Early this week I woke up surprised to find that my white pillow slip had turned orange overnight. There was further surprise on getting up to discover that I had orange hair and could barely walk. I also had 90s dance floor fillers on constant rotation in my head: Britney Spears’ Toxic, Sing hallelujah! (Sing it! Sing ha-lay-lu-yah. Sing it!). ‘Dear god, please make it stop’ I thought as I hobbled towards the kitchen.
As I wrote in a previous post, I made a return to dance class and the scenario I’ve just described was the wash-up of the end-of-term big Halloween dance-off between the nine classes of the dance company Body Electric. It seems I had the proverbial red shoes on that night because I danced solidly for about three hours after doing a dance performance dressed as a nutcase (ah, the orange hair!).
I wish I’d taken my camera with me to capture backstage: imagine a big room with nine groups of 20 people each in various states of undress; outfits spilling out of bags; make-up being applied; an ozone layer-destroying amount of hairspray. White-corseted horror brides with neck wounds, living dead in body bags, Salmon Dance people with their black rubber fins and shiny silver scales; blood-spattered cheerleaders; nutcases in strait jackets with bright orange hair and smeared black eyes….It reminded me of how much I enjoy home-made performance.
A few years ago, some friends living in Spain invited a group of people to Marrakesh to celebrate their wedding. They rented a house in the old part of town and the ‘payment’ for our lodging was to bring a show to a performance night which was to be held on the second night of our time there. In Barcelona, at my friends’ house, I looked online at the photos of the “performance space” and began to dream…There was a pool in the centre of the courtyard and my room opened on to this courtyard. Naturally, I began to channel Esther Williams and see the possibilities of emerging “backstage” from my courtyard room into a 50s Hollywood water ballet extravaganza. This was my opportunity to be skimmed across the surface of a pool by muscle-bound men in bathing costumes. I intended to grasp this opportunity with both hands. Check out this video of Esther to see what kind of look I was going for: Of course, I had to make some allowances.
So…the group of about a dozen people arrived in Marrakesh and the day of the show dawned. It was about a million degrees in the shade. The insane heat was not helping the performance anxiety that had infiltrated what had the previous day been a merry bunch of new chums celebrating their friends’ wedding. Some did not know what they would present as their performance. Many had never been part of a performance. There were some revolutionary rumblings. But if I was going to produce a show involving the whole group, learn a song in French, and find plastic roses and floating candles, I needed to stay focused. I also needed to get out and back before the fierce Moroccan sun fried my brain. So I negotiated an alliance with the only fluent French speaker in the group, promising my help as dramaturg for his show in exchange for translation services and his man-arms in the pool for my Esther Williams turn. Off we went in a taxi in search of a floating candle manufacturer in an outer suburb of Marrakesh. As you do.
My French-Canadian friend and I found floating candles but got lost in the labyrinthine alleyways of old Marrakesh and nearly lost the will to live as we wandered increasingly desperately past identical doorways in the shimmering heat. On finally finding our way back to the villa, we practically kissed the ground. After diving, fully clothed and hysterical into the pool, we set to work on his show and I secretively approached each member of the group and primed them for their part in the water ballet.
Well, to cut what could be a Cecil B. DeMille-sized story short, what eventuated was one of the most memorable nights of my life – and certainly memorable for the caretaker staff, who emerged around 2am to tell us in the nicest possible way to shut up and go to bed. (We didn’t.)
There was the mad chef with his onion-chopping act, there was the snail race with a hand-drawn track and each snail tagged with a person’s name, there were the cross-dressing Romeo & Juliet, there was a reading of a Lorca poem, there was my Canadian friend’s spoken word performance about coming out, there was a painting created with the body parts of group members, there was a hilarious dance medley involving every iconic dance style and track known to man (Thriller, YMCA, The Twist etc).
As my act involved everyone getting into the pool, it was last on the bill. It was very late. The variety show was by now in its fifth hour and many gin and tonics had been consumed. I emerged from my dressing room to join my gracious pool boys. I was wearing a red petticoat and draped in red plastic roses. I began to sing the Piaf song La Vie En Rose. The pool boys discovered that it’s not easy to hold someone aloft and skim them gracefully across the surface of a pool when drunk at 2.30am. I discovered it’s not easy to sing, let alone in French, while being shakily held aloft and swooped across a body of water. There was one point where I thought they were going to drop me and the whole thing would descend into total farce. I hoped nobody would notice that I sang the second verse of the song twice.
On my cue of lighting the first floating candles, the first two swimmers slipped into the water, swam to their waiting candles, lit them and floated them in the pool, followed by the second pair of swimmers, and the third, and so on. With each new set of floating candles alight in the pool, the most recent arrivals would begin to hum the tune to La Vie En Rose. So the finale involved everyone being in the pool, surrounded by floating candles, humming La Vie En Rose. What I had failed to take into account was that with everyone in the pool, no-one would be able to document this most beautiful sight and sound. I hope you can imagine it as it lives on in my heart’s memory – kind of fuzzy around the edges, yet in lurid 50s technicolour and infused with all the warmth of a home-made show in which everyone had a part, on one summer night in Morocco.