Humans are animals. Through thousands of years we evolved, integral to a natural world. We learned to observe, respond to, and survive inside the complex web of our eco-system. We took what we needed and did not take what we did not need.
Recently - very recently - we left nature. We live in cities. We have light and heat on demand. We source food in bright emporia and our waste products disappear without our need to be involved. Diseases are treatable. Labour is not for survival, but for money to buy survival. We live by the clock, not by the cycles of light and dark, the passage of the seasons. We have learned to fear nature. We seek to tame or eradicate nature. We have came to scorn the wisdom that comes from knowing nature.
We became urban.
Urban animals - on the cusp between wildness and domestication.
Yet still, we are animals. We sense it. In the primal fear of the dark alley. In the deep comfort of stroking a domestic cat. In the thrill of a storm. When we leave our urban enclaves, it talks to us in the the transcendent beauty of the starry sky, or the roar of a blizzard against a mountain refuge window.
We have changed how we live, but not who we are. Urbanised animals.
Once we lived in the wild, now we have placed wild ‘over there’.
We have divorced ourselves from our home. We have divorced ourselves also from the wild within, from our very life-force. We are neither fully domesticated nor truly wild. We are lost. The divorce is killing our home and it is killing us. It is killing community - the collective urge that helped us first evolve beyond our most basic levels. We are killing the biosystem that nurtured us. We do not care for it because we have forgotten it is part of us. We are of it and it is our source. We are dying.
Unless we reconnect with the wild and reconnect with our wildness, our future is not strong. We will not destroy the planet, but we will destroy its ability to support our existence. And we will destroy our ability to adapt to the changes we are causing.
We are Urban and Animal. They need not be in opposition. They must not be in opposition.
‘Urban Animal’ is a long-term performance project created by DUENDE. Based in DUENDE’s trademark physical, interdisciplinary and ensemble language, the piece will build, module by module, over several years, to become an 8-hour performance journey lasting through the night. Inspired by a medieval Japanese time-system, each hour, named after and dedicated to a different species, will explore natural energies, myths and legends, songs and stories, inspired by the totemic animal that oversees that hour. The passing of each hour will be marked by a moment of pause and reflection.
Natural time - the ancient passage of light through darkness to light - will coexist with codified time - the marking and naming of each hour-span. In encountering animal energies and their imaginative and symbolic resonance, each step into deeper darkness - and then each step back towards the rebirth of light - will bring us into increasingly deeper contact with our own, half-forgotten, wild nature.
As the hours pass, the audience, free to come-and-go at will, will be invited to move from observer to participant. They will mirror the creative process of making art - from first encounter to full immersion and, in doing so, they will also mirror the process of forming community, travelling from first meeting to deep connection.
The hours pass as we move through evolutionary time alongside clock time and diurnal time. We start with the simplest of organisms, pass through the mystery of reptiles and the half-kinship of mammals. We become the human individual and then, beyond that, the social and communal human, the post-human. Collectively we fulfil the role of the artist, to understand where we are and imagine where we could go. We do it through encounter with our suppressed nature, with our forgotten environment, with each other and with the shared potential of the rediscovery of community.
Then, emerging from our temporary community, forged in the deep secretive recesses of ancient darkness, we take our light back into the world that we know. We change that world. This is the role of art.
The final version of the show will run from dusk to dawn - from turning up at a show, to sharing a breakfast and then re-engaging, changed, with the outside world. Together we will travel through the night - as living, breathing creatures, alone and together, using culture to make sense of the forces we cannot understand. We will look in to the darkness, as watchers, as doers, as makers and we will find shared light.
Through the night we will rediscover our own wild and wondrous nature: ‘What will we do, we who are awake while others sleep?’ (Nicolás Nuñez)
The creation and presentation of four, one-hour modules. Each will be based on a different species. Each will be a complete performance piece. Each will be aesthetically different, though within DUENDE’s overall language of interdisciplinary physical ensemble. The pieces will be primarily performative rather than participatory.
The four existing modules will be re-created and re-imagined. They will be put together to form a four-hour performance piece. This piece will take the audience from dusk to deep darkness - a journey half way through the night. DUENDE will discover more about the logistics of creating the final journey.
A further four modules will be created - increasingly participatory in nature. Each, again, a complete performance piece. DUENDE will continue to experiment with placing new and existing modules of performance into relationship with one another.
All eight modules will be assembled and interlinked to create ‘Urban Animal’ - a through-the-night performance/participation experience exploring the creation of temporary community (’communitas’) through performance and participation. The piece will bring audience into relationships; with themselves, with the power and meaning of their natural environment and their evolutionary heritage; with DUENDE’s performers; with each other; with the possibilities of personal and social transformation that come from reimagining how we can live - collectively - as urban animals. When the sun rises - that ancient daily rebirth which our very biology responds to - we will meet a rebirth also of our own shared humanity, we who have travelled together through the darkness of this night.
Stage Five - a potential long-term extension of the project.
A core team of DUENDE Artists, using Stages 1-4 as a template, can re-create versions of this work in collaboration with other groups/ artists in diverse locations round the world - local cultures and customs melding with the transnational influences that DUENDE brings, to create unique, locally significant performance works that embody transnational perspectives.
• Eight different shows to be created in different locations with different performers between 2018 and 2023
• Individual shows to be combined in modular structure to form longer performances within the framework of The URBAN ANIMAL
• Individual shows to be re-created/re-imagined with a single cast as they are combined to form longer performances
• Ultimate aim: a dusk-until-dawn performance experience, through which we encounter communitas, nature and the passage of time.
• Work to be overseen by John Britton, DUENDE Artists and to be developed collaboratively by DUENDE Associates, Artists and the wider DUENDE Community
• Collaborations with local organisations and producers to be developed for each individual module and for the staging of longer works built from individual modules.
Urban Animal: Archive
Here are the chapters of UA that have been created thus far:
Chapter One; The Hour of the Mayfly - in association with Rabbithole, Athens, 2018
Some species of Mayfly live for less than 24 hours. Their entire life span is less than a human day. This non-verbal, highly physical ensemble production placed Mayfly time in relationship to human time to explore the ideas of how one ‘seizes the day’ when there is only one day to seize.
Urban Animal - Becoming a collaborative partner
Formal processes for accessing funding are collapsing even in the countries where they are well established - and money that is available is increasingly directed to projects with demonstrable and immediate social benefit.
We need to evolve strategies to make new work that reflect different financial realities in different countries, and the fact that some parts of the project may attract money while others do not
We will have to make this path by walking it - and there may be some dead-ends.
Things we are looking for and ways that you can contribute:
Do you have contacts with (or do you run) a venue, festival, funding body that would commission an hour-long piece from DUENDE that fits into the Urban Animal framework? The hour-long performances that make up each chapter of the wokr could be a collaboration between DUENDE and local artists, or, if, there was the money to make it, a fully-DUENDE project.
Do you have contacts with individuals or organisations that might offer structural and developmental funding towards the long-term creation of this project? This would involve funding time for the core creative team to work, meet and evolve the structures and ideas behind Urban Animal. This sort of funding would represent a strategic investment in (or donation to) the vision that has motivated DUENDE to undertake this long-term project.
Do you have access to, or are you part of, communities and networks that might ally themselves with this work? The intention of Urban Animal is bigger than simply making a show - we are constantly asking: who are our wider communities and what strategies might we develop to be in relationship with them?
Do you have time to make an ongoing commitment to developing a social media presence (and developing a genuine international community via Social Media) - so that more people than our own communities feel that they have a stake in what we are doing.
Do you know (or are you an) interesting, dynamic and radical producers who can think on a large scale but would be willing - along with everyone else in this project - to do the work for its own sake, getting paid as much and often as possible, but doing the work anyway?
Do you know people who will extend our collaborative team of performers through collaboration on this project - designers, technicians, production managers, video artists, visionaries, ecologists, community activists…..? I do not want purely excellent people - though that too - I want us to work with people ethically, politically, aesthetically and passionately allied with DUENDE’s vision.