By Peter Kyle
There is much to be said about the merits of creating new works for the theatre
over a protracted period of time. In a culture where speed and efficiency
seem evermore de rigueur, Ifeel particularly fortunate to have spent the last
18 months planning, creating and performing Myras War, an evening-length
dance/theatre work that premiered in Meany Studio Theatre April 3-6, 2003.
This creative endeavor, made possible by a generous interdisciplinary research
grant from the UW Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, was a deep
collaboration between School of Drama faculty, Steve Pearson, Robyn Hunt,
Dance Program faculty, Maria Simpson, and myself. The project was inspired
by the World War II era accomplishments of Dame Myra Hess, the British pianist
who orchestrated an uninterrupted chain of 1,698 chamber music concerts for
the war-weary London public in an emptied-out National Gallery. The recent
performances marked the culmination of a three-part project that began with
a lecture series last fall, and presented a week of free midday performance
events on campus in late January. Each aspect of the project furthered the
discussion around the question, What is the role of artists in times
Myra Hess offered music as a balm to her fellow citizens who suffered during
the Blitz. In the midst of crisis she invited people to sit, and listen, NOT
to run, flee, or hide in isolation. This was an expansive act. It was an effort
that buoyed spirits and helped maintain equilibrium when total destruction
must have seemed imminent. Alas, Myras war is sadly yet to be won.
In Dance we learn that each physical action performed has a reason for being,
and has a complementary response. When you lift your leg high into the air,
the body adjusts in order to maintain equilibrium. There is an actual shift
of weight in space, timed in coordination with the requisite action of the
body. This is a beautiful thing to behold, the body moving in good coordination.
It even remains beautiful when performed in less-than-good coordination, for
it reveals the ever-resilient body in the midst of learning how to progress,
how to be while addressing the task(s) immediately at hand. In short, it displays
our human instinct for adapting without the need for destructive measures.
The collaboration that made Myras War possible was borne of a deeply
felt need for investigating how dance and theater, when interlaced and practiced
at their highest level, can fuel the creation of a potent theatrical event.
I believe I can speak for my colleagues when I communicate that each of us
is interested in how the other discipline can serve our own. But what became
clear to me in this project is perhaps more important. How, from our own place
of strength and relative comfort can we venture into the unknown territory
of another discipline in order to be of some service to a larger art form
that we have yet to discover? Is it not possible that we might be part of
something bigger, an all-encompassing art form that could speak to a larger
public, which could inspire broad civic discourse? I believe that these multiple
imaginations might create something we are only beginning to comprehend.
It would be an understatement to say the project was particularly timely.
The subject matter of the performance piece centered around a womans
efforts to reconcile the memory of her brothers death in war, with the
effects of bombs on other individuals, both friend and foe. None of my colleagues
or I could have anticipated that just over a week prior to our opening night,
our country would enter into a conflict in Iraq, in which daily reports of
bombing raids, casualties, injuries, and military triumphs would sound eerily
like text that was spoken in our play. Have we learned nothing about the atrocities
of war? Are we a species predetermined toward violent conflict, in which indiscriminate,
albeit increasingly precise bombs are celebrated as examples of our technical
skill and physical strength? Havent we better gifts to parade across
the theatrical stage of international relations?