The Louys Project, The New Diorama Theatre, Camden Fringe Festival: 17th- 19th August 2011
Devised around Pierre Louys’ Les Chansons de Bilitis and the collected stories of the artists themselves, The Louys Project explores the journey into womanhood and the stories we associate with it. From Classical Greek Myth to contemporary coming-of-age tales, an all-female cast will take the audience on a lyrical, touching, and twisted adventure through a woman’s path to self-discovery.
- Contact: Farah Merani firstname.lastname@example.org
- No public Twitter messages.
Thank you to everyone who came to the New Diorama to see The Louys Project part one last week…it was great fun and has already generated a heap of ideas for the next step…
We want your feedback!
The Lifeguard Ladies
One more day to go until we open at the New Diorama – and I’m still catching up with uploading stuff from rehearsals two weeks!
Here are a few selected videos from the devising process in early August, where we turned the cast’s first kisses into mini dances. (Apologies for my dodgy camera-phone work….)
These all came about through one of our very first rehearsals in early July, when we were looking at Bilitis’ poems about adolescence. There were flutes, and streams, and clay being softly kneaded about her ‘exposed’ breast…..and singing songs together sitting on her would-be lover’s knee.
But we just couldn’t get into it…so we kept the feeling, the innocence about to be transformed, and put some more familiar actions in there instead. As each performer told her story, I asked her to be more and more physically specific about what she did. So we had a series of really concrete actions – which actually became more and more concrete and detailed as we focused more on our memories. Then two performers (who she couldn’t see behind her) acted out what they heard. Then we got the whole group involved, and started re-arranging. Like with Kiss 5 . And that’s the stories of the first kisses.
It’s been a really busy few weeks here in Lifeguard Productions. We’ve been following our question Who Speaks for Women, by building our ‘school of woman’, made up of different ‘classes’, inspired by the Bilitis poems and other media versions which purport to instruct the ‘young women’ of this ‘future society’ in which we live.
I thought I’d share some images and videos from the explorations of the last few weeks.
Below are images from one of the most gruelling episodes, where we explore the political attitudes towards female power.
Taking inspiration from this image – ‘We Can Do It’ – and the Bilitis poems from the central section, in which Bilitis’ ardent desire seems to bully her lover into submission, we played around with ideas of self-assertion, possession and coaching. Farah, who works as a personal trainer, led this class.
When it comes to figuring out your identity, do you need someone else to tell you who you are? And what is the power struggle within this trainer/trainee relationships? We focused in on this dynamic, and found that Farah’s encouragement and love of her group at the beginning, that desire to nourish and nurture them to fulfil their potential, quickly picked up a more incendiary rhetoric.
This turn from earth mother and gentle fascination to emotional tyrant comes from the attitude of Bilitis-as-lover. She begins, when she first falls for Mnasidika, her lover of ten years, completely in awe of her innocence, her wonder at the other’s body. Then, a desire for power and control takes hold – see The Mad Embrace
Moan! Moan! Moan, oh woman!…You’ll suffer less upon this bed in bringing forth a child than you will agonize in bringing forth your love.
Rehearsals for this section have been intense, as the ‘trainer”s increasingly cruel efforts to control and master the rest of the group’s bodies and emotions came from a place of good intention and self- celebration.
Thanks to Nigel Gosling for the bangin’ poster…
For us, Bilitis’s poems boil womanhood down to a series of emotional outbursts. Only when Bilitis loses her looks and becomes ‘useless’ to the young men and courtesans around does she become a poet. And her poems are well-honed punctuations – exclamations! – that always place her development in relation to men and her body.
She seems permanently isolated from the people around her, especially other women. (Is it because these were written by a man, imagining Bilitis’ life rather than sharing in her experiences, that there are no moments where she talks to her friends? Chats with her mum?) By the end though, it’s as if she has decided that she’s ‘complete’, she’s won, she’s done everything a woman should do and now she can give ‘Advice to a Lover’ (one of the poems) and advice to other women – rather wryly, Louys’ translation is prefaced with this:
“This little book of antique love is respectfully dedicated to the young women of a future society.”
As Farah posted in the article last week, Bilitis has been championed as a queer icon, not only because of her open lesbianism, but also perhaps because of the complex authorship of her story and her sexuality. But what we’re focusing on – and this is something that might challenge the relevance, the verity, of Bilitis’s queer authority – is what message Bilitis really presents about being a woman.
If we take a step back from simply identifying with the character, and stand on the frame of the narrative, looking in at the recurring images of the poems, the key moments which have been crafted (by Louys, NOT Bilitis), the construction of Bilitis’ life, her story, and the message of her life, is no different from the most historically stereotyped depictions of female self-discovery. Desire, sex and the body is at the centre of everything. Nature seems to be an uncontrollable aphrodisiac.
When she falls in love, she becomes a possessive, and eventually needy stay at home ‘wife’ (to another woman), and the two eventually drive each other apart. Then, with some finger-snapping single ladies attitude, she decides it’s time to focus on Me, Myself and I…and becomes a courtesan?! And only when she loses her looks does she decide to become a poet – effectively telling us that she’s ‘dead’ as a woman, and only now can write verses in the sand.
There’s a reason that I suddenly segued into Beyonce videos there…it’s because, when you step back and view Bilitis in this way, suddenly the connection with contemporary life is very clear. Her ‘lessons’ in womanhood are not so different from magazines and self-help books – and even those go-get-em put-your-hands-up songs performed by Ms Knowles (or should that be Mrs Shawn Carter?) – that we read now. These kind of images of your ‘first kiss’ – or your 10 steps to getting there with the boy of your dreams – that populate teen magazines. Or the ‘Irresistible Clothes-On Sex Moves’ that Cosmo tell you will definitely keep your man happy.
And how are we going to tie this together? These ‘lessons’ in womanhood?
We’re going back to school. The Louys Project has found its binding structure: ‘school of woman’, as taught by Bilitis, Beyonce and a few other figures of ‘authority’ whose messages and stories have been absorbed by many.
We’ll keep you posted, and upload our homework soon.
On Friday, Ashleigh, Farah, Ari and myself spent a day behind these big aortic doors in the inner chambers of one of Rag Factory’s external units figuring out how the story of Bilitis connects to contemporary representations of a woman’s ‘rites of passage’ and to personal experiences of those rites.
For the past week we’ve been drawing together the information from the poems, personal stories and anecdotes and media images and articles which all relate to the experiences depicted in Bilitis. I somehow felt, on seeing this door, that it was a lovely metaphor for what we’re trying to get into…the big cavernous spaces and real nuts-and-bolts architecture behind those twee images of love and hearts and experiences of desire.
As I was doing some background research for The Louys Project the other day, I came across this article.. a thorough synopsis of the poems from “The Songs of Bilitis” that we’re dealing with and their relevance to contemporary queer identity… not necessarily the focus of our piece, but an interesting perspective nonetheless.