Sometimes when you let go of language you are left with an emotion that you understand

Recently I posted an article entitled ‘Watching theatre in a language that is not your own‘ after watching a play in Germany. I used the phrase ‘Sometimes when you let go of the language you are left with an emotion that you understand.’

A month ago I saw Andy Smith’s Summit at the Martin Harris Centre (University of Manchester). The premise is that there is a Summit to discuss a crisis and at some point the lights go out, after which we start to make the change we know we need to make. There is something that I still can’t quite reconcile and it’s rooted in the language.

Act one is set a thousand years in the future and sees the three performers operating like a musical trio. Their words and actions overlap, constantly repeating as if motifs in a tune. There are snippets of well developed, individual dialogue which stand out. This builds a remarkably clear message in the same way that an orchestra constructs a clear performance despite the many disparate parts. Perhaps rhythm, and the disruption of rhythm, is the key to our understanding? In act two there are three speeches, presented in English, Malay and BSL, yet the one I least remember is the one that was made in English, despite the convincing and professional way the actor presented this speech. What I do remember is the compelling movement and impact of the BSL. I also remember the emotion of the Malay.

I suspect my brain was picking up subconscious messages from each tiny movement and inflexion. We make human connections and watch the presenter, even when the language is not consciously comprehensible, perhaps nodding in line with her emotions and movements.

I have been to two recent literary events where the writers have read their work in the original language, followed by a translation. At Manchester Libraries as part of the Literature Festival, Azita Ghahreman read Negatives of a Group Photograph in Farsi. At MMU, Ahmed Saadawi read in Iraqi Arabic from Frankenstein in Baghdad. In both cases I remember the emotion carried by the original work more than the words of the translator. We are seeking the intonation and the emotion behind the words as much as the words themselves. As Azita commented ‘in poetry we learn how much we are similar’.

Is it emotion that we are left with?

So to dance, and Hofesh Shecter’s Show at HOME, which is predominantly Clowns bookended with an intro and outro.

Eight dancers emerge to a repeating musical motif. Their actions overlap, then they splinter into groups. There are snippets of well developed, individual movement which stand out. In some way the movement represents ballet positions we understand, in other ways these movements are subversive. They mime moves of killing, then the victims resurrect themselves. The action repeats again and again in a myriad of different ways. Yet still the form is maintained, the rhythm is constant. Is this life? Is this love? Perhaps rhythm, and the disruption of rhythm, is the key to our understanding?

But this dance piece is getting at me deep down, making me feel both deeply uncomfortable and deeply excited. I focus intently on every movement, trying to take in everything each of the eight dancers is doing. I want to be inside this dance, feeling what the dancers feel. I want to understand the emotion. Yet, that’s all I have, emotion. I feel this performance deeply. And it is one of the best things I have seen on this HOME main stage.

I am left with the most intense emotion that I am still trying to understand.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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