight was brought back to life. I found joy in physical exertion, almost to the point of exhaustion, in rhythm and song, and the play itself.
We worked on scenes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Just glimpses, yet in such depth. Gesture, musicality, touch and acrobatics seethed under the text, so that it might arise from and melt back into a world of colour, imagination and sensation. Innocent Miranda discovers and falls in love with her first other human (besides her father), Ferdinand, which also brings memories of once sweetly discovering the island with Caliban, a so-called monster. Prospero exerts his power over Ariel, Caliban and daughter Miranda, yet finds a care and tenderness within each relationship. Ariel suspends and controls many players as a perfect spirit while Stephano and Trinculo sing Serbian drinking songs and collapse into a musical chorus of slumbering snores and dreams.
On the final day, the work draws to a close at sunset, with a final song, and then there is nothing but stillness and the crows calling to each other over the mountain. We have departed from this magical isle and must return to Naples.
All the participants laugh and cry. We are from all over India, and beyond (Korea, England, USA) but we are each holding that small bird in our chest, and as I return to Auroville, I still carry and keep that bird safe, holding the pulse, ready to explode into action again, to find this magical island and explore its nooks and crannies with my dear ensemble once more.