The Intervention of Loneliness
A Space for Empathy and Healing the Social Fabric
By Nora Amin (3rd March 2023, English Theatre Berlin)
Although the word “loneliness” has been over–exploited by the entertainment industry across the globe, either creating romantic dramas and songs that instrumentalize the human condition of solitude and consider it as a pathetic kind of existence, or opposing it to the concept of togetherness that has been systematically crushed under the pressure of a fast–paced and capitalist system, the true and profound meaning of “loneliness” has seldom been tackled. We live in societies where individualism has taken the lead, emphasizing the solo ego over any community or collective development, and putting the material gain above any non–material experience or growth. With a pedagogy of humanness that defines the human beings only according to their rate of material productivity – as if we were automated – and stands on the verge of dehumanizing those who do not produce enough, looking at one’s emotions and emotional needs seems like a luxury, one that can be easily shamed and quickly excluded for the sake of more material gain and monetary advancement.
“The Intervention of Loneliness” intervenes within the scene of the performing arts in Berlin, to invite the spectators to re–visit their sense of humanness. Like previous works of Ming Poon, it is a dance piece, participatory, interactive, intimate and daring. Yet this time there is so much more beyond the “dance act”, or the “participation”, if we dare to look beyond the surface. While Ming stands holding a sign saying “Dance with Me?”, the solo body on the stage becomes a symbol of all humans reaching out to be seen, heard, touched and acknowledged. The sign is not only a sign to attract the spectators to join him in a slow dance, it is primarily a sign for rescue, for refuge, for retrieving a sense of being together with another, or a sign of revolt to the existing pedagogy of divide and materialism. And like previous performances where Ming Poon collaborated with the amazing dramaturge Dandan Liu, we can trace the strategies and combinations of involving the spectators, and the very solid system that both artists have developed together. Obviously we are in a safe space, and the path towards our interactions has been thoroughly paved and prepared.
The solo performer awaits someone to respond to his request, awaits someone to join him on stage and break his solo stage existence. The moment is long, longer than the seconds and the minutes that go by. It is an extended moment in time and history where a body that has been made to isolation or loneliness speaks out the need and desire to belong again outside of this solo existence. The distance between the seats of the spectators and the stage at the English Theatre in Berlin seems so far, and the decision that each spectator would take to leave their seat and go onstage and dance with Ming or – later in the performance – with another spectator, seems like a decision connected to one’s own relation to themselves first, then to another, then to the house full of spectators. It is a decision that puts us in confrontation with our own need for empathy, “the person on stage looks so much like me calling to break my loneliness”. The decision puts us to the test of whether we can guide our bodies to carry our decision and step out from comfort of the spectator’s seat to the spotlight of slow dance on stage. The decision is not only a decision, it is the re–rooting of our individual behaviour so that it can recognize, offer, share, demonstrate compassion. It’s like breaking the rules, liberating the instinctive empathy, responding to the request for sharing, and declaring that we have an open heart, and an emotional responsibility that can be carried out through dance. Yet, why should/would one respond and join a person – who is a stranger – in a slow dance on stage? Maybe because we see in that person our own reflection, or perhaps because if we don’t do it we should not expect someone to respond to us when the time comes. At some moments it looked as if the reason comes from a certain feeling of responsibility towards that person, even if they were strangers. Sometimes it felt like the spectator was waiting for this chance so that the dance would fulfil an already existing desire/need. And sometimes it seemed like a kind of volunteering to prove that we can still be in solidarity with each other.
Human life is supposed to develop in groups, in communities, and we as humans are connected across time and space, and beyond any division or categorization. Togetherness preserves human life. To disconnect from the human community is to disconnect from oneself. And to live with a divided identity where body, mind and soul are fragmented, and where emotion is regarded as separate from the intellect and inferior to it, would lead to a disconnection from the community, and vice–versa. The spectators rushing to the stage to slow dance was an image of rushing towards our togetherness, retrieving our human bond, and reclaiming emotion and touch as a basic condition for humanness. Gradually the hesitation disappears, and the stage fright is replaced by stage warmth and intimacy. The stage itself becomes re–defined by/with the dancing bodies that occupy it and fill it with meaningful actions. The dance performance here is one that is totally unexpected. A dance performance by the spectators themselves to themselves. A performance of dance as a mediator of togetherness, and as a catalyst of unconditional empathy. The collective dance of the several duos transforms itself into what could seem to be a protest calling for human bonding and empathy. The spectators/performers carry their many signs in multiple languages, they stand together in a line, they fill the space. Only few of us remain in the audience seats, maybe we have had our turn in the beginning and now we are resting and enjoying the scene of the gathering, and maybe we did not dare to participate because the emotional wounds are too heavy to dance with…
The performance is also designed to hear the responses of the spectators, how they experienced the dance, how they joined to dance with someone and maybe took over the sign and stayed on stage to be danced with later. As they speak, their voices liberate the stage and break the border between the community and the institutionalized art. Smoothly we forget who danced with whom, and the space becomes filled with sheer joy and trust. To me “The Intervention of Loneliness” breaks the cliché that separates community dance from stage dance, and invites the society to stage its own togetherness and its own loneliness, by sharing, expressing, dancing and performing the concept of human community and humanness in community.
Ming Poon transforms into one of this community. He employs his performativity and dancing body to offer space and to empower a sense of community. He breaks away from the classical artistic ego, and demonstrates a model of retrieving the social fabric via the practice of dance where a body that offers itself to be seen – and to be danced with – is a political body that raises awareness and creates critical embodied knowledge. Dance mends, heals and repairs what has been damaged or harmed. Starting such a journey requires courage, admitting the needs and the blockages, redefining vulnerability as power, and owning our loneliness as a systematic and political condition that has been imposed on us, so as to transform it – by sharing it and dancing it – into the power of community, empathy and solidarity.
As I moderated the after–show talk on 3 March, I witnessed the spectators sharing vividly how they experienced the “intervention”, how much it touched them, and how it was immensely needed. The conversation proved to me that there is a possible path towards changing the pedagogy of humanness as labour/material productivity and plant it anew as a pedagogy of embodied knowledge that slowly functions to reverse isolation and implement emotionality as knowledge and human power.
A dance is never only a dance, but: A safe space, filled with emotion, with unexpected and positive experiences, training us for patience, empowering dignity and pride, retrieving our connected–ness, celebrating the vulnerability, creating the human warmth, exploring braveness, while being surprisingly moved, touched, comforted, empowered, enchanted, embraced, unlocked, stunned, acknowledged, challenged, calmed, loved, stimulated… a dance can also be a community to belong to… a political act… a performance of resistance… a dance of humanness… (*)
(* Based on audience written testimonies)