How Echo Echo has changed my life (for the better)
By John McCartney
John became obsessed by Echo Echo several years ago and has never recovered from the addiction. Moonlight nights find him on some Inishowen beach practising his out of phase phrases.
I have no time for the past says Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher. His “Power of Now” a New York Times No. 1 Best Seller is a sort of Idiot’s Guide to the teachings of the Indian mystic Ramana Maharshi. I loved it! Just what I needed from the intergalactic library.
Of memory there is the voluntary and involuntary and the latter the only one worth.
The first thing that surfaces is Steve talking about dancing and the numinous. He didn’t use that theo-philosophical buzz word of the seventies but I can see him saying dancing is a fear that isn’t fearful (very poetic) the kind that makes your hair (if you have any left) stand on your head. This fear so picturesque in my youth, The Golden Bough’s Lake of Nemi is my image of it, has been swallowed up for me in larger issues now that I’m old and thinking of ending things.
The time has come as the Walrus said to face the numinous, to accept that the last laugh is on us just as we laughed at the Jumblies heading out in their sieve to the Lakes and the Torrible Zone and the hills of the Chankly Bore. Time to channel your inner Jumbly. One way is to sing as Blake did to the last and another is to dance. And why not both. And is there a difference. Each is a hen in the Plotinian sense and bring their practitioners to point of lay. The lay of the last minstrel with a vengeance. And on the way the sensorium is sorted out with good snottery cries and weepings to the tune of the still sad music of humanity not harsh nor grating though of ample power to chasten and subdue as submission to the dance of life comes at last bringing gratitude and the realisation of abundance. The Self you sought that has always been you. Or the rub. There’s always a rub. Challenge of the dark. The fardel respectability that makes a calamity jane of so long life.
There was a lightness about the two classes I attended that was very beautiful. A lot of freedom in the clean clarity of their spaces. Somehow making breathing more possible. Expansive in the welkin eye. Yep it was a valde bonum creation as a creating potentiality. Composition as explanation. This is usual in Steve’s classes and it’s important for me to honour it as achievement that isn’t achievement. It’s a living creation a change to a better class of universe I have to say even though it sounds too grandiose. Just class. For the metamorphosis is into the extraordinary ordinary. The perennial philosophy of heart and home that runs like a rich vein down through the Graeco-Roman Judaeo-Christian tradition. There’s life in it and worth somehow and the sadness that it isn’t always so.
Sunt semper lacrimae rerum.
The other spot of time I’d like to memorialise is how I was surprised by aliveness. This happened in the first class I attended after the lying in zero state (always a favourite – sivasana the death asana. A sunshine state for a Quietist like myself). As I emerged from the chrysalis into first level, one of the ladies was lying with her feet pointed towards me and her body truncated in perspective seemed extraordinarily alive. As though the Mantegna Christ that I’d seen all those years ago in the Brera had suffered a resurrection and was getting ready to head off for Emmaus. Uncanny stillness of it. In the ineluctable subjective mode as in the Gospels the scales falling from the blind man’s eyes was the quidditas of this happening. Her body wasn’t moving, yet there was a sort of vibration there that felt like movement. Extraordinary revelatory apocalypse now. Numinous with the fear that isn’t a fear in its way but understated.
This visitation was one of the spots in time Wordsworth mentions as meanings like shafts of light penetrating the dark forest of his life and his immortal verse he saw then as a celebration and creative re-enactment of Nature’s Heraclitean fire as illuminating power. That and his visits to his hairdresser. For keeping a head was also a concern. And his feet. He had feet of clay like the rest of us.
Just a whiff or a quiff of it vouchsafed me then in this living Mantegna. Holiness visible. And I had to keep at bay the thoughts that came headlong crowding to interpret and spoil it. That assertive yang recollection comes later and involuntarily when on our couches we lie in vacant or in a pensive moodiness. A brown study. A then as now (liberation from that cheeky monkey the egoic mind!). Because of this choiceless noticing the mystics tell us our visit to the still centre is prolonged. The Self not brooking interference of its goalless realisation annihilates the more more mind. It is always there they tell us. The Self. The one reality. Blackbird in the light of its dark dark night.
Its eeriness maybe comes from its seeming to be in the past perhaps because the observer has ceased to exist. Metaphysically you are past it. And what’s past is dead. You are an I without a me and outside time in eternity looking in at the sweet illusion. All thought even poetry is of the past and has to be resurrected as Wordsworth put it by being recollected in tranquillity. A book of poetry is a graveyard of poems unless the reader’s soul claps its hands and sings em. The dance by contrast is pure manifestation in that it appears but once and then is gone. Higher in the eternal hierarchy then. More like the poems that are the extraordinary of ordinary lives. (Hurrah! for Wordsworth for bringing poetry down to earth)
The poetic motion that is the dance tells of no single cause but of death and resurrection in eternal intercourse (interestingly it was in Wordsworth’s time that this word took on its meaning of two bodies becoming one). It feels the fear the numen of life and celebrates it anyway by placing it in the living dance to be transformed by the magic of poetic movement. In it the child is father of the person.
That feeling of distance then is as in the game when the player is in the zone. Squarings, as Heaney calls it. Yeats calls it school. Not Dotheboys but Singing School studying monuments of its own magnificence. (Poussin’s Bacchanalian Revel before a Term). Not cold distance where Apollo rules okay but homecoming creative heartwarming self disciplings that make sense as they manifest out of embodied non-effort. Aquinas’s “definition” of God becoming a palpable presence.
Finally there was the complimentary feedback from Steve about my “dancing”. It still remains for me just moving. I say just misleadingly for of course it’s wonderful to move. And I get gleams of appreciation of its awe and mystery. Look my Lord it moves! More and more there is a joy in it and thanks to the classes in Echo Echo. And it spills over into my life in multitudinous ways. Or my life spills into it. Anyway there is fructification. I can now call it dancing but the default is not to, not from false modesty nor solemn Phariseeism I hope but from a reticence that is the same as my reluctance to talk about my beliefs. Somehow the very talking is a besmirching. There is something secret and sacred in the nature of it not a dark backward but a light lightening and enlightening backward. It requires the elusive throaty moment when gesture rules in golden awkwardness. That hush that comes over when a goldfinch comes to the birdtray. Shh. There are two of them. Quiet now. No bird cheep, mouse squeak. Silence stillness and old immortality reign. The always so.
So, when someone talks about my dancing I usually just (that word again) listen and try to look like Marlene. Soulful with a touch of Fragt nicht warum. Tough ask admittedly in your seventies. Some day perhaps I will move with its poetic power into speech and be able to name it authentically as Steve does. Esperons.
Three selections then from the sweet trolley of the course’s smorgasbord.
A crucible for vision these classes in Echo Echo of which I’ve said perhaps too much and too irreverently and as I’ve said the saying itself often registering an irreverence.
However for me they’ve been portals into the unmanifested. Oops! There I go again! Those mystics have a lot to answer for.
Does this essay give you the feeling i’m reading Wordsworth at the moment?
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Body Wisdom is Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company’s dance and movement project for people over 50 years old. It’s been going for well over a decade. The Body Wisdom Project includes weekly classes, intensive workshops and performance projects. It is open to anyone old enough. If you are interested to join or to get more information email email@example.com and put Body Wisdom in the subject line