Introduction to Grooves of Glory
Originally published in Grooves of Glory: Three Performance Texts by Alan Brunton (Wellington: Bumper Books, 2004): 6-11.
I never thought this would happen
In 1987 we drove to Spain and Portugal in a red diesel van bought untested from the Utrecht van market. It had poor front tyres. We did a deal in Normandy at a fly-by-night wreckers and we purchased two replacements—‘ deux pneux’. We were had. They were two sizes too small. So the van bounced through the French countryside like a circus bicycle. With the help of friends in Bordeaux, we balanced the vehicle once more and set out for the Pyrenees. Ruby, our daughter, was two. We stopped at Lourdes on the way. It was a great holy place, with thousands of pilgrims, some on their knees, making their way to the founts of healing water. There was something going on here—it reminded us of our former home in Chimayo, New Mexico. We had lived close to the Sanctuario, a sacred chapel visited by pilgrims to collect the holy mud that miraculously appeared in the floor. The chapel walls were hung with discarded braces and walking sticks, tributes to its healing power. At Easter pilgrims walked to Chimayo in vast numbers along the state highways of the South West. There was also a statue of Santo Niño there, peering serenely at the world above a small mountain of baby shoes, gifts from thankful parents.
Later in Portugal we found the shrine of Fátima, where the blessed Virgin had appeared to three children. Fátima was also teeming with pilgrims seeking relief from illness and troubles. We collected water there too. Leaving Portugal in the North, some weeks later, we entered Galicia. I remember we crossed a stone bridge and were once again in Spain. It was hot. We drove towards Santiago de Compostela (Saint James of the Field of Stars). Nothing prepared us for the beauty of the stone buildings of the city, burnt orange in the evening sun, nor the heartstopping grandeur of the Cathedral. Once again there were pilgrims everywhere, shops selling cockle shells, tapes of medieval pilgrim songs, prayer cards, rosaries, postcards, all the trappings of the pilgrim trade. There were guidebooks in Spanish and English. Alan bought one of each. We knew at once that we would follow the pilgrim trail, albeit backwards, from Santiago to St Jean de Pied de Port in France.
We were guided by the yellow arrows painted on stone walls and boulders, along a route that was far from the highway, along quiet country roads, through ancient stone towns. We did not enter the modern age, except for short excursions into the great cities of Burgos and Pamplona. At night we camped, or stayed in small hotels. It was a voyage of discovery, and every few miles we would stop to visit a shrine, a church, a hospice, a convent, a house, a gate, a cross. Later Alan travelled the right way in his performance work, Compostela—A Walk, imagining the road that ran all the way from France to Santiago. The performances were accompanied by Kieran Monaghan on percussion and guitar and Angeline Conaghan on vocals, with slide projections. I was technician. The first performance was at Bats Theatre, Wellington 7 April 2000, followed by shows 3-4 June at The Space, Newtown and a video recording for local television that was broadcast 29 July.
Grooves of Glory
Alan’s monologue constructed for the Bad Language series (Auckland, August 2001) with all its dramatic possibilities was perfect to make into a theatre show. I suggested it and Alan, as always, leapt at the idea, and together we created a performance work for two actors and a musician. The title came directly from the last section of the show—144,000 virgins singing in the bouncy grooves of glory. We rehearsed every day at the Island Bay Surf Club, delighting in creating the visual and choreographic dimensions, trying to outdo each other in ideas for a scenography that could be carried in a box.
We needed a location to accommodate and hold together so many disparate poems and stories. It became an island called Dreamville. Hence the beaded curtain, the nine bricks, the Thermos, the lantern, the Dreamville Bar and Grill sign, two clown noses, two pairs of stilts and two plastic attaché cases. The only nod to technology was a projector to screen the slides from the caves of Lascaux that accompanied Space. One of the props I loved most was found for Raga Rock—a waxy old map of Southern Asia borrowed from the University Geography Department. As the performance progressed we built a temple from the bricks. At the end a column of sand fell from the roof covering the temple and its white flag, and the dishes of offerings.
We worked once a week with Jeff Henderson, a free jazz exponent and composer, and he wrote the music for piano, saxophone and mouth harp as we rehearsed the scenes. Beautiful evenings. Some poems came from earlier works—Space, Raga Rock, Frontier (from poems in Ecstasy); Hollywood (from Just Them Walking); some were writtten specially for this new show—Refugee Song, I said Yes, The End. The man and woman became Miss Ledoux and the mysterious Tribble, and Jeff became part of the action too, the third traveller. For the small book we took on tour in June 2002, hoping to make big sales with it, Alan wrote:
Two chairs and a table in the surf club hall, looking out through the windows to the island, Cook Strait beyond. Who could have asked for a more perfect rehearsal time? When it was ready, we performed Grooves for the first time at the Wellington Jazz Festival. The date was 26 October 2001, the venue The Space.
This operetta, the last show Alan wrote, was made on the run, after a challenge from Jeff Henderson. Jeff wanted to call the Fringe Festival season at his venue The Space ‘Thus Space Zarathustra’. Nietzsche had already made an impressive appearance in the finale to Darkness Not Asleep, a Roadworks show performed at The Space in November 2001—Alan had written: Fred Nietzsche hugged a horse on the streets of Turin, and then Fred Nietzsche went mad.
The young actors asked ‘Who is this Nietzsche?’ Then Lisa Docherty, who had helped with technicals, suggested a show about Lou Salome, Nietzsche’s one great love, so Alan wrote Angel in the Rain. This was to become the next Roadworks show for the Fringe Festival in March 2002, and was also performed at The Space. By now, several of the actors were carrying around books by Nietzsche, and discussion evenings were organised. Jeff’s challenge and Roadworks’ curiosity then pressed Alan to write at a phenomenal pace Zarathustra Said, which was performed as a double bill with Angel in the Rain. Alan asked for performers to suggest favourite pieces, and set to rewriting sections of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Also included in the text was The Terminal Human, an early work first published in And She Said as Upon Walking in the Wild Mountains for A Week, and first performed in conjunction with the Red Mole show The Book of Life.
Rehearsals for Zarathustra Said were fitted into a tight schedule, working directly with the musicians—the ensemble was made up of Sally and Alan on vocals, joined by Daphne Owers and Chris Palmer, with Jeff Henderson on piano and Tom Callwood on double bass. After the Space season, we recorded a CD, called Nietzsche / Zarathustra, which is distributed by Bumper Books.
Zarathustra Said was taken with Grooves of Glory to the Porsgrunn International Theatre Festival in June 2002. Angeline Conaghan joined us from London, Daphne Owers from Berlin. The Porsgrunn newspaper called the Zarathustra show ‘Poetic Madness’. A Norwegian Nietzsche cult filled the outdoors venue. We played against the soft green sky of Norway’s midsummer, the sound system was loud and clear, Jeff played piano. A young local actor, Anders, read an introduction to each section in Norwegian, and we let loose. Alan was brilliant. Not one of us could have imagined that his fiery performance on that fine Norwegian night was to be his last in this world. Alan, we miss you terribly. We long to work with you again in the next world.
© Sally Rodwell