I have learned some good lessons this week. My youngest daughter who is 12 years old was invited to take part in a performance directed by an Australian choreographer who lives in Bergen. The piece is called Working With Children. It was the theater that took contact with the school and asked if there were any students in lower middle school who were interested to participate. My daughter and two other classmates decided to give it a try.
Beforehand, parents were contacted by email by the producer with practical information. Parents were also invited on Monday to meet the choreographer and see the place where the children were going to rehearse for five days and perform on Friday and Saturday.
I came to the meeting on Monday with my daughter. Her two classmates were there and the parents to one of them, as well as three other kids from other schools and their parents. We met the choreographer, who briefly presented herself and explained what was going to happen during the week and what the performance was about. She explained that the performance was going to be experienced differently by the children in it and by the audience. The purpose of the performance was to focus on the process and they weren’t going to show a finished, polished piece. This sounded exciting to me. Maybe it also sounded safer to the kids? There was no expectation to perform, to show dancing skills. The expectation was just to take part. To be curious and open-minded and maybe even trusting.
After the meeting, parents left, children stayed. When my daughter came home, she was excited but also slightly puzzled because the choreographer had explained a bit more about what was going to happen during the performance. Apparently, at some point, she was going to run naked on the background, but the kids weren’t going to see her. She had explained to them that this was going to last for just a few seconds. She also explained that during the performance, there was going to be a screen on the background with text. There was going to be some ‘mild swearing’ on the text at some point.
I wasn’t shocked by this. I think kids are exposed to swearing everywhere. I don’t necessarily agree with the need to swear, but I trusted that it was put in the context of the performance and it would make sence for the audience. The kids weren’t going to see the swearing words anyhow. The nakedness didn’t bother me either. She is a contemporary dancer and I chose to believe that there was a reason for this too. There is nothing wrong with showing a naked body, it is more how we choose to see it or in which context that it is shown that can be maybe difficul to digest for a 12 year old, and again, she reassured the kids that they wouldn’t going to see her.
My daughter and I talked about it, she didn’t seem to be bothered by it anymore. Tuesday evening, she came home after the practice. She had been given a lift by the mum who couldn’t make it to the meeting on Monday. Her child and my daughter told her about what they had been doing during the rehearsal, and apparently, when she found out about the ‘naked part’ and the ‘swearing part’, she was distressed. My daughter started doubting. I tried to reassure her again. It is contemporary art, you won’t see any of it. Did you have fun? – Yes, she repiled. They were doing all these ‘weird’ movements. Playing with movement, basically.
The next moring, I woke up to find a message from the mum. She had sent it to me and the parents of the third child from my daughter’s class. She and her husband (who doesn’t live here for the moment) were very worried about this performance. They were shocked by its content, and wante to pull their child out. Until here, all good. As parents, they have the right and obligation to make their own choices for their child.
The challenge is that to me, it seemed like they had made up their mind and wanted to convince us to think and do the same as them. I choose to believe that it was with good intentions. Maybe they thought that we didn’t know about the contents of the performance. However, the other parents and I did go to the meeting and got to get a feeling about the whole setting. This is a professional space. I don’t believe the theater would put the children in a space where they would feel unsafe or humiliated. I had a busy day at work, and didn’t have time to talk with the parents, but kept receiving messages of distress and distrust. At the same time, I was hearing from the school because I work there too.
Sometime in the early afternoon, all parents received an email from the producer of the play, explaining the ‘naked part’ and the ‘swearing part’, and reassuring us again that this was done with care for the children. All this time, I was thinking that I didn’t want my daughter to quit this experience. I thought it was a great experience and I was looking forward to the discussions about the dance (which was also challenging my daughter’s idea of what dance ‘should’ be) and the rest of it.
I finished work, and was ready to have a telephone conference with the other parents. I wanted to let them know that I respected their choice, but that I had decided to let my daughter continue. It seemed to me that the parents of the third child had the same opinion as me. To my big surprise, as I leave work, I get a phone call from my daughter. She had decided to quit. When I asked why, she said she was worried about the content, that her friend had been pulled out. I tried to reassure her, but she had made up her mind, and I felt I couldn’t force her.
I told her she had to call the producer (I didn’t have the choreographer’s number), and explain why she wanted to quit. The producer called me later, and explained that there was nothing to be worried about, but my daughter had decided not to join, and I felt I couldn’t convince her to change her mind. After all, I hadn’t been there during the rehearsals. I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure of my daugher’s experience of it.
The choreographer called me too. I guess she was worried. She had called the mum of my daugher’s friend, but she didn’t take the phone. She explained a bit more about the preformance. I wasn’t worried, I said, but I felt I couldn’t push my daughter more. This was supposed to be a positive experience, and I felt that if I pushed, I would get the opposite effect than what I wished for.
I felt very annoyed, to be honest. Because of many reasons. One, I try my best to teach my children that when they committ to do something, they need to stick to it til the end unless there is something of real importance that hinders them from doing so. From what I knew, my daugher was pulling out just because her friend was pulling out. I hadn’t seen any sign of distress or discomfort in my daugher after the first two days of practice.
I also try to teach my children to be open-minded, ask questions and make their own choices. I was annoyed that my daughter was quitting because her friend was quittting and based on fear from their parents who didn’t even go to the meeting with the choreographer. They never gave her or the theater the chance to explain, to reassure them.
I was also annoyed because I thought this was a great opportunity for my daughter to be part of something different, and learn about the process of being part of something outside the box.
But, I had to let go. When I got home, I talked with my daughter and explained my point of view, and tried to let go.
The third kid from my daugher’s class also pulled out. They didn’t want to be part of it without my daughter and the other classmate. This was sad. Very sad, I thought.
I was unsure on whether I should let the first couple of parents know my opinion. As I have written earlier this week, I often feel it is unecessary to try to convince others of what I believe in. Wednesday evening, however, when I was on my way to teach a yoga class, I received a message from the mum wondering how I felt about the whole situation. I guess I should have called, but I was sitting on the bus. I decided to reply that although I respected their views, I disagreed with them. I had no problem with my daughter being part of this, and that I felt sad and annoyed that she had decided to pull out. I didn’t get a reply.
Friday evening, I got a message from my colleague who is my daughter’s contact teacher. The theater had given the school two tickets to the performance. Do you want to go?, he asked. Of course!, I replied. I wanted to see what the whole fuss was about. I was so convinced that this had been a mess without any real reason, and I wanted to see the performance to have a ‘real’ opionion about it. I also had a bit of doubt, I asked myself, what if you watch it, and realize it was too much for a bunch of 12-year-olds? I just had to see for myself.
It turned out to be a beautiful experience. The choreographer ended up with only three kids for her performance, but she made the best out of it. She had managed to create a safe and trusting atmosphere between her and the kids and they all seemed comfortable on scene. As she had explaned, what we saw, wasn’t a ‘final product’ but part of a process. The text behind was spot on connected to what had happened during the week. The few swearing words were put in context and weren’t more shocking than hearing them on in a movie or sitcom on Netflix. And yes, there was a naked part. But it was beautifully done, and as she said, the kids in the show didn’t see any of it.
What I love about this kind of art is that it awakens the mind. You sit there in awe for the atist, and either relate to what is happening, or you wonder about it. And the thinking doesn’ stop there. The piece stays with you for a while (or even for the rest of your life) and makes you think and reflect.
In retrospective, I think I could have pushed my daughter to finish the week with the choreogrphper. Like the producer explained, there is something called as the artistic process. Not everything is easy in this process. There is always a moment of doubt, there are tough moments too, but artists know that they just have to get passed those moments. That is life too, isn’t it? The sooner we learn perseverance, the better.
On the other side, since this whole piece was seen as a process, I also think that my daughter’s process was the two days she was part of it and the whole mess that happenned afterwards. She is still young, and I wonder what kind of reflections will happen with time.
I am very happy we were invited to watch the performance. It made me remember how we have to have informed opinions. I was convinced there was nothing to fear about it, but my conviction was based on my gut feeling from the whole setting. The communication beforehand, the meeting with the choreographer. Although the gut feeling is something useful, in discussions about what happens around us, we need to stick to the facts and the actual experience of things because I think that sometimes, what we think is a gut feeling is nothing else than fear in disguise.
I have also decided to expose my kids more to art. Challenge their perception and opinion of what is art and what is not.
I had to laugh a bit last night too. My husband and I were watching TV with the grils, and we saw an ad for a show called Mascorama. It was very popular last year, and now there’s a new season. To me, it seems like nonesense, and I said it out loud. My husband then said ‘and your opinion is based on your excperience of the show, because you have watched it, right?’. Oops! I guess the better attitude would be that it doesn’t interest me, but I cannot say it is nonesense since I haven’t watched it…