Threaded Heart, emotions in charcoal

When Marsha sent me the info on her new workshop “Threaded Heart”,  co-produced with Dancer, Giselle Liu, I was lukewarm about it. I wrongly assumed it was in the genre of “Spiritual” which generally makes me uncomfortable. However it was a generous invitation to join the group and incorporated drawing and getting dirty; two of my favourite pastimes.

On the day, and late, I made my way up three, grubby, concrete flights in the Arts Club,W1. Passing eager young actors on their way to rehearsals I eventually opened the narrow swing door into “The Pigeon loft”,  a bright timber-clad studio with peeling paint. Despite the overcast sky, through the glass roof a comforting soft light came, falling on a group of youthful lithe figures: mainly dancers. If I was feeling slightly apprehensive before, now I was feeling insufficient physically too; but it was too late to flee.

After an introduction and short relaxation session, to wipe away jitters and travel stress, came the first exercise. While we sat cross-legged with eyes closed, Marsha distributed sticks of Charcoal and 10 sheets of A4 paper to all. We listened for an emotion to be called out to which we instinctively reacted, marking the paper. Emotions from anger to fear came tumbling out, duly expressed in charcoal. This turned out a remarkable sequence and when all were laid out on the floor, was impressive.

We were then asked to pick out the two that caught our immediate attention, “jumped out at you”. Not knowing what these signified till turned over, there were some interesting results. I happened to pick out joy and grief.

In the next exercise things became more physical. Each picked a handful of charcoal, in assorted shapes and sizes. The floor, laid out with huge sheets of joined cartridge paper, became a vast dance canvas.  Armed with our charcoal and a music score ranging from warlike to melancholy, we set off in unison on our unique emotional choreographies. 

The dancers moved their bodies sinuously into alternating poses of torture and despair, morphing  into sensuous erotic movements with strong, black, vigorous marks appearing on the canvass. I watched one dancers’ tight ball of utter sorrow unfold into a rolling wave, creating a pale misty cloud in charcoal.  An uplift in melody allowed her body to press tightly along the floor and a delicious cool grey curve appeared. All the while, I pranced about with my charcoal in generally discordant jerky movements, more intent on branding the paper with strange and varied smudges, lines and blotches. 

As the music progressed and I noted a feeling of calm and general wellbeing fold over me, broad dark curves and spidery squiggles  began to appear. I struck and stroked the floor with varying intensity while the music changed in tempo. This was grand, I’d stopped peeking at the dancers and was thoroughly enjoying myself.  

When all good things came to an end,  we were left with a canvas of gigantic proportions from which the energy rose like hot air off tarmac. Blackened head to foot and chatting gaily we tidied up and “wet-wiped’ ourselves fit for London transport. Strangely I was the only one who ripped off my corner of the floor to keep: Now, for the time being, hanging on my kitchen wall. 

A very good workshop indeed and a very pleasing result.  I hope many more workshops grow and evolve out of this one. Thank you Marsha and Giselle with all my threaded heart.

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