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Choreography of Ruin

Tomoé Hill

That which I sow, that which I reap.
What grows without, what grows within.


ack and forth like asynchronous pendulums, a group of dancers come together, then fall apart. The arms in a Pina Bausch work twist and freeze, a mirror to dead and dying Puglian groves where the olive trees, once solid and eternally ancient, grow no more but remain in ruin, as far as the eye can see. Blighted, taken over from the inside. A distortion of the womb. Wilhelm Flusser says ‘to plant means to … force nature to become unnatural’. To take this out of its context still retains something of the original: this distortion exists in what was the field of my body. This blight is a planting where there had been none. What of the agriculture of the disrupted body? This is my harvest now, both seen and unseen: the fallow field, the consumed tree. I am the stripped limb contorted, a cavity frozen in its Bausch-like movements. I am now the choreography of ruin.

Not long ago there was a single dancer, a single growth. Alone, it reached and swayed to an invisible song. Flusser again: ‘the gesture of planting is … the overture to the gesture of waiting’. Eventually joined by its others, it began to reshape the field that had intentionally grown nothing. Unnatural nature is still a flourishing: rot, decay, ruin all being harvests of a sort, the fruition of destruction. The body in itself is not evil. When Flusser speaks of the gesture of destroying, again I cannot help but place it within a context of what goes on inside of me. My body and I are now silently combative: I will it; it refuses to heed. I wish it to stop its intrusive process, but it continues with a determination which leaves me in near-admiration. ‘Destruction … negates not just the way the object is but the object itself’. It is beautiful in its focus, this goal of totality.

I am being changed by a body which has interpreted my inaction, my non-possession of a secret space as an abandonment. It is a destruction of nothing, but the taking over of possibility. More dancers, more distortion, reminding me from time to time of its intention in erratic gestures: this watching of time for a thing which does not appear, the holding back and release of red. -rhage,’to burst forth, to break’. -rhage, rage, the sea (the wine-dark sea), the womb, swaying limbs, the dances of growth and destruction. It is the essence of purpose. Since seeing those olive trees through a moving car’s window—giving the impression of the movement of mourners, only aware of their grief—I watch videos of Bausch’s works: Orpheus and Eurydice, Àgua, The Rite of Spring, the movements of the dancers the quintessence of emotion. Whether lone or in groups, bodies translated the abstractness of the body—its cohesion and division—channelling sense and feeling through their very flesh, conduits of the internal. I reread Robert Aickman’s ‘Ringing the Changes’, in which the dead rise up and dance, the living, both willing and unwilling, swept up in a frenzied mass. Life and death, and the movements which are the distillation of them.

The body is not evil, I tell myself. The body requires purpose. I have not fulfilled it and so it has reclaimed it for its own. This takeover, possession, abduction, however you want to phrase it, fascinates me as much as one can be fascinated by the symptoms of a change which foreshadows … what? Not death, which is our inevitability. My change is a crossroads, and I hold a clock which tells no time, has not yet stopped. In Aickman’s ‘The Wine-Dark Sea’, the magical island itself lives. Its character’s folly is that of never regarding as such it in the first place, thereby losing paradise once again. Paradise is a choice wherein the inhabitant must recognise they are inhabited as much as they inhabit. I have forgotten that the body is the island. Like Grigg, I am cast away but remain attached dream-like, by loss, never to return.

Gaston Bachelard, in response to Henri Michaux’s poem ‘L’espace aux ombres’ (Shade-Haunted Space) in The Poetics of Space, says ‘intimate space loses its clarity, while exterior space loses its void, void being the raw material of possibility of being. We are banished from the realm of possibility’. One of the lines of this poem which Bachelard refers to is ‘space, but you cannot even conceive the horrible inside-outside that real space is’. And when he (Bachelard) later writes, ‘in this ambiguous space, the mind has lost its geometrical homeland and the spirit is drifting’, more than ever it seems this new loss is being reformed, recalculated by a body intent on defining a meaning and drawing boundaries for itself, outside of my presumptions of use or non-use. Where the olive trees have presumed their possibility, bearing fruit, something now enters and supplants both its space and meaning. So it is within me.

In Pina Bausch’s 2007 Kyoto Prize speech, it is the unknown and the sensorial which emerges as the great connections of the elements within her life. Alongside what one does when presented with the unknown via the effects of war, of not knowing a language, of being in a strange new place, of needing to create and communicate in alternate ways in order to find a solution, she describes her memories as pictures, more often than not with a deep sensory description. A recollection of having little money due to saving in order to remain in New York has a surprising contrast. She lives on the fat of a mix of ice cream, buttermilk, lemons, and sugar, but grows thinner. She notes the clarity which comes from this juxtaposition: ‘I paid more and more attention to the voice within me. To my movement … a transformation was taking place. Not only with my body’. When one is limited in any way, but especially in one which restricts the body, a focus shapes itself from what is absent. This is the clarity of necessity: something like hunger or illness sharpens an outlook, even temporarily.

Why was it, I wonder, that those olive groves should so immediately—viscerally—remind me of what was happening inside of me? Or why the image of Pina’s dancers should appear? In Greece, I was struck by their groves: as healthy as the others were ill. Their beauty mattered little, the richness of their oil only caused me to give more thought to their unfruitful siblings. It was the twisted, greying trunks now distorting the landscape which clung to my mind, the external representation my condition. Susan Stewart writes of ruins, ‘a ruin confuses the interior with the exterior … as it also shows the interrelatedness of these aspects of perception’. So long had I considered these two aspects of myself as unrelated despite having had other issues that it felt as though I was facing an obsolete self. Part of me was history in that this new change was irreversible, and though it is possible to be stopped, there is no sense of time. To stop will mean yet another kind of ruin, where destruction is no longer active but I am left like those ancient olives, a remainder and reminder of nature’s unnatural whims.

Is there clarity then, a focus left in this inside-out space which no longer belongs to me? What I desire is akin to an extension. An extended arm or leg reaching towards the infinite, the line which represents continuation. To go on as the trees have not, to become an essence out of chaos, spare and precise, which my exterior and interior come to understand is its transformation. The agriculture of the disrupted body is a metamorphosis, an alchemical change. Women to trees, lead into gold. Where there was once absence and intrusion, we now cultivate movements from corporeal memories lasting as long as the clocks choose to go on.


Tomoé Hill