The Crystal Cracked :: Age of Resistance

I’m a massive Dark Crystal fan, always have been and always will be. I first saw it when I was three and remember running away from the TV because I was terrified of the opening sequence and the decaying, raptor-like SkekSis. My Dad came after me, sat me on his knee and told me that if I didn’t watch the film all the way through to the end then I’d always be frightened of the SkekSis. So I did, and I wasn’t, which was quite the profound and lasting revelation.

In my twenties, after long nights of clubbing, The Dark Crystal was the film to soothe my head when sleep was an elusive improbability. I still watch it every blue moon and then and it makes me cry even now with its conceptual elegance, the sheer love that went into its hand-crafted, cinematic wizardry and the deeply relevant yet achingly ancient poetry that radiates from its heart.

It’s also no secret that the ‘Great Conjunction’ – as depicted by the UrRu in their sand drawings on the floor of the Mystics Valley – is tattooed on my back. To me it’s a symbol of unification; a cyclical model of time where past and present have always and will always merge in some pre-destined, long ago moment where all events, personal and transpersonal, end and simultaneously begin. The design itself was in fact the very talisman that led me to a certain esoterically minded tattooist in 2012, who would eventually become my husband. A cycle of my own, ended and began that very day.

Tattoo

 

Back in 1982 when The Dark Crystal first came out it was the darker, weirder older sibling of everyone’s favourite fantasy romp Labyrinth, whose popularity was in no small way boosted by a chameleonic, cod-piece wearing Goblin King played by David Bowie. Unlike Labyrinth, which is more playfully eccentric and acts as a mirror-world to our known reality, The Dark Crystal is unapologetically unsettling and at times violent and, most importantly, is purposefully out-of-time. The world of Thra as we now know it, exists in a proto-mythological landscape where humans are not even considered.

At the crescendo of the original film you discover that the two opposing forces; the gentle UrRu (representing ritual magic, ancestral gnosis, a connection to Nature, creativity and tradition) and the greedy, materialistic SkekSis (representing Ego, the harnessing of natural forces for secular purposes, consumerism and the domination / destruction of the environment) originate from the UrSkeks, beings of truth and balance who arrived during an earlier conjunction through a star portal and later, during another conjunction, cracked the crystal of truth in a moment of ignorance – unwittingly catalysing their fall into duality.

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You can see the Dark Crystal’s original mythology here as outlined by J.J.Llewellyn who wrote The World of the Dark Crystal book (released in tandem with the film). Incidentally, the website referenced pre-dates the Netflix’s series by a couple of decades and has been running competitions for writers to come up with a worthy prequel for as long as I can remember. I’m naturally kicking myself that I didn’t have the self-belief to submit my own prequel in my early twenties, but there’s always time.

To me, the ultimate message of the 1982 film / book combo was simple: Shadow needs light, and light needs shadow – they are part of the same creature and create a self-replenishing circuit or, as the UrSkeks so succinctly explain whilst resurrecting the dying heroine Kira; “Hold her to you Jen, for she is part of you, as we are all part of each other”. When we are ‘whole’, i.e. conscious and self-aware, we may know eternal life: if we are like the SkekSis, trying to cheat death or manipulate our way into a false immortality we sap the essence of everything around us and destroy the delicate harmony of Life itself.

To open this up even further, The Great Conjunction is a clear metaphor for spiritual alignment and enlightenment: it is when all knowing and every aspect of ourselves come together, transcending duality and embracing our demons and our highest selves in an impermanent yet everlasting moment in time. The whole wonder of The Dark Crystal is its metaphorical symmetry, the enacting of a quest to Know Oneself, truly, or allow our very essence be drained away and weaponised by a maleficent force.

But about The Age of Resistance

All year friends of mine have been excitedly posting trailers from Netflix’s new Dark Crystal : Age of Resistance series on my Facebook page, and I’ve been staying (as much as I can) purposefully neutral. There’s not been a good run of reboots of my childhood favourites, Conan the Barbarian being the deepest and most painful wound (I tried to watch it, twice, but couldn’t get past Ron Pearlman’s death scene….it was almost as painful as when they made Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned…and don’t get me started on my fears for The Crow or Big Trouble in Little China…). I did notice quite early on a glaring plot hole in what the trailer’s seemed to be setting up; that the Crystal of Truth (or Heart of Thra as it’s now known) is whole and intact in this prequel and yet the SkekSis exist, independently, from the UrRu.

How have the script writers muddled past this massive incongruity, when it was such an integral part of the film? I wondered, deciding to wait and see if they’d figured something cool out.

Last night it became clear that they have not. In fact they’ve conjured up a story blaming Aughra (originally a bad-ass, cosmically neutral astronomer and the only one willing to openly insult and stand up to the SkekSis) for giving the crystal away in exchange for an giant orrery that allows her to commune with the stars. They even used the phrase “The SkekSis bewitched Aughra” which, if you’ve seen the original film, seems pretty ridiculous because Aughra is the very definition of She-Who-Sees-All. Her name itself comes from the word “augury”, which is defined as “an omen, a sign of what will happen in the future” and so whilst it firstly makes no sense that the SkekSis even existed as an independent entity before the Heart of Thra was cracked / given over to Dark Forces, I find it highly unlikely that Aughra, the Witch, the renegade, the cosmic Witness and Seer, could not foretell the consequences of her actions (or even intuit the toxicity of the SkekSis).

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Intuition also seems to be completely lacking in the Gelfling in the Age of Resistance, as they have been demoted from a culturally rich and self-sufficient civilisation to defenders and supporters of the SkekSis. The Gelfling are obedient castle guards, clapping crowds of mindless sheep or book keepers and even get in an excitable flutter when SkekSis carriages ride past or they are invited to a ball (??). I get that the creators are parodying our relationship to our world leaders / celebrity culture, but anchoring it so firmly in our world-order really spoils things for me and stops the series from moving into a complete and alternative fantasy of its own.

In the original, Jen and Kira always seemed rooted by their intuition and their connectedness to the flora and fauna around them and that made their quest even more magically meaningful to me. Where has that gone? How can they have blinded themselves so enthusiastically against the corruption in front of them? I’m willing to admit that I’m being overly harsh, but my sneaky suspicion is that all this will not play out well, or get anywhere near the cosmic crescendo of the first film. My fears are only amplified by a really clumsy script that turn Rian and Deet’s romance into a stumbling, smaltzy cliché and the SkekSis’s vileness into triteness. “You want to be careful, because big things often run over little things” said a SkekSis to the Gelfing Princess last night.  No shit, really? I think I shouted at the TV, frustrated with having everything spoon fed to me. These kind of points were made much more skilfully and effectively in the film with barely little dialogue, and the cruelness of the SkekSis made plain as we watched them gorge on the creatures previously seen flourishing in the swamplands of Kira’s home. Most of the dialogue felt clunky and repetitive throughout, which was such a shame when the artists, set-designers and puppet makers have clearly gone above and beyond to stay true to the integrity of the original.

None of this even touches upon the complete omission of the UrRu in the first episode, whose lives / journey paralleled every action and movement of the SkekSis in the film (remember when the Emperor and the UrRu Elder both die at exactly the same time right at the very beginning of the story – that was a major clue!) Whilst I’m sure there’ll be some hero’s journey that take the new Gelfing protagonists to meet the UrRu and gain insight or some magical tools, completely omitting them from the offset loses some of the wonderful symmetry that underpins everything in the original narrative.

Everything in The Dark Crystal was designed according to a very specific and complimentary set of mathematical designs (triangles inside circles) and if you read The World of the Dark Crystal conceptual art book you’ll see everything; the sets, the creatures, the artwork, the back drops, the props, everything you can see fits within these geometric principles. That’s why the whole world looks and feels so conceptually whole and to their credit, the Henson / Froud led designers of the Age of Resistance have held true to.

But to leave out the UrRu and this sense of narrative symmetry as it unfolds really loses some of the potency as far as I’m concerned. I can’t help but think that the original Dark Crystal crew, writers and concept designers spear-headed by the amazing (and clearly magically minded) Brian and Wendy Froud were themselves a bunch of eccentric, creative witches and wizards who understood that the most complex and revelatory wisdom is best expressed through subtle and innocuous mediums: children’s fantasy. They certainly instilled a collective masterpiece with a sublimated magical current that elevated The Dark Crystal into something so much more than fairy tale yarn.

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This to me was the whole wonder and beauty of The Dark Crystal, the metaphorical symmetry of darkness and the light, the ultimate quest for each and every one of us to Know Ourselves truthfully, on a deep and fundamental level, guided by our intuition and played out through the SkekSis and UrRu.

I really, really want to like The Age of Resistance (especially now when what we need most is the impetus to rise up against our own very real essence draining overlords!!) but I’m not even sure if the beautiful effects and incredible puppetry will stop me from wincing (or shouting) every time the Gelfling’s say something dumb or the story moves further and further away from its original heart and soul. The film wasn’t faultless, I’m not totally blinded by nostalgia; Jen sounded like Michael Jackson and constantly whinged aaaall the way through, but it felt like a cosmic myth, instead of badly written allegory, and I’m really not sure if The Age of Resistance has skipped over the most essential and relevant point.

 

I guess there’s nothing to do but sit tight until the end and hope all my fears are unfounded.

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Ode to Lilith ~ לויתן

לויתן

 

Leviathan, lay down with me

And salt these wounds to help them heal,

Pluck out these eyes that I might see

With oiled split-tongue, I welcome thee.

Once you dwelt inside the garden,

Before the flood, before the Fall,

Before the weight of Sin was all

And body begged no pardon.

In squirming bliss you sought a throne,

A pinnacle of flesh and bone,

A sword to pierce the blackest void,

Exalting all who came inside.

And yet, your gift, mistook for pride,

Would be the fruit He cast aside.

Yet not you wept, nor did you pine,

You left His bliss to bathe in brine,

And sought new mates to sate your lust,

In shifting beds of ocean crust.

 

The creatures of the mud and sea,

And all that creepeth called you Queen.

 

A Queen indeed, with horn’d crown,

You bled them as you pulled them down.

You claimed and drained whilst searching for

A holy love with fire and ore.

 

Oh Goddess of the roiling Sea

Cast out your net and come for me.

Beyond the walls, outside of Eden,

Your Kingdom comes in waves of freedom.

 

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Wonder Women Festival – Manchester

From the 2nd – 12th of March Manchester’s many theatres, galleries and clubs will be flooded with artists, activists and creators celebrating just what it means to be a woman. Documentary films about Rebel Dykes, all female techno nights and a huge range of performance and art are on the bill. Could you love Manchester any more?!

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This bold inspiring festival (which sounds to me like a direct challenge to own your own wondrousness) is a creative countdown to the 100yr anniversary of women winning the partial  vote in 1918. Manchester has always been full of forward-thinking fire-crackers, none so much as Emily Pankhurst who was of course, born and bred on the mean streets of Mosside.

The festival poses the question, just how far have we actually come in the past 100yrs and it’s an honour to be invited by Instigate Arts to explore the theme not once but twice throughout the festival.

At the festival’s free launch night ‘Making The Strange Familiar with Instigate Arts’ on Thurs 2nd March I will perform The Art of Reflection at Manchester Art Gallery, a piece first created for the Trans-State conference last year. I describe this piece as a dance-based mirror ritual exploring identity and it’s construction and have integrated a lot of my own magical practices into it. I’m also in the middle of writing my next short story, which is about a woman consumed by a hungry mirror, so there’s certainly a theme bubbling away in my work!

I believe the body is the most powerful tool of expression, for a woman to be dancing freely (outside the confines of some shady establishment) would have alone been dangerous in centuries past! The body also provides a perfect canvas for people’s expectations, which I personally delight in subverting. The Art of Reflection plays with ideas of self-invention and transformation and has a soundtrack that slaloms through the Sex Pistols, to Garbage to Bjork (allowing me to shake out all my crazy energy and channel it healthily!) This piece’s pretty risky climax can’t be practiced or rehearsed, so how it ends is just as much of a surprise to me as my audience. Come and see! The event is open to the public and begins at 5:30pm.

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IMAGE BY LAURA WILLIAMS

Then on the 3rd March at the Royal Exchange I will perform a pure movement piece called ’21st Century Witchcraft’ in the Dolly Mixtures showcase at The Royal Exchange theatre. This cabaret style event is a brilliant place to revive a performance I first created for A Queer Review in collaboration with the wonderful Greg Thorpe. The piece responds to a 7min monologue from Anohni (of Anthony and the Johnsons) in which transgressive bodies, witch craft and the feminisation of religious icons are discussed.

Last time I performed this piece I was told by my partner that I looked like a “sexy mental patient” – probably one of the most honest and accurate critiques I’ve ever been given. Other beautiful weirdos like Rosie Garland, Jane Bradey and Trish Dee are also on the bill that night, so there’s certainly no shortage of wild inspiring women! Tickets available here.

 

The Wonder Women festival has been made possible by the People’s History Museum and Creative Tourist. Read the full festival line-up here.

“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a surreal week here in the (arguably) united UK. The atmosphere is unstable and navigating through the media shit-storm proceeding the EU referendum – and it’s very real cultural aftermath – has felt like wading through treacle. You can feel the tremors everywhere, internally and externally and the worrying thing is that I’m not even sure if the real earthquake has hit.

I may be wrong, I’d really like to be.

On the positive side I’m very lucky to be surrounded by gifted and pro-active people, Manchester is a magnet for human diamonds. Kevin Burke and Anne-Louise Kershaw from Instigate Arts are two such hardworking gems and have commissioned a dance piece from Laura and I called compenSATE, which we’ll be performing at HOMEMcr in the galleries on the 9th July alongside Kevin Burke, Bartosz BedaMichelle Hannah, Richard Hughes, Sara Minelli & Hyunjoo Kim,Emily Mulenga, Greg Thorpe, Angela Readman, Louise Woodcock.

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compenSATE responds to the theme of ‘Ambition’ and is a 2hr dance piece that examines the way we compete. For 2hrs Laura and I will explore beautification rituals, suggesting that these look-enhancing treatments are really homogenising the mainstream. The exhibition is free and open between 6pm – 9pm.

We’ve also been rehearsing for Christopher Bowles’s new play AUTOPSY, a dark and ambitious piece of theatre exploring our relationships with our bodies. Laura again is on-board and we’re been choreographing surreal mirrored sequences for a number of the scenes.

Christoper Bowles of Magpie Man Theatre is such a talented writer and director and since he ‘came out’ on the literary circuit last year he’s been taking it by storm. It’s a pleasure to work with him, even if he did script that I get dribbled on by one of my ‘clients.’ In the original version I got my feet cut off too, so I supposed things could be worse. He’s also turned all the cast into corpses for the show promo posters. I think I make quite a charming cadaver!

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Yesterday I worked again with Kevin Burke on one of his personal projects -‘The Measure of Hope’ – which will also be screened as part of the Instigate exhibition at HOMEMcr. Like the best of all things the timing of this collaboration was impeccable.

After a weekend of restless fidgety energy, feeling frustrated and unsure but trying to stay positive, I had so much conflicting stuff waiting to be released. Of all the dance pieces I’ve choreographed this was the most unexpectedly intense. I had a few rough ideas of movement I’d like to integrate, and we’d discussed the theme of the piece (the evolution of civilisation and ambiguity of ‘progress’) beforehand, but we basically just booked a space and launched straight in. No fuss, no frills, just the body responding to sound.

The track  itself changes a lot in seven minutes and there’s a really chaotic section in the middle followed by a beautifully gentle piano ending. As we repeated the track and I free-flowed in response, I found myself releasing more and more of the pent up frustration and anger that I had ignored all wkend, until the dance became more like a protest or an exorcism. I literally pulled and slapped and stomped and cried the anger out of my system, before reining it back in delicately and regaining control of my body.

Kevin is a great director encouraging me to perform the piece repeatedly until all my energy was spent and I couldn’t physically do anymore. I went home afterwards and collapsed into bed for 4hrs. Today my body feels battered and bruised but I know I’ve regained some sense of the balance I lost last week.

 

It reminded me that dance is such a powerful tool, especially when you do it for yourself, when it isn’t a performance for someone else’s pleasure. For too many years dance became very much like work for me and I forgot why I started in the first place. I danced as a teenager to switch my brain off, I danced myself into oblivion because I could lose control then regain myself in an energetic reset. I danced to reconnect and ground myself and I danced to find an expression for all those wordless things that rocketed round my body, manifesting as panic, simply needing to be released. It’s not a solution to every problem but it’s an amazing coping mechanism, such a simple technique that I think we take for granted and we will very much need in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

Lovecraftian Romances and Black Gnosis

Last Sunday night I had a chat with the very talented Scott R Jones, founder of Martian Migraine Press, editor of the upcoming Cthulhusttva : Tales of the Black Gnosis anthology, which will include a short story written by yours truly, titled Mother’s Nature. Scott is also the author of When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality, a collection of essays and meditations on the concept of cosmic horror as a spritual path. It was whilst reading  When the Stars Are Right on holiday in Marrakech last November that the threads of Mother’s Nature came together. Scott’s work is exceptional and massively inspiring.

At the heart of When the Stars are Right is a dark spirituality that seeks out revelatory madness and commands an embrace of our shadow side, a philosophical perspective which nourished many of the ideas I’d been gestating for a while. If you’re a lover of cosmic horror, weird fiction and Lovecraftian deities in general or just enjoy a good intellectual unraveling from time to time, I highly recommend the read. Mother’s Nature responds to all these themes whilst adding a few flavours of its own.

I’m not going to lie, MN is not a tale for the faint of heart. It mixes horror, sexuality, sacrifice and enlightenment, revolving around a young girl who escapes one nightmarish existence only to step into an entirely new one. After living her life practically feral, then surviving the massacre of her family, my central character is rescued by a mysterious stranger, who tames and then trains her to be his apprentice in a fashion boutique with a well-kept secret. Under his instruction the girl becomes an artist, then a woman, then something else altogether. Transcendence and transformation are the strongest themes of the work and I had so much fun weaving them together.

Whilst giving the interview I remembered the impulse I had when writing Mother’s Nature to make it a Lovecraftian romance, however paradoxical that may sound. The more I read the story the happier I am that I’ve achieved that and I couldn’t agree with Scott’s comment more when he says the story ‘has legs.’ It definitely does, hundreds!

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You can buy  Cthulhusttva : Tales of the Black Gnosis Here and When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality Here.

Pinning Down Beginnings

At last! I’ve built a website for nothing other than my thoughts, projects and mental meanderings. This blog will be a diary, an online photograph and video album, a dream journal, a place to ponder and purge and somewhere I can collect the weird and wonderful evidence of things created by myself and with other people.

So much has happen that it’s difficult to know where to start. I will retrace my steps and share writing and projects long since passed, as well as keeping this blog up-to-date with upcoming shows, appearances and events. Don’t expect a linear line. I prefer the collage effect, the messy montage and I’ll share as things bubble up. So many characters, concepts and performances have already been lost in the sands of time despite my best attempts to capture them. They’re willful little things with lives all of their own. I don’t begrudge them their autonomy.

Every single piece was the most important thing in the world for me during it’s conception and creation. It’s the same with every artist I believe, or at least I think it should be. I planned, plotted, scribbled and choreographed, rehearsed or revised over and over and over again, scruntised every detail, made costumes and invented personalities, performed it once for a certain group of people or sent it off to a publisher then let it go forever. André Breton said an artist “lives like an open book and does nothing to retain the pages, which fly away in the windy wake of his life.” So many of my pages have flown away, I’m glad I gave them wings.

So this blog is a way of numbering those pages, as well as other fleeting things, before they flutter off into the world. I’m pinning down their beginnings at the very least.

Alan Moore Promethea Stefanie Elrick

Image taken from Alan Moore’s Promethea comic.

Header image by Glyn Smith.