This particular entry in the ROH calendar did catch my eye immediately – to the extend that I was waiting patiently online at 9am the day the ticket sales openened as I didn’t want to miss something so intriguing.Just reading the little information bit on the ROH website didn’t give too much away so I really had no idea what I was letting myself in to. Part of the Open Senses Festival London this “sensory concert” has been created by Bittersweet. Before I start telling you more about them it is probably easier to just have a look around their website (http://www.bittersuite.org.uk/).
So what actually happened?! Well, on arrival at the Clore all the Experience ticket holders were asked to leave all personal belongings in the cloakroom, remove all big jewellery, watches, shoes, glasses etc. Following that we were lined up along the wall order by height – must have been a hell of a display for the “normal” ballet goers of the performance that night that was starting shortly after our performances in the Clore. Each one of us was then paired with one dancer, all of them barefoot and wearing a very simply but beautiful black costume with embroidery. I was paired up with Crystal Zillwood and once she explained a little more about what was going to happen the blindfold went on. I won’t be going too much into detail what exactly happened – not to spoil anything for anyone who might be attending one of the events in the future but I will concentrate on my very personal experience of the evening.
The corridors of the ROH are quite familiar to me – I have attended 12 events and performances so far this year with another 6 to come before the end of the 2016/2017 season. However, taking away your vision the feel totally new! Initially it felt a little strange to be guided by someone without really knowing where you were but you just needed to trust that person. With one sense gone all other senses are definitely heightened! After the first two minutes or so I had adapted to just letting go and let the nose, skin and ears do the watching. It wasn’t even that I was trying to imagine what the outside world looked like – I just enjoyed having a black screen in front of my eyes. This was a very new experience. I am a very active person, always on the go, usually reading or doing something so the eyes never really get to rest and it really was a revelation to sort of switch your eyes off.
The sense of space is totally different if you can’t see it – everything felt so much bigger and more spacious and somehow more scary – but with Crystals strong hands leading me there was no risk of any harm. I definitely felt vulnerable but in a nice way weirdly enough! Even though I am a very spontanous person I do like to be in control of things and have awareness what is coming next. There was no way you were able to tell what was going to happen to you. It was lovely to just let go and enjoy. You had no idea where the person next to you was so there was no way for you to react to this, either positive or negative. So it was just you in this vast space surrounded by music, sometimes closer, sometimes further away, enveloped by smells, guided by trusted hands.
When I go to concerts or opera I am usually very excited to be watching certain orchestra members of following the action on stage. Not that the music takes a back burner but there is only so much your brain can process intensely so one sense might have to take a little bit of a smaller role than others. Of course I have also sat in concerts with my eyes closed, especially when listening to my favourite pieces and thinking about that now after the experience I had it really intensifies the music. Everyone reacts to music differently and has their way of making it their own. Tapestries was a very eye – or should I say ear opening experience. Without the visual awareness that probably does inhibit one from really letting go the music did sound and feel different – a new layer was opened up. You are much more likely to pick up the smallest noises because your brain can really concentrate on your audio sense. Also you feel the music in a different way – which also can get translated into movements.
Once the blindfold came of it was a bit of a shock to the system… not that I could tell where exactly I was in my mind but I was definitely miles away from the Clore – blinded by the lights it was a challenge to get your head around what just happened to you. I had gotten so used to it that I just didn’t want it to end. It was very surreal and it felt like I was somehow thrown back into reality. I really can’t describe what was going on in my mind during the experience – it almost felt like I pressed Pause and just let the music and sensations take over… a very profound moment.
Afterwards Crystal sat down with my for a quick chat as well – it is just as interesting of course for the dancers as it is for the participants – they don’t know how the person is going to react either. It is so worth it though to hand over control to someone else and just immerse yourself into a totally new experience. It really does help to see and hear things that you are used to on a daily basis from a totally different perspective. And this will then enrich your life so much more because you have discovered a totally new and unique outlook that you will never see it like you did before – and also wonder why didn’t figure this out earlier…