I had intended to write about Steph’s class in my previous post, but by the time I’d finished writing about Thomas’s class, the post was already over 1000 words, so I thought it would be better to separate them, and write about it here.
Last Wednesday, Steph played Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavaleria Rusticana” in class. This song is one of those gold meadows blue skies, grand romance kind of music. When I was listening to it, I could see myself strolling along a babbling brook, lost in thought with nostalgia, while nearby, a lone kite is flying in the sky.
Steph wanted us to go against the music. This is different from fighting the music – instead of facing the music head on, you simply do what it is not doing. For example, if it is soaring up, then you pull down to the ground. If it is being slow and melodious, then you try to be fast and dissonant. Rather than ignoring the music, you first listen to what it proposes, then you develop your counter-proposition. At first, we went against the music abstractly, with only our bodies in space. For me it was difficult, because most of the time I felt that I was simply tuning out the music, and doing a series of random things to shut it out. I did not think I was in dialogue with the music.
Later on, Steph took the music and gave us a scenario to work with: We are a couple who had been living together, and who have just recently broken up. One person is staying, while the other person is moving out. The improvisation is of the moment when the other person returns to fetch their belongings. While two people improvise this scene, the music will be played as a score, and their task would be to resist the music, which is huge and grand and romantic. In a way, it is as if the music wants you two to fall back in love again, but you have to resist in every possible way.
What followed was scene after scene of amazing courage and vulnerability. They were certainly not perfect, but my god, in every scene, there would be these moments when the actors would really connect, and sparks would fly. It was important to maintain eye-contact – to really look at the other person, and let them affect you. Similarly, you have to constantly tune into the music as you play the scene, to let its love affect you, move you, before you react against it and turn it into hate for the other person. To do it in a way so it builds along with the music. As Steph says, if there is no great love in the first place, there can be no great hate. Once you are able to engage with the music, then you will be able to play the great tension between action and score.
Love and hate, love and hate. Not only was there tension between music and action, there was often equally dramatic tension between the actors themselves. It kept going back and forth – one person would be winning the fight, and the other person would be giving in, falling in love again, when they decide to fight back, pushing away, shouting awful things, causing the hate to resurface. And those of us watching would be completely drawn in, hanging on to every word, every breathe, every tiny gesture or step. You think you know your classmates, but when you see them screaming at each other as lovers, or on their knees, crying and begging for forgiveness, you feel as if you had not known them at all. By the end, I was ready to cry.
Stephanie told us that as performers, it is easy to get into a state of great emotionality, then just let everything explode on stage. The danger then is that you would peak too quickly, and the scene would plateau, or devolve into some kind of face-to-face shouting match. When a performer gets into a state of emotional tension, it is important to still maintain a sense of play with rhythm, time and space, so he or she is able to keep building the scene with their scene partner. Again, it is the emotional and the structural at play at the same time. It takes both to create art.
I had said before that Steph is a cute, petite woman. She is, but she is actually much more than that. There is a strong, earthy power that radiates from her, a certain stubbornness, and a strong passion, as well. And it is from this place that she reads to us Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “To Music”.
Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps:
silence of paintings. You language where all language
ends. You time
standing vertically on the motion of mortal hearts.
Feelings for whom? O you the transformation
of feelings into what? –: into audible landscape.
You stranger: music. You heart-space
grown out of us. The deepest space in us,
which, rising above us, forces its way out,–
when the innermost point in us stands
outside, as the most practiced distance, as the other
side of the air:
no longer habitable.