I am not a Village

I’ve been sorely neglectful of IAMNAV (www.iamnotavillage.com) for too long now. Conversations have been had & ideas bubbling away but I suppose I’ve been focussing more on my own self-care after loving every moment of the Guest Projects Residency but afterwards crashing very hard. Directing & performing in a massively ambitious project about something I feel so deeply emotional about is an amazing outlet but somehow I fell over an edge. The deaths of Jah Spirit & June Griffin just before the Residency began have a lot to do with this too. In many ways I developed the project as a way to focus the anger & helplessness we all felt after Jah Spirit was forced from his home & beautiful business on Broadway market. He never gave up the fight, he was just too good a soul to believe that such injustice could go uncorrected, & I am sure that the stress shortened his beautiful life. He should still be here with us & his absence is stark testament to the stupid greedy, capitalist, racist values of this sick society. Similarly June was visibly deteriorating in the last few years of her life & the constant bullying by the appalling Site manager at Regent Studios & the steady exodus of all of us who made that place such an inspiring & loving community that loved & valued her so much were at least in part to blame for this deterioration. I loved these dear spirits, and the giant turnouts at their funerals & memorials & the ripples beyond that testify to the absolute fact that I was far from alone here. RIP Beautiful Souls, I am truly blessed to have known you for as long & as well as I did.

It was also rather disorientating essentially creating an artistic reconstruction of my former life & community in the Guest projects space, which was situated next door but one to my old home. During the month numerous people remarked on arrival: “I didn’t know that things like this still happened in Hackney”, by which they variously said they meant the community vibe, interactiveness, ramshackleness, hive of industryness, friendliness, music, food & life, many commented that I’d essentially decorated the place to look like Unit 61 Regent Studios. It is very, umm, strange, to be forced to essentially commodify (though most events were free) what was once just daily living in order for it to exist at all.

Then there’s the fact that the situation the film is about also forced me out. When we left our home after the rent was raised 140% my soul & heart just couldn’t handle the situation anymore where practically every person or place I encountered would soon be, or would recently have been, pushed out too, so I jumped on the opportunity of a cheap home/studio in Folkestone where I had also just begun Tamalpa http://www.tamalpa-uk.org/ training. I can live here because there are a lot of other exiled Londoners here too.. it is also nice to live by the sea. There are many good things about being here & in some ways I probably enjoy London even more now, am there practically every week, and I’m definitely a less stressed out human being who has, for the first time I think, time to really try to learn to look after myself. But, MAN, I miss my old home, life, community & this predominantly white (frequently racist & not massively friendly or lively) English environment with a somewhat segregated Art community just cannot compete with the experiences I’ve had in Camden, Hackney, the Mission, Lower east side & Thames River communities (Yes I’ve been fortunate to have been an active participant in such extraordinary environments, yes they have all been gentrified to all but death, and yes I guess I might be “the Gentrifier”: a character I have occasionally performed..). The things which concern & excite me don’t seem to concern & excite many of the people around me as they did in those previous environments. I guess I’m a bit too dependent on the inspiration of others but I grew up buzzing off the energy of others & it’s a habit it’s hard to break.

As I said I created the project as a way to positively transform & channel the despair & anger I felt about seeing these amazing people & communities dismantled, scattered & displaced. I also imagined & still basically desire that perhaps we can effect some actual change through our danced interactive, inclusive, atmosphere shifting, site specific, participatory actions. My own displacement among so many others, the deaths of my friends & existing in an environment that is so very different (& which has so very many of it’s own issues that i also feel inspired to engage with but find it hard to act on as my main attention is elsewhere) make it sometimes hard to believe that I can be effective in this way. it is also just plain weird working on something that is intrinsically about communication & particular environments alone in a little studio space with a view of the Sea (and on some days France!).. reminds me of meeting an Eastenders script writer working on a script from a warm living room in the Peak district, something I’d always imagined happening given the lack of truth I always felt in those programmes).

I am obviously in my project, the story telling a variation of my story, but my story has ever been social, never that interested in confessing my self tbh.. though having said that I feel some regret that I did not include myself in my early documentaries as I realised only later that my story was very much part of the story, as many people at the time had told me it was, but I do have a reticence about this, which is probably surprising considering my rather loud Extroverted Leo Director Performer external personality.

Anyway, I have gone far with this project & I still believe that a multicultural, socially mixed, multigenerational grass roots community of strong individuals dedicated to making up life as they go along is a brilliant model for human co-existence & is deeply under threat & increasingly replaced by a scared nationalisitic, nuclear family, TV/ Media standing in for community culture, online shopping, fear your neighbour wannabe monocultures. The project is called I am not a Village because Estate agents kept re-branding gentrifying neighbourhoods as “Villages” & the Village is often claimed as a better social model than Urban neighbourhoods, which have often been stigmatised in often classist & racist terms as dirty, dangerous, dodgy places, perhaps because they often contain the refugees, queers, migrants & workers for whom the Villages from which they or their (chosen & natal) families originally hail were not safe or viable for them to remain in. Villages have always appeared to me rather homogenous, threatening places which often don’t welcome outsiders or change whereas it seems to me that to travel, to change, to mix, to miscegenate is both biologically & culturally vital to human development. Of course colonisation, invasion, annexation & spread of disease have also been fruits of these activities but is this inevitable or only so when performed by those who wish for power over paradise? It is the fruits of social control that make this small town feel unpleasing to me: A long time tory council providing scant amenities to the extent that it is hard to find a local doctor, few shops other than chains & supermarkets (& the boutiquey crafts of the “Creative Quarter”), relatively unfriendly natives, segregated Romany & Refugee populations, openly expressed Racism, suspicious return gazes when I smile at strangers, belief in the bile spewed by Daily Mail & TV, few opportunities for young people, constant drunken brawls under my window etc etc.. but then I don’t have any kids or a dog & I observe that these create greater social lubrication. My whole being wants to respond to this & I arrived with a lot of energy to do so: Started canvassing for the Labour Party, even got asked by them to lead workshops in talking to strangers!! Was accepted to be a Mentor at the Kent Action Network, Was funded by Folkestone Fringe to build a human sized puppet theatre to have arguments with strangers that would seem funny as made by puppets, performed in various local endeavours, Folkestone is an Art school, Queer puppet cabaret, Collective Residency, an Architecture of Anxiety show, created a weekly improvisation group. Other plans are also gently bubbling.My work has always been deeply responsive to the environments I am in & the people around me & it has felt rather disassociated to be working on a project about an environment an hour away by train & much further psychologically, an environment that also is now part of “my past”, but one I am still so emotionally, psychologically & spiritually attached to that I often comment that I left my heart & soul behind en route, only me body & mind now living a bit despondantly in Folkestone. Perhaps some of my anger towards this town is just the anger at being forcibly removed from somewhere that was so completely my home, compounded by the racism being such an ugly counterpoint to my deep gratitude of the multicultural nature of all my previous environments & all the fruits & blessings I have received from these experiences (which is a big part of why I feel compelled to make this project, especially in these times of so much mainstream anti “immigrant” “refugee” propaganda, all too easily swallowed by my new less worldly neighbours).

I am writing all this to signal that I think I’m back on track & feel keen to get down to work on the project again. However I notice that I feel a lot of guilt, anxiety & regret at missed opportunities whenever I sit down to work on the project lately & so feel I must offload this before I can continue. Directly after the Residency there was a lot of momentum from the Crew to push the project forward. After such an intensive working period I really should have taken a break but a planned trip was cancelled at the last minute & I didn’t have the energy to sort anything out, & read the absence of a place of safety or escape as indication of how homeless & loveless my life had become (indication also of the pit of depression I was in). I felt compelled to try to act on momentum of the Crew. But I was in such a state! Exhausted, I felt that my heart & nervous system had been under attack, I struggled to breathe, My whole body was in constant pain & I found even walking deeply stressful. My reliable exercise regime didn’t seem to be doing the trick. The Crew ploughed forward planning our next steps with enthusiasm & efficiency but in my stress & anxiety I experienced their enthusiasm as pressure & attack. Many years ago my movement from a quite established film career into dance, performance & improvisation was in part precipitated by a massive burn out after productive & often fun but quite bonkers overwork for the previous 15 or so years. I have ever since tried to avoid getting into that kind of state, & was somewhat fearful that I was heading there again, though, I thought, without nearly so justifiable reasons.  Trying to sort myself out I had a deep tissue massage with the wonderful Sonja Hibbert who said she suspected there was something more structural wrong & sent me to see her colleague Francois, who I’m still seeing, though less frequently now, & who pretzeled me back into shape. I have always limped & been in a certain amount of pain due to a badly set dislocated hip as a Child so didn’t consciously acknowledge how bad it had got & how hard to walk let alone dance until the amazing Osteopath Francois Mezei pointed out I had a twisted pelvis & scoliosis pushing my ribs into my chest (hence the breathlessness!) actually acquired by a fall downstairs during a Butoh class 7 years ago, compounded by the Hip problem. It might be bad for continuity, the lovely IAMNAV choreographer Rebecca commented a lot on how much worse my Limp had got when we viewd the rushes during the Residency.  I am now almost back to my old /younger self which is very exciting, almost worth the pain to be so grateful to be free of it!.. we have so far mostly filmed the earlier scenes in the movie so I guess my milder Limp will just be viewed as part of my transformation, or maybe I will only dance in the remaining scenes!

I had found the Tamalpa work very supportive of the IAMNAV work during Level 1/ my first year in Folkestone. It was monthly & really helped me through my difficult re-adjustment to a new environment. I therefore thought that to continue straight through to Level 2 might help get my mind & body back together, although this would mean going away for most of July & August for full time training therefore abandoning development of the project during that time as well as the many plans I had set in motion to respond positively to my reservations about Folkestone & missing the whole Summer season (really the only time an English Seaside town is not a bit depressing).

Level 2 is more intense than Level 1 (& I think that out Level 1 Trainer more attuned to our emotional needs); It goes much deeper into Trauma, Cultural diversity, Leadership, Therapy & expanding your personal work to working with others as Coach, Therapist or Trainer. I was attracted to the work as it combines healing with multiple Art practices: particularly Dance, Drawing, Writing & Performance with Emotional & Socio-Political engagement emotionally. This felt like a perfect match with a project as complex, challenging, ambitious & multifaceted as IAMNAV & potentially actively supportive of my emotional health & that of collaborators & participants. I also feel that somewhere in the combination of the 2 projects lies a really exciting new way of working.

However I rather naively underestimated how hard it would be to engage on such a deep level with my own Trauma. The training provided a safe environment in which to go far & deep. When I returned to Folkestone I was enthralled to explore that which I had unearthed on a deeper level & ploughed voraciously through the reading list. Amazingly, considering the premises of the training I was so hungry for knowledge & information I kept my explorations on far too mental a level at the expense of accompanying body & imaginary work. Coincidentally my superviser was unwell & the support I’d previously had from my very dance/ somatic community in London & then the support from Tamalpa Level 1 teacher & students led me to think that I did not need the recommended therapeutic support (I also have a longstanding distrust of therapists from my previous burnout experiences as too many stay only with communication with the mind, which makes my neglect of the body & imaginary work all the more hard to fathom.. a good Lesson!). I compounded the isolation I was already feeling from being extracted from my community & the location of my primary project. I fell down a Rabbithole of quite intense isolation & depression from which I am only now beginning to emerge having reached out to my new friends in Folkestone, friends in London & others now scattered around the world, my IAMNAV collaborators, my fellow Level 1 & 2 Students, & a Family constellation therapist. My Tamalpa teacher also returned to full fitness & we are again working together.

So now I must absolve myself of my guilt for taking this time out of my project. I have regrets. Of course many more people & places have disappeared from Hackney that I wish I had recorded. Some Crew members have had to reduce their participation due to other commitments, & perhaps my evacuation for so long (or is that the guilt speaking?)

Before I went away we were making plans for collaborations with Leila McMillan & Muxima cafe on Roman road, a Residency at Dalston Library, a Kids day out at the community canal garden & Jam Todiwalla’s Victoria Park cafe (which is now no more), Randall Matthews & Chats Palace, the Yard theatre. Some of these also didn’t happen as planned because we didn’t receive Arts council funding for the 3rd time in a row which added to my negative feelings but I have not been a good communicater while going through this time & can only hope that these collaboraters can maintain their belief in the project as I re-emerge & re-connect.

All is not lost unlike what the Depression kept telling me. I have stayed very much in touch with many members of the performers & crew. Yue Wang will come to Folkestone for the day next week to plot & plan with me. I have a phone meeting with Denise Perry of the Arts Council & am beginning to develop YET ANOTHER application. I have also been gaining contacts with people in Film London, BFI & Screen South as I increasingly believe in this project as a Film as much as Performance events. I met with Carol Grimes, a friend & collaborater of mine & Randolph’s with whom I hope I and he collaborate also with on the Chat Palace scene. I have been doing weekly shared practice with a number of dancer friends in Nunhead in Southeast London, from which is emerging an exciting collaboration & many ideas with Tania Soubry around the Club & Protest scenes. I need to follow up Lamin’s suggestion that we have an event at the Netil market, for which he has put me in touch with the organisers of that. I have had an exciting idea about who can play the Banner makers (Watch this space!). I will meet with Sally Dean in a few weeks to work on my Saffron Hill character.

I now have to email Yue & explain why I didn’t do the work I said I would today & instead spent so many hours processing, writing & re-writing this. I think she’ll agree that the time is not badly spent. This is an instance where mental therapeutic work is helpful. I started to write this as I had sat down to work on writing blurbs for an assemble Editor & Web developer and to begin the necessary correspondents for picking up the pieces & just felt overwhelmed with Guilt & Regret. I know that my mental & physical state are vastly improved now & I’m ready to roll so decided to write this as a mental clean out so I can feel fresher & clearer when I do resume operations. I am not really writing this to anybody but I do think that’s part of my process & therefore relevant to put on this her blog o mine. Two years on from leaving Regent Studios I think the Trauma is healing, but the anger at the injustices of this stupid dominant culture remains & so much else has arisen to inspire more anger, more need to transform & channel this anger into action which uplifts as much as it reflects. There are a lot of positive actions happening at the moment & discussions for collaborations with these with this project. ONWARDS! VENCEREMOS! XXX





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