Sophie Amundsen is fourteen years old when she first starts receiving her course in philosophy through the post box. Our heroine – as described in Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 novel Sophie’s World – gets provided with a metaphor. The universe, so it goes, is like a white rabbit pulled from a conjurer’s top hat. And all the children of the world reside on the tips of the rabbit’s fur, puzzling in amazement at the wonder of everything around them. Their ability to not take anything for granted means that they are also able to believe in things adults cannot – like seeing daddy flying around the kitchen ceiling. Most adults, and children as they get older – slide down the rabbit’s follicles and end up comfortably nestled down within the rabbit’s fur. They no longer look in awe at the earth, the stars, the trees or the animals because they prefer to swap the life at the precarious tips for what we call a quiet life – a life in which the senses are dulled and they never ask questions.
There are, however, a special group of adults who never lose their wide-eyed childish curiosity and stay forever living on the periphery of the bunny’s white fur. And these adults are known as philosophers.
Dance choreographer Hagit Yakira is certainly interested in people who own that job title. For …in the middle with you Yakira based the piece on Letter to Jette (1847) by Soren Kierkegaard. In this letter, Kierkegaard says:
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it … but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill … Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”
And so, on the stage, the dancers walk and walk. They walk on their side like fishes trying to swim on dry land; they walk when the only things they are allowed to walk on – stepping stones of clothing – keep being moved from under them and then, gradually, their walking turns to running. This is when the trouble comes about. Because the walking and the walking and the walking had a beat, a solemnity and a healthiness. The running intensifies it and turns it in to something the runner cannot possibly keep up. Instead of walking away from illness, the runner is heading for burnout. The fine line we all skirt between trying desperately to remain motivated, upbeat, energized and to keep going through bad times merges with the other destructive drive to push oneself too hard. This skittering from one end of the continuum to the other must surely be something dancers are particularly challenged by, and Yakira’s beautiful but relentless choreography portrays it well.
Aside from just basing it on a philosopher’s text, I would go further and suggest that the connection to the discipline is stronger: Yakira and the five performers of this piece (Takeshi Matsumoto, Sophie Artsall, Mariana Camiloti, Ben Meewen and Kiraly Saint Claire) are philosophers in the Sophie’s World sense. There is joyousness to …in the middle with you, which goes beyond how we normally understand that emotion. It is not that the whole piece is uncomplicatedly full of happy, clappy, skipping woodland imps – indeed the first half is at times both awkward and sorrowful – but that there is something akin to a ‘lightness of spirit’ at work in the most genuine sense.
Childishness is not something we normally cultivate. In excess or in the wrong manner, an inability to mature is infinitely irritating to the other people who come into contact with the over-grown child and ‘grow up’ is a pretty frequently used insult. On the stage, immaturity is often manifest in bad comedy, terrible sex scenes or an urge to completely over-play emotion – sobbing and screaming hysteria. So when I say that this performance carried within it a certain childlike-ness I do not mean that I felt any of the performers needed to get a grip on reality. Far from it. It felt like the joyfulness emerged from a place of sincere understanding, a better understanding of things than most people – buried deep within their bunny-down duvet – possess. Walking has unburdened them of the radio interference of normal adult life and, like a microscopic artwork painted on a pinhead, these dancers perfectly pirouette on the very tips of a little white hair.