Monday 25 August 2008

we too with them

for anne kilcoyne

Anne worked at Dartington College of Arts in Devon for about 10 years, from the early 1980s. She was brought into the Theatre Department to amplify the teaching portfolio, drawing on areas of cultural theory, anthropology and above all theatre’s intersections with psychology: psychodrama, special needs work, as well as critical understandings of the stories our cortex hums to itself about identity, society, gender, power, desire.

Anne’s work bridged different streams within the practice-based programme – dance, acting, writing – and was hugely influential in the development of many students over the years, buoying their capacities to think-through-doing. 

As well as an inspiring teacher, and a consultant-respondent-collaborator for her colleagues (she worked closely with Yon, Pete Kiddle, Steve Paxton and others), Anne had that rare ability to identify and value those students encountering difficulties, those overlooked, or even falling through the cracks of the institutional structures. She was an attentive and forthright advocate of students, she respected and privileged their creative possibilities unreservedly - and she was a wise, compassionate, incisive and very funny colleague. 

Despite a certain reticence within the department as to the possible effects of having a psychologist on board, Anne operated with great generosity, courage, and passion, providing orientation for people, making connections, encouraging and supporting unfoldings through the moments of difficulty, locating some ground for people in their individual becomings. Like her imagination, her engagement was broad, challenging, flexible, energised, and articulate. 

I remember my first ever departmental meeting in Theatre at Dartington in the early 1980s. My immediate impression was of a combative, slightly volatile and chaotic context within which energies ran deep and not necessarily in the same directions: like a very small and genteel version of a roundabout in Delhi. At one point, there was discussion of a student in trouble with the Totnes police and college authorities for having nicked a motorbike and somehow crashed it through a shop window in the High Street. I only really remember Anne’s measured comment, with a subtle smile on her face: ‘Ah, he’s such an … interesting boy’, she said. And of course she was right: he was.

At the same moment as we are meeting here in Brighton to celebrate Anne’s life, a group of Anne’s former colleagues, friends and students are walking together in the gardens at Dartington: at the invitation of Simon Persighetti, they are there to remember Anne, to invite their memories of her uniqueness to visit them and that place, a place that was special to her. If we are very still and attentive, perhaps we can hear their footfalls, the whisper of their thoughts, their sadness, their questions, their smiles, the wind in the trees.

More personally, Anne has been a deeply loved friend and confidante for about 20 years. She has been a kind of wise older sister for Rachel and for me in our own moments of difficulty as much as in our moments of celebration or deep-breathing peace. I think of her as a great old life-ful soul always evolving, awake, smart, pugnacious, interested. An invitation. A challenge. A role model.

I’d like to read 2 short texts for Anne, they remind me of her: first, my friend Matthew Goulish, writing about his own experiences of cancer, quotes the poet Odysseas Elytis:

‘One day when I was feeling abandoned by everything and a great sorrow fell slowly on my soul, walking across the fields without salvation, I pulled a branch from some unknown bush. I broke it and brought it to my upper lip. I understood immediately that man is innocent. We walk thousands of years. We call the sky ‘sky’ and the sea ‘sea’. All things will change one day and we too with them …’

And secondly, Arundhati Roy:

‘The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead.

Which means exactly what?

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated nor complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try to understand. To never look away. And never to forget’.

A tribute to Anne Kilcoyne, close friend and colleague at Dartington College of Arts, delivered at her funeral in Brighton in July 2004

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