[Re-run] Bodies, breath, and music – a review of “Ash Land”

I’ve spoken here before about theatre, as well as music and writing, my other two artistic passions.  I find they are important for my readers to know who I am as a practitioner, and that these things also powerfully inform my work as a Rubenfeld Synergist.  Ilana, after all, started her career as a symphonic conductor.  Theatre is an expressive medium communicated through the body.  And the English language, with its puns, double and triple meanings, and poetic resonances, is a tool we use extensively in this work to get at the truths that the body wants to tell us.

And so from time to time, when a piece of art moves me greatly, I feel justified in linking up my passion for healing and my passion for art here in this space.  After all, there’s a reason why certain forms are called “healing arts.”  Some of what we do tends to be more of an art than a science, a kind of intuitive listening, receiving, and releasing that, while it requires a lot of technique, requires raw talent more.

With all of that in mind, then.  This week I attended the Minnesota Fringe Festival, which is a magnificent collection of theatre, dance, music and circus artistry featuring 165 shows in fifteen venues over the course of ten days.  Near the top of the heap of the shows, the one everyone was talking about, was a play called Ash Land – a Depression-era dust bowl retelling of Cinderella by a company called Transatlantic Love Affair.

What was so special about this show?  Well, for one thing, it contained no sets, no props, and no costume changes.  The eight actors wear the same evocative Depression-era farmers’ clothes throughout the show, and using their bodies and breath, become trees filled with wind, fields of ripe and then dried-out wheat, water pumps flowing and trickling, mirrors, trunks, windows, doors and creaking gates, and of course the vibrant characters of the story.  A single slide guitarist provided scoring, including, eventually, the profoundly welcome sound of rain.

Part of what struck me so powerfully was the use of breath in this production.  The farmers huffed and heaved in a natural rhythm as they worked; their breath made wind and the clatter of dry leaves; small chks and sighs evoked the scattering of seed or picking a grain of wheat to test its ripeness.  And every time the ensemble turned from one thing into another thing, they breathed out together in an audible, quick sigh, as if to clear the way for the new shapes their bodies would describe.

As I watched (what I could see when my eyes weren’t full of tears), I was thrown again and again by how much a group of people could move me just by committing to a motion or a shape, by letting breath carry them from one place to the next, and by the end I felt liberated, like this group had literally breathed new life into me, like I’d been given spiritual CPR.  It occurred to me then: what isn’t possible with only our bodies, our breath, our sounds and our feelings?  As theatre moves more and more toward a commercial model, trying to get butts in seats using gimmicks and special effects and making it ever more like the movies, the thing that sold out that space for the first time in Fringe history was a show with no effects at all, not even a single prop.  Just a group of talented people willing to tell a story with their whole selves.

What does this have to do with Rubenfeld Synergy Method?  A lot, I think.  It has to do with what moves us, and how movement itself – the willingness to move with conviction – can free us.  And with breath – the way it can cleanse, sweep away, smooth over, re-oxygenate, and revivify.  And with sound, and music – how listening can link us to memory, to emotion, to the pulse of reality, and to presence.  All of these things lead us back to ourselves, to a place where we can begin to believe, again, that change and healing are possible.

When has art healed you?

Published by Kamela Dolinova

Expressive arts adventuress: writing, performing, healing, loving.

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