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Spellbinding food for thought

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Company of Wolves aim to offer audiences and performers alike the space to dream. Andrew Youngson reports

 

Jan Chozen Bays has a theory about how we humans experience hunger. Animals, the American paediatrician and Zen teacher posits, experience only the basic need for nutritious sustenance – or “cellular hunger”, as Jan has termed it. Humans, on the other hand, have a further six forms of hunger, namely of the eye, the nose, the mouth, the stomach, the mind, and the heart.

Each motivates different actions within us, from the desire to create visual beauty (eye hunger), to hunt for the source of wonderful fragrances (nose hunger) or to feed our very souls by surrounding ourselves with good company and meaningful relationships (heart hunger).

It’s a powerful theory which has given birth to an entire movement of followers across the globe. And closer to home, it’s one of the main inspirations behind a new piece of physical theatre which is being devised right now at the Woodend Barn, Banchory.

As part of their two-year residency at the Deeside multi-arts venue, Company of Wolves will offer an insight into their latest project, Seven Hungers, at a work-in-progress sharing session tomorrow evening.

The usually Glasgow-based theatre company was founded in 2012 by co-directors Ewan Downie and Anna Porubcansky, who met originally in Poland. Their passion for physical theatre – encompassing the art forms of movement, singing and acting – has led them to explore aspects of the human experience alongside their company of fellow artists.

“Essentially, what we do is we start from some kind of theme that we feel is something we want to investigate. Often, it’s something that is quite ordinary, but there’s actually more to it,” Ewan explained, while on a break from rehearsals.

“Then, there’s a period of research during which Anna and I look for images, pieces of text, music and other inspirations that feel connected to it.”

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean being directly related to the theme,” Anna added.

“This time, it’s about hunger and food, but we’re also looking at opening our minds a little to allow us to dream.”

By dream, she and Ewan went on to explain, the pair mean to avoid thinking too literally about their subject matter, and
to veer away from a conventional “narrative theatre” pathway.

“We bring those inspirations together with the performers and begin to improvise with the material,” Ewan continued.

“We learn some songs, some movements, then see what influences from our research can be turned into theatrical actions. Essentially, we are looking to excite and engage the audience’s imaginations as much as possible.”

As audiences of their previous performances – such as Invisible Empire, which also arose out of their residency at Woodend Barn – will attest, the results can be quite spellbinding.

“The most common reaction is ‘that was amazing; what was it?’” Ewan laughed.

And in many ways, that’s just the response the Wolves are looking for. They don’t want the scenes they perform, with their improvisational elements and vocal landscapes, to be one definite thing or another.

“Watching our performances is like listening to music,” said Anna.

“It’s that experience people have when the mind and body are engaged in listening to music. It’s about letting it wash over you and seeing what surfaces. And so it will be different for each person.”

Jan Chozen Bays’s Seven Hungers doctrine is only one of many influences that Anna and Ewan have drawn on for the piece. Currently, they are calling on many texts, images and musical forms to inform their process of devising a fresh piece of physical theatre.

For example, at the time I spoke with them, they were about to embark on a field trip to Cambus o’ May’s cheese-making facility, and were seeking an opportunity to visit a butchery or slaughterhouse – all to better understand our relationship with food.

As part of the research process, the company members even looked inwards, by sharing their own food-related stories.

“One of the things that became clear was that, when we talk about food memories, mostly what we talk about are the people who are there and the connections between them. Food doesn’t appear in the memories much, and that became really interesting to us,” said Ewan.

Meanwhile, Anna, in her role as musical director, has drawn inspiration from the indigenous music of eastern Europe – particularly from The Caucuses on the border of Europe and Asia where traditional song, she said, has a magical quality.

So, with all these elements still being experimented with, what can audiences at tomorrow night’s sneak-peak sharing session expect?

“It will be some of the elements that we look at during this period, some musical and movement stuff and some text as well,” said Anna.

“It won’t be performance level, and it won’t be all connected together in a performance way, but it will be a flavour of some of the work we are doing. We will open the doors to our process. People will get a chance to see how devised theatre work is created, some of the thoughts, images and music and how they are developed.”

It will also act as an opportunity for the theatre company to thank the Woodend Barn team for their support during their residency.

“We just wouldn’t exist in the same way without Woodend,” said Ewan.

“To have the gift of the space and help with funding for projects is fantastic.”

“And beyond that,” Anna added, “one of the most important things that we appreciate so much is their approach and generosity. They say: ‘Here are the keys; just let us know what you need.’ It has been amazing for our process.”

The work-in-progress sharing of Company of Wolves: Seven Hungers will be performed at Woodend Barn tomorrow, June 27, at 7pm. Tickets are available from www.woodendbarn.com or by calling 01330 825431. The official performance tour of Seven Hungers will take place in October and November throughout Scotland, including performances at Woodend Barn, Inverurie and the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen.

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