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Spirited Bodies at Tanner Street

5 January 2016
11:39am Please bring spare fuses! Easily bust
11:40am “Will do. And screwdriver”
12:14pm Have you left? We might also need a 13 amp fuse! I think I have one in the kitchen
12:21pm “Not left yet – in about 15 mins. Do you know where in the kitchen?”
12:24pm Cupboard under the sink
12:26pm “Got it”
12:26pm Are there 2 fuses?
12:30pm “I’ve found an adaptor plug with a 13 amp fuse in it – I’ll bring that along as backup”
12:35pm If you can bring me a sandwich that’s amazing too!

Part 1 – short fuses

Esther was messaging me midway through her Spirited Bodies women’s workshop at 47/49 Tanner Street near London’s Tower Bridge. Aside from the inconvenience of a few blown fuses, everything was working out superbly. She was in a good space with old friends and new enthusiasts. I felt both happy for her… and relieved.

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Any tension that had preceded the successful Spirited Sound at Bargehouse event a few weeks earlier was as nothing compared to the turmoil immediately ahead of this one. Some of it concerned the planned activities – chiefly, whether models and artists would attend in sufficient numbers – and some came from other situations. Through it, however, Esther’s dedication had ensured everything was in place.

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Part 2 – cometh the hour, cometh the woman

Power derives from resilience, strength from supportive friends. When fully immersed in running her women’s workshop, Esther was once more restored to her magnificent best. From 11am to 1pm, she led her group of models and artists, collaborating with close comrades on both sides of the drawing boards. When I arrived after half-past, I was moved to find her smiling and energised in the midst of organising the afternoon.

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The session from 2pm to 5pm was to be mixed gender in a larger space. It would also see the return of Sarah Kent to provide a sound bath accompaniment. I was there to provide whatever extra support I could – which could be modelling, or maybe drawing, but at the outset it meant simply changing fuses. Meanwhile, fears of a poor turn-out were rapidly disappearing; come the start, there wasn’t a spare seat to be found.

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Part 3 – lungs and kidneys

Our inspiration for this session, and the women’s workshop, was the zàng-fǔ organs of traditional Chinese medicine. Focus would be on the five yin organs, and the triple burner of the yang. Six models – two men, four women – were set to pose, including Esther herself. She introduced the practice with short dynamic poses centred on the lungs: 1-minute, 2-minutes, 3, 4, 5-minutes, expressing sadness through to joy.

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My role became timekeeper, calling midway and at the end of each pose. Sarah used her own timer to ensure the resonant waves of each sound bath were synchronised to the pose lengths. After lungs came kidneys – fear and courage – to be represented by 25 minutes cowering on ground or standing strong. Esther stepped from the group and together we retreated to a quiet corner for comfort and sandwiches.

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Part 4 – heart

The next piece was originally supposed to be half an hour of liver, but performers on a different floor of the building had asked if the sound bath could be suspended between 3pm and 3:30pm. Esther looked to her plans and found there was just time to fit in 15 minutes of heart, so those two organs were switched. After this section would come a half-hour hushed break for refreshments.

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Heart would be a movement pose. Four of the models lined up in pairs behind Esther, who had returned naked to the group and would be spearheading its action. As Sarah drummed a rhythmic heartbeat, the five upstanding models slowly, slowly raised their arms high, then lowered them to their hearts. This was repeated over and over for the full quarter of an hour whilst artists captured their transitions.

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Part 5 – liver and spleen

The session was going nicely, with warm positivity felt throughout the space. After the break it was my turn to join in with the models, beginning with our rescheduled liver. In this 30-minute segment we were invited to express anger, and were given free reign to change pose whenever we felt like it rather than at specific timed intervals. I wondered if we might not hear artists expressing anger when a pose changed without warning.

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Esther and I posed together; it was wonderful to reconnect with her in this simple way, doing what we both love. We made our poses as dynamic and expressive as possible, pulling faces and having fun. The next organ was to be spleen, in which models would spend 20-minutes either seated on the floor or standing, directing sympathy or blame towards the artists. I sat with my arms outstretched in an ambiguous gesture.

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Part 6 – triple burner

The ‘triple burner‘ is not a physical organ – within traditional Chinese medicine, it is primarily energetic, the passage of heat and water through the body. In Esther’s nude interpretation, four models lay down feet-to-feet in two lines of two. Another four stood over them in pairs, connected palm-to-palm. To make our numbers up to eight, Sarah joined in and would be leading us through chants of ‘eee’ or ‘ooo’ sounds.

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Sarah had hitherto been fully clothed, but when the moment came to begin our triple burner she lifted off her dress and stood beside Esther in naked solidarity. I touched palms with Esther, Sarah reached across to another female model, and together we started our intonations. Halfway through the 15-minutes Sarah dropped her hands to her heart and we all followed suit; it was a beautiful, unplanned moment of sharing.

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Part 7 – road to repose

Our final pose was to be 15-minutes freestyle. Sarah returned to her gongs and bowls, another female model decided to try drawing, so the remaining three women and three men paired-up and settled down. Two of the couples were in genuine relationships; the others simply seized the moment. I leaned back into cushions, cradling Esther gently in my arms, and we lost ourselves as one in time and space.

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A day that had begun with tension ended in peace and happiness; all had enjoyed the experience. Ultimately Esther felt the event had been even better than Spirited Bodies at Bargehouse. Artworks were laudable too, including some extraordinary wire models of individual poses. An hour after we had finished, a taxi returned us to Esther’s flat. It had been an intense 24 hours of emotion; now, at last, we could relax.

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