I have been trying to work out why I found Bowie’s Where Are We Now? so affecting. At first I thought it was because in the video he comes across as a man of 66 looking back on his times 30 plus years ago without trying, as so many rocks stars do, to recapture that age and serve it up again. As someone half way in between am I looking back to look forward?
In Bradford this week I was privileged to watch Alan Lyddiard work with a company of 20 learning disabled performers at Mind The Gap. Alan ran an exercise in which all the performers were reminded of the key co-ordinating points of the body, from the tips of the toes to the top of the head, to earth them. Then to a piece of music by the distinctive Roma singer Mitsou lasting 5 minutes and 44 seconds they slowly rose from their chairs, crossed the space, looked back, turned back, walked back, decided against it and continued forwards, finally raising one arm. Once they had done this they turned to the side and sang the first two verses of Love Me Tender – first one, then two more, then three more and so on until all were singing.
On one level this is an ensemble warm-up. But there is something else. I was reminded of the work of the Young at Heart Chorus, a group of elders whose rendition of Rolling Stones or Nirvana or Radiohead numbers was deeply affecting in a way which made me hear the songs again as though for the first time.
It is partly what Rachel Mars is exploring in her show It’s the way You Tell Them, in which she moves in and out of this state, alternately adopting the mantle of comic acting to engage audiences but also disorient them, as she asks us what we laugh at. It is what Peter Brook’s ensembles do so well.
I wonder if I feel like this because I am more willing to be credulous of older people or those who are learning disabled?… So where does this leave the arch creator of personae, Bowie? Is this just one more post-modern re-inventive trick? For me, it’s the second silent accompanying face of the two disembodied figures in the video which is critical. She is neither interacting nor witnessing, but accompanying – and in so doing she allows Bowie to be authentically himself.
In an age of manufactured consent, it is the seemingly simple act of people presenting themselves, without pretence or acting, that connects so powerfully.