Landscapes of the Heart

Feature in Issue 14-1 | Spring 2002

An artist’s diary by Daniela Essart, artistic director of Scarabeus, who are working with Piano Circus on a site-inspired new production.

The Project Landscapes of the Heart is a new large-scale multidisciplinary production by Scarabeus and Piano Circus, currently in the research and development phase.

This is what is planned: six musicians will suspend themselves and their pianos and six performers will create a vertical dance on different buildings around the country. The tri-dimensional shape of each building will provide a physical and metaphorical structure, an arena in which the performers climb and abseil. Suspended bodies will curl, dance and fall into gravity-defying drops whilst elevated above the ground by harnesses and ropes.

The framework connecting the performance and the location is inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In the book, the visionary traveller Marco Polo describes to the Kublai Khan imaginary cities. Cities – places of exchange, not only of goods but of words desires and memories. The aim in Marco Polo’s heart is to discover the secret reasons that bring men to live in cities.

We want to explore – physically and metaphorically, with sound and with vision – the concept of City, bringing Calvino’s Invisible Cities to life in urban locations.

The videoscape, which is an integral part of the performance, is a subjective reading and homage to a more intimate vision of London and its cultural diversity. We are playing with different textures: the screened image projected directly onto the texture of the buildings; the live performers against the fabric of the buildings and the video image; the projection of the video image strategically applied to the modern architecture and the different features of the three buildings – the use of live camera allowing us to focus the audience on details that otherwise will be missed because of the project’s scale.

The Diary

The following diary is an account of my thoughts and feelings during two luxurious weeks of research and development.

Caro Diario: 5 November 2001

Gone fishing for images with Gavin Lockhart, our amazing video artist and my beloved little daughter Naissa. We have been shooting angels at Highgate Cemetery. Our timetable for today said: ‘walking – talking – dreaming’. So we did.

6 November

Traffic by night at London Bridge. Looking like molecular colourful parts of a whole. Reflections of busy commuters on the marble of a building. The heaven of Rufus’ boat.

7 November

I got it: we need to establish whose the gaze is. Video and not voyeurism. Video and not National Geographic; Gavin is very strict. We decided it is Naissa’s gaze, very new to the world. I am sure it is Gavin’s gaze as well, accustomed to the wild of Skerray in the Highlands, and now looking at a city. My gaze towards London is very worn out, but today am observing and enjoying… Hackney’s peace carnival mural – I found a new injection of energy, a new motivation to make this project. I explained to Naissa that the people portrayed in the mural were walking, singing, playing music and ‘playing mass’ to offer her a better world. My ode to a more human world and more human cities is Landscapes of the Heart.

10 November

After days spent with Gavin taking images of this London with an incredibly shining and polished façade and rotten entrails, I feel that we too need a more ragged landscape. In the past, I thought of silk costumes opening into gigantic projectable fans; now I see cheap and torn muslin, dyed in various shades of blue, spilling out from cut tails of beautiful mermaids… The journey is from the water to the air. Angels and mermaids scanning this city. We tried to project on water down at Rufus’ boat. The water was stealing our images, perhaps just trying to put them back in her womb and delivering them again vivid and stronger. My will and my clarity are growing stronger.

12 November

And then I finally found myself with electronic pianos and pianists suspended in the air… I have been waiting for this moment for more than two years!

15 November

Angel from Abney Park Cemetery and tripping lights… The beauty of our performers playing in slow motion against a landscape made by angels’ faces, hands and wings. Moments of magic when a chill goes through my spine. Then the knowledge: I know how this show is going to begin.

And then… The madness of the lights of the cars by night passing under London Bridge, shot zooming in and out of focus, a fantastic moving image. The performers going mad during their improvisation, because they have been moving so slowly and in such a controlled way for hours. Steve Reich blasting different cities’ sounds over a throbbing club tempo… We are all taken somewhere else.

The wall has become so big: there is a pulsing energy and the pleasure to dance, dance and dance even more.

18 November

Textures, colours and above all details. The creative use of live camera in performance is so exciting. It has so much potential to distil gems of truth and close-ups of people’s emotions that otherwise would be lost by the size of the performance.

No dividing line between performers and pianists; John-Paul Zaccarini, our sensitive and flamboyant choreographer, suggests a lot of hands. I like the effect of close-ups of black and white piano keys and hands and feet…

We both advocate a strong theatrical impact. No movement for the sake of movements, but the essence of movement. I am longing for honesty in performance. Condensed truth and distilled moments of beauty. I can see it now, this show will be fantastic!

Two months later…

Some thoughts that chase through my dreams… The possibility for a show where memories dash from pain to pleasure in the blink of an eye, where the images are raw and direct. Landscapes of the Heart is going to be a passport to evocative places and fond memories that we are usually too shy to show in public spaces. It excites me – the idea of creating a performance that talks about people and where they belong, their stories and histories.

I can see it clearly now, we are not talking about mermaids any more – we are talking about women and their heart. Yes, the one that pulsates in our collective chest. This show is not blue any more – it is going to be red.

Research and Development of Landscapes of the Heart was funded by the Jerwood and Gulbenkian Foundations. The production and touring of the project is subsidised by the Arts Council of England and the PRS Foundation for new music. See www.scarabeus.co.uk

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-1
p. 14 - 15