The Sound of Movement

Summer came to London last week. Tim left for Boston, to receive the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for his book “Blink and Caution”. I was in a mood to enjoy the rare hot English sunshine, so I packed a small picnic lunch and set out for Kingston-Upon-Thames.

The Bridge into Kingston-Upon-Thames

Kingston is about a 10-minute bus ride from Surbiton. It is a lovely market town and was, in the 9th and 10th centuries, the place where Kings were crowned. At least 7 different Saxon Kings were crowned there. Hence the name King’s Town.

In the centre of town there is a thriving market, with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, as well as a very good butcher, fish monger, cheese seller, a stall of olives and hot fresh pretzels. Last week Tim and I came to the market late in the day, when the sellers are practically giving things away, and we got the ingredients for a fabulous Roasted Sweet Potato and Fig Salad. I’ve included the recipe, because it was really unusual and very delicious. Back in Canada, figs are usually too expensive to consider for something like this, but we got 5 for £1 at the market.

The Market, ready for Xmas

On Friday the market was in chaos because there was a film shoot going on for a Christmas commercial. In the blazing summer sun the square was filled with film extras in winter hats and Christmas decorations.

The river, however, was not disturbed. There are walks all along the Thames, and they were filled with mothers with children, students, business people, retirees – everyone out enjoying the day, many clearly playing hooky. I went along to Canbury Gardens and sat on a bench under the dappled shade of a tree to eat my lunch, read my book and just generally watch the world go by.

Looking across the Thames

A few lazy canoes, kayaks and rowboats. A canal boat. A small motor boat. A tourist boat. Everything and everybody was moving slowly, gracefully. The swans glided by, occasionally rousing themselves to fly 50 yards up stream in the hopes of better eating. When swans fly they only barely rise out of the surface of the water, and they paddle their feet on the surface as though they are trying to get some traction from the water.

Swans flying along the river

Their feet make a great thwacking sound and, along the loud thumping of their wings, it is surprising how the sound of the movement of these ridiculously gorgeous birds is so noisy.

After my visit to Kingston I went into London to see the final performance of “Body of Work”, in which the sound of movement also plays a part.

Maddy in the tech rehearsal with the lighting designer

“Body of Work” explores body issues and body politics. It is a 60-minute piece with five dancers of very different body types. They work together and separately to question how we relate to our bodies. The music ranges from a kind of African drum base to synthetic scratching, but  one of the most striking sections uses the song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. A dancer breaks off to dance a fearful and passionate response to the song. The other four dancers each take a corner of the stage and begin to draw on themselves with lipstick. You realize that the drawings are marks for a plastic surgeon – a circle and an X on the thigh; a nip and tuck of the stomach. The question in the song becomes: “Do I have to change myself for you to still love me, tomorrow?”

Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow?

In another section, the dancers draw “seams” along their legs and suddenly are on catwalks, striking the numb poses of fashion models. They break off, bind themselves in plaster gauze on sections of their body, and thrust themselves back to the catwalk. There are images of pre-natal life, of self-loathing, of longing and desire.

Sometimes the dancers appear as 5 individuals. Sometimes they seem to be different facets of one person, fighting to come to resolution. By the end of the piece the floor is littered in discarded clothes, bandages, water and mess, but the dancers are in smooth calm white dresses that resonate classicism. They move as a supportive and aware group. There is no sound but their breathing.

Where stories take you

A former student and friend of Tim’s, Trent Reedy, came into town from the States to publicize his book “Words in the Dust”, which has just been published in the UK. Trent was a soldier in Afghanistan. He went into the military to pay for his college education when 9/11 changed his life. His book for young adults came out of his experiences with the children that he met in Afghanistan.

On our way to meet Trent, we walked through the Old Vic Tunnels so that Tim could see where I had gone to see Orpheus and Eurydice.

Old Vic Tunnels

The tunnels led us into a long and wonderful stroll along the Southbank. Saturday on the Southbank is a festival of treats – there were booths selling every kind of food imaginable, living statues, dancers and musicians. A woman was playing an instrument called a “Hang Drum” that looked like a small cliché of a flying saucer and sounded like an unearthly combination of an oil drum and a harp. I couldn’t find a video of the woman we heard, but this clip from YouTube will give you a sense of the potential of the instrument.

We met Trent for dinner at the Thameside Pub, near London Bridge. Other than his tour of duty in Afghanistan, Trent hasn’t been outside of the US, so his trip to the UK was quite an adventure. Trent also loves theatre, so we decided that his arrival in London gave us a perfect excuse to see the stage version of “The Railway Children”. After our pub dinner, we walked back along the Southbank to Waterloo station to see the play.

Tim and Trent Reedy on the Southbank

The Railway Children has been playing in London for a few years and one of the reasons for its success is the setting – the play takes place in the Waterloo train station (a Toronto version takes place in a train roundhouse). It is a part of Waterloo that used to house the Eurostar to Paris. The Eurostar now goes to St. Pancras Station, so a whole section of Waterloo is unused. And if there is one thing I am learning about London it is that NO space is ever left empty.

To get to the “theatre”, you must pass through the former customs and immigration areas. Snack bars are in use as such, so you can get any manner of treats before seeing the play. The bleachers for the audience seats are arranged on either side of the train platforms. The action takes place along the length of the platforms, as well as on sliding stages that come along the train tracks. At one point a full train arrives on the tracks. It is a wonderfully effective staging that easily transports you to a kinder, gentler time.

I had forgotten entirely that I had read the Railway Children, and as each new thing happened I could greet it like an old friend. It is a kind story, with a generosity of spirit. The children are aware that there are adult secrets they cannot to share, things outside of their understanding. They do their best to solve problems, but they are only barely players in their story. They have adventures while the larger adventures of life happen around them.

As an audience member, I was grateful for the respite from the intensity of the outside world. From wars, illnesses and consequences. It was a lovely little holiday of an evening.

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