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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Keeping it up!
Animated, Summer 1999. "... but she is so much prettier than me - I want to be like her". "Don't worry darling, you have high cheek bones and you will stay looking younger far longer than she will." By Emilyn Claid
This anguished teenager-to-mother exchange often comes back to me now as I study my face in the mirror, always shocked by the thousands of wrinkles that blatantly, without respite, tell me my age. In full denial of the inevitable, I turn away from the mirror and do my 'happy' face exercises, practising a light and lifted expression whilst smoothing anti-wrinkle cream outwards and upwards across my skin, even though I know it contains no miracle cure. In the mornings I harness myself in a tight jogging bra, stride off to the gym working the muscles in my back-side as I walk, attempting to hold on to a 'pert bum'. Once there I push and shove at heavy weights to delay the night sweats of menopause. I run, do yoga, deep knee bends, kick my legs about and work my muscles with frantic persistence because I cannot give up the desire to stay fit - up, up, always up, fight, fight, against the dropping of the flesh!

Having grown up as a ballet dancer where the upward aesthetic consumes the training, I must admit to an addiction to the play of pleasure and pain and I also admit to a narcissistic obsessive relationship with my ageing flesh. Two years ago, aged 47, I performed a piece where I began wearing nothing but a transparent silver cloak and big boots - deconstructing images of androgyny and transcendence. One critic wrote: 'Emilyn Claid, near pornographic and narcissistic - gets Dance Umbrella off to a bad start.'(1) I thought, yes, great, that is exactly what is happening here, my body looks amazing at 47 and I am celebrating my construction of it!

I suspiciously hope that the obsessive desire to keep my body in this kind of aesthetic shape diminishes, in parallel with the downward sagging of my flesh. For me, this is the hardest thing about growing older - having to come to terms with not being able to 'do' dancing any longer as I would wish to do it and dealing with the loss and grief of that glaring reality. My body has provided me with a profession, the memory in the muscles tells me how it used it be, watching the inevitable degeneration of its abilities feels like a terrible 'letting go'. It is not always easy to be optimistic and turn to new directions, I can understand the stereotype of the ageing ballerina who can never give up and her dependency on alcohol.

Of course philosophically and spiritually, there are fascinating aspects to growing older. I really appreciate the ability to visualise life as a wider horizon seen from a greater distance. When I was growing up life appeared like a city of high rise buildings, where each one blocked the view beyond. Experiences of family life, dance training, ballet company, Canada, New York, drugs, impassioned politics, choreography, artist struggles, being a mother, lover relationships, death of loved ones, all these metaphorical tower blocks were little histories, eras and adventures to be tackled. There I was, energetic and excited, running right up in front of each one, smashing my nose on each hard surface. I would find a way to move through or climb over, only to turn a corner and come up against another enormous tower. As I grow older, life appears as a more open landscape on which all those 'towers' are positioned, along with many more waiting to be approached, like vertical points on a horizontal plane. They appear linked to one another across the space as a network of points in a rhizomatous configuration, forming a kind of choreography. Acknowledging that there are 'spaces between' suggests there is a choice, to confront these adventures or to move in the gaps between them. Inevitably, I still choose to confront each one, for although I may be philosophically ready for the ambiguity of the spaces between, I remain passionately or emotionally committed to extreme ups and downs!

On a good day it is all very well to philosophise in a romantic manner. On a bad day growing older as a dance theatre practitioner in a career which is, to all intents and purposes, a youth culture, feels like being held in a straight jacket within a locked room at the end of a long corridor. A 'sage' in the straight jacket describes the dance artist who is respected for 'knowing' but is no longer expected to 'do'. On a bad day I give up trying to make myself seen, after all I am nearly 50, I have had my chance to 'make it' or do something innovative. On a bad day I am trapped inside the room, suffocating in the so called comfort of a 'mature' job - the straight jacket - answering the silent emails whilst students read about me in history books.

Fortunately this article is too short to get embroiled in the political issues of ageism in dance such as the isolation and invisibility, the constant struggle for recognition as a 'live' body rather than a text book fact, the disbelief that anyone over the age of 35 could be at the 'cutting edge', the horrors surrounding the image of an older body dancing and the mature performing presence. (I still cringe at the word 'mature' - like a wine or a cheese that must be left a long time, there is a curious slippage of meaning between 'ageing' and 'ripening'.)

It is difficult to discuss the political issues of ageing because I cannot feel old, I am still performing and still looking forward. I am not one of those older people who reckons they have so much to teach the young, that people should listen to me because I know better, or that I have some kind of wisdom as a result of having been around a long time. Those things may be true, but really, I consider myself the same as any young, hopeful performer. I just want to direct, choreograph, perform, learn, get better at what I do, deal with the immediacy of the studio, take risks, always searching for the place where creativity flows without fear. One concession I do give myself is to ensure that I can always afford a manager! Whilst I might be enthusiastic to create and perform, the selling aspects such as filling in grant applications and finding performance dates - after 25 years in the business - have become increasingly depressing. But hey - what is new?

Fortunately, I have had a wonderful two year break from the endless rounds of grant applications in order to complete a PhD. I am now 'Dr. Claid'. The thesis, Yes? No! Maybe... Performing Seduction, (hopefully soon to be a book), focuses on the seductive relations between performer and spectator in live theatre performance by refiguring 'androgyny' and 'eroticism'.

Dancers and academics have traditionally regarded each other with wary and/or weary respect. Academics are dependent on those that embody the artform but tend to think that writing about performance is somehow superior to 'doing' the performance (such is the power of words). The dancers, on the other hand, imagine that academia implies historical and philosophical study, where performance is no longer a living event but a theoretical analysis associated with 'non-activity'. As a performer who also writes, I increasingly find there is a point of creative contention, between 'doing' performance and 'doing' writing, where the boundaries converge and disappear.

The language of classical ballet continues to fascinate. My theoretical and practical inquiries into qualities of movement language - the androgynous play of masculine and feminine in one body, the qualities of phallic power and seductive pleasure, the brilliant coherence of a mind/body discipline - all these elements exist in a refiguration of ballet.

I am intrigued by the intricate, muscular, technical complexities of movement, a combination of the defined linearity of ballet and the broken sensual fluidity of new dance languages - not as a homogenised 'middle mush', but as a play between the extremes. This layering of embodied dance knowledges on my body, from ballet to Graham technique to Butoh, is definitely a positive aspect of growing older as a dance artist. How one knowledge interweaves with another, when each one has a different specificity, has been experienced at a different physical age and under different circumstances, makes for a fascinating narrative of contradictions - one which appears deeply experiential yet also performatively constructed. My interest is held, more than ever before, (even in this forward-looking era of dance and virtual and/or interactive technology), by the investigation into embodied language and how this layering of knowledges might be transferred from one body to another.

Dance artists really are quite amazing! It appears to me now that I used to take for granted the time spent in the studio with other dancers, creating performance work. Now I have the greatest respect for it, as a luxury and a challenge. I love working in a large empty space with finely tuned, powerful mind and bodies who have absorbed and embraced a formal technical discipline - watch them pick up movement from my body and transfer it intelligently to their own bodies; see them create a physical language through our detailed sharing of knowledge and find ways to interpret and express the material through their understanding of principles and intentions. I think that this work describes one of the most exciting and erotic exchanges that can take place between 'real' flesh-and--blood bodies.

Emilyn Claid, Performer and Choreographer.

Reference
1 Parry, Jann, London, 1996

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001