A Ghost in the Library

photo credit @ Marie Klimis

photo credit @ Marie Klimis

Oh Heroine How I Love You! began its life during a visit to the Swiss Cottage Library on October 11th, 2016. Being in that rich scenographic space, famous for it’s architectural design by Sir Basil Spence, I was particularly drawn to the fiction section with its many skylights, striking spiral staircases and large red carpet. Standing on the balcony looking down, I was overcome with the feeling that the stories within the walls could manifest in the library in an apparition-like way. On the day I wrote, “I pictured a woman waiting, waiting is a big part of it. It could represent the way women are presented in classic literature or folktales, being the one who could not take action on her own, the one who lacks agency”. I didn’t know who this woman was at the time, only that she was there.

Then I started researching, who earns the title of literary heroine? Whose source book is pervasive to the point of being considered a classic? The idea of sound had come in early for me as well. I wrote on October 13th 2016 “there is something to following the sound. It’s always out of reach and mysterious as to how she can attain it, and with us the audience with her we can’t attain it either”. This idea of following something unattainable connects to the idea that women of this era always had to sit around and wait for things to happen to them, they rarely achieved on their own. They themselves are often also considered desired but unattainable beings. I started listening to soundtracks from film adaptations of the heroines on my list; it didn’t take long until I started to look at Cathy.

The choice of Catherine Earnshaw from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for my heroine was an obvious one, made immediate upon the watching of Kate Bush’s music videos for her single with the same name. I remember sitting watching that video over and over, it must have been dozens of times, completely transfixed. On November 1st 2016 I wrote, “The video is ridiculous and funny and dated, but also really sad in the way that she is emoting so much alone. In that she is dead, she is a ghost in the song”. It wasn’t until watching a recording of a Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever event that I knew how this discovery could be useful, I would use the song not in the way it showed a young women ghostlike and alone, but in the sense of community that has been created through the reclamation of the song into something that brings people together.

For the presentation, which occurred on November 30th 2016, I used this group dance for the climax of the fifteen-minute performance. This followed the audience being led around the library by the graceful and silent performer (Sara Page who has continued in the development of the project), who after setting the audience positions to view her from different perspectives performed choreography inspired by the Cathy’s Themes of three different Wuthering Heights film adaptations: 1939, 1970, and 2009. All the music was played live through speakers set up in the library. As this was during opening hours, it disrupted the day of many in the space, yet no one seemed to mind. For fifteen minutes we were no longer in a normal library, we were in an activated space of fiction.

I called this performance The Act of Reading, and wrote after the performances “it feels like the beginning of something big…I got the idea for this like a wave crashing over me while I was in the library. I was standing on the balcony looking and was filled with an overwhelming sense of loneliness, of waiting, and had an image of a young woman walking through the space, serenely, ghostlike. Everything that followed came from that…I loved that lots of people in the library felt invited to experience the piece, I’ve heard a lot about the sense of inclusion and joy people felt in the dance section at the end…This has to be a prototype somehow for something more complex and larger scale”. I couldn’t know then how much that instinct has proved true in the year since.