There are times when I feel like I have to gather up every detail around me and write it down before it is no longer a part of my surroundings or of my consciousness. Like if I don't pay enough attention to what's around me, I'll miss out on something extremely important. Sometimes this feeling lasts for only a few hours, sometimes it lasts for days. During this time it is so intense that it is actually a palpable energy that runs through my entire body, like steady surges of electricity going through my bloodstream. I try to manage the energy by letting it flow out of my hands into a written form, by engaging myself more while speaking with others, or even by simply stretching out my muscles. Regardless of how I choose to release the energy, there's no way around it: there is an actual physical and mental need for a release of some kind. So I do all of the things that I usually do only it feels much different than it usually does. It's as if everything has been covered in a texture that is more interesting to the touch. Like velvet or corduroy instead of the usual plain white cotton. This is the feeling I've had for the past three days and I'm hoping that by allowing myself to enjoy the things around me to degrees which I sometimes cannot, I will be able to preserve this feeling for as long as possible.
Last week I was in the shopping district of the city centre with my flatmate Shuai. As has usually been my experience with people who shop for hobby instead of actual need, she didn't know what she wanted to buy so she just wandered from store to store in search of something. As we walked past a perfume store she decided that she should start wearing perfume so she went inside to smell the various scents. I always dislike being in these kind of stores because the number one role of the staff is to ensure that people don't steal. So they casually follow you around the store, straightening things on shelves that don't need to be straightened while shooting sideways glances at you. This, combined with the smell of over 100 perfumes mingling in the air makes the general atmosphere of these shops almost unbearable for me. I waited outside.
As I stood outside I watched the people walking past without a single thought in my head, except for feeling mildly annoyed and having a vague thought of wanting to leave the shopping district. Most people walking by had shopping bags, some had with them small children, others had small dogs, but everyone looked expensively dressed and thoroughly unimpressed. A group of utterly nondescript people- five women and one man in their mid 20's to late 30's were walking down the street. They weren't interacting with one another in any way but they were all obviously together. Perhaps the only thing that could be said to have been unusual about them was the fact that there didn't seem to be a single thought in their heads either- their faces were completely expressionless. They certainly looked as bored as I felt.
But then in complete unison and without speaking to each other, they crossed one leg over the other and began walking in the opposite direction. My first reaction was to look at other people in the street- had they noticed too? A few people walking past had also noticed and they paused for a moment with obvious befuddlement and mild amusement and then continued on, looking back a few times to see if the group would do anything else. But they didn't. I watched them for a minute longer as they continued walking but there was nothing unusual about them. At one point, they split up as a few of them walked into a store, one of them looked at a menu outside of a restaurant, and as another possibly tied his shoe or looked at his watch. After a few seconds they were back in a group again, except for one woman, and were walking in my direction again. The woman seemed to be in a frenzied panic. She was a few meters behind the group and ran to catch up with them. When she reached them, she began running circles around them, trying to get their attention. They were ignoring her completely. She fell down in the street and no one offered to help her up. She seemed really upset. The group continued walking away from her but then, just as before, they all stepped in unison and began walking in the opposite direction. When they got to where she was lying in the street, she casually got up and joined them again.
I had been watching them for about twenty minutes when I noticed that there were two people standing on the side of the street filming all of this. At this point, the group stopped to have a meeting with the people who were filming. Finally, an opportunity for me to find out what this was all about. I asked the woman filming what kind of group they were associated with and she said simply, "We're a small dance company and we do public performances." Then she gave me her business card with a website on it.
Their work is incredible. The dance company was started by her and one man and is based out of Tilburg. Their performances focus on everyday situations and interactions which they then alter and turn into dance movements. It's a reflection on human behaviour, particularly in public spaces.
Their website is www.Vloeistof.nl and you can watch videos of their performances there. My favourites are the third, fifth and especially the last video. The last video is almost exactly what I saw performed in the city centre.
What I found to be so interesting about their performance was how they were able to say so much about the bizaare behaviour that humans have in such public spaces as shopping districts, without saying anything at all. It's a comment on the alienation that breeds in these places- the alienation that we have toward ourselves and toward others and also how this alienation is exactly what propagates mindless consumer culture. Although the performance itself was bizarre given the context, the experience of watching it actually had the opposite effect on me. In fact, I would even say that I found it reassuring.
Also on their website is a single review of one of their performances from a few years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was written by none other than my friend Rinus van der Heijden, the arts editor whom I met in the party in the woods during my first week here and who later gave me a tour of the southern Netherlands and parts of northern Belgium (which I failed to write about in my blog.)
What a bizarre and infinitely interesting rock we live on.