Charlie Morrissey Reflects on a Few Things He’s Missing
The piece I would have been performing last weekend is called What’s not there, and it so much deals with the things not present – the other performers, objects, sensations, spaces; and now even the audience are joining the list of things not here; they can only be imagined or remembered or invented. It’s as if I made the piece with the current situation in mind: one in which people are unable to gather, so that our experiences of being together are ones we have to rely on memory and imagination to conjure. And now we’re in relation to another invisible presence; Covid 19: unseen, but very much there and affecting all of us in very substantial ways.
At the beginning of this outbreak I went into a kind of creative paralysis. I was so geared up for a busy year…
It was like my whole body was tuned up and ready for a very particular rate of activity and attention, and then it all disappeared from underneath me, or above me or around me.
Such a strange sensation – one I imagine that many people experienced and are experiencing the effects of in very different ways.
At first I just started on every unfinished DIY project that I’d been meaning to do; sanding and painting and building things. It seemed that I just needed to do something, and I couldn’t engage with the huge frenzy of creative activity online – I experienced it all as a kind of oppressive noise, and one that was somehow demanding that I keep on going and being creatively productive. My unconscious strategy was more to disappear – to retreat. I was lucky enough to have a place to live and enough resources (thank you Dance North for paying me even though the festival couldn’t go ahead!!) not have to immediately panic about money. I have felt the need to take some time away – to try to process what this thing is or means for me. Or maybe I just didn’t know what else to do. I was completely disorientated.
So much of my life is about being in spaces with other people – often lots of other people, and my practice has been so much dealing with ideas of being with – being in relation to others in very substantial, physical and proximal ways. So I just couldn’t jump into a facsimile of what I usually did because I couldn’t figure out what that might be, and I had no desire for it. The ground that disappeared from under me left me suspended in mid air, and to some extent, I’ve been hanging in that space ever since hoping for some sign, some instructions for how to proceed, or for new bearings. I’m not sure if it’s going to arrive.
After a couple of weeks of obsessive projects at home and lots of walking – another thing that I’m lucky enough to be able to do as an able bodied person living in a place where there’s lots of space and few people. The building where I usually work and organise things when I’m at home, Wainsgate Chapel, was closed off so I began to move outside and at home; running, dancing and exercising somewhat haphazardly to begin with. But I’ve been managing to keep something going – a couple of hours a day of physical practice in one form or another, and feels like an anchor for me – to keep moving, and thinking and feeling. Sometimes it feels pretty aimless, and at others there’s some momentary and usually illusive insight – sometimes it even brings me some joy. Keeping moving for me is a way to acknowledge that everything is changing all the time, and I find that reassuring – I have opportunities to notice something else other than what I’m fixated on. My tendency is to get stuck when I stop moving, and I can appreciate stillness more when it’s in relation to something.
Oh and I miss the others – any others. I miss the support and the challenges I feel when there are other bodies moving around me, I miss taking a ride on someone else’s energy, enthusiasm and intelligence, I miss the physical conversations and the touch – the different kinds of touch and physicality. It makes me appreciate just how complex, nuanced and sophisticated all this movement malarky really is; the many levels it works on – all the seen and unseen, explicit and implicit aspects of being in a space negotiating moving and interacting with others.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it certainly points out – reassuringly – just how much of being a dancer is about relationships to others – other things and other people – the extent to which so much is about how we have become who we are in relation to, response to and reflection of others… and of course, performing ourselves in relation to those who are watching us – not just the performers, but everyone in so many areas of their lives. Physical proximity is so basically human and glorious and complex and messy.
I’m looking forward to being in a space running and jumping and tumbling around with other people. I’m looking forward to the conversations that grow out of all of that. I’m looking forward to the other perspectives and tangents that I’m taken on by the unique actions and interventions of other people. I’m looking forward to sharing moments of live performance. I imagine that I might just appreciate these things and approach them in a different way whenever we’re able to experience them again.
And I’m aware in different ways that there are so many people having a multitude of diverse experiences of this thing. For some it’s a time of reflection, space to do less and to imagine alternative futures; and for others there’s no such luxury; it’s all just gotten a lot more intense and scary and desperate. The inequalities we’re all in relation to have become even starker in many cases. I wonder about the dance world that we’ve been operating in, and it’s focus on particular measures of success and production and on being busy all the time – quite often with a pressure to work for little or no money – to make use of every “opportunity” in case it leads to another one; an often hand to mouth existence for artists who therefore have little or no backup in a situation like this one.
I’m questioning what I can do about that so that I’m not just perpetuating a system which works for some and not for others. I’m hoping that I might notice something I haven’t previously spotted about whatever it is that I’ve been doing; how I’ve been operating in the wider structures of art/dance making, and of what I could do differently.
One of my strategies so far has been to gather as a means of mutual support and understanding. So my initial urge to hide away may need to be reconsidered.
I’m gradually beginning to engage more with possibilities of making and engaging and I’m hoping that if I keep moving, and registering the stillness’s in between, something will get clearer. So now I’m off for a run and a bit of a tumble. If anything useful appears, I’ll let you know.