A lot of the time, when I'm watching a performance on stage, my instinctive reaction is "I'd rather be up there, being watched." Last night was one of the rare, other occasions. I'd had a really good day at the somewhat clunkily titled London Festival of the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage (I'd have shortened, that, personally). Hedwig and I got up at an unpleasantly early hour to attend a class by Kinoko Hajime, which was something we'd both been looking forward to for quite a while. He showed us two different, very complex and beautiful ties, and then demonstrated a lotus suspension position. He was focused on getting us to be able to emulate the final product, rather than a lot of theory or esoteric considerations of what shibari meant and shibari culture and so forth - I hadn't been sure what sort of class it was going to be, but it was fortunately very practical. Concern was given to the aesthetic - the best places to add on extra rope, how to avoid those nasty little end pieces ruining the effect of the whole, the right symmetry and tautness to create the final effect. Aside from the complexity of the pieces, there were a couple of things that struck me as being different. The ties that he did were flowing pieces, with additional rope added on to the original, so that the whole was formed from one, continuous line. Bands around the chest were done in fours, rather than the double width of rope I'd been used to, which gave an extra sense of security. Hedwig learnt a lot more than I did - I just enjoyed the sensation.
That was the morning. In the evening. It was a good night, I was able to catch up with a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while, including Shuttered Lens: we talked at length about pain, and I'm hoping to get some time in with him to work on my pain acceptance / enjoyment and the words used to describe it. There were also performance, including from our tutor of earlier in the day. I was busy having had a lot of fun being prodded with chopsticks, then used as a suspended sushi table, especially as it was something I've always wanted to do and involved having two people tie me up, which is always a fun experience. By the time I was unknotted and had removed wasabi from my belly-button, both he and his partner were in traditional kimono on the main stage. He was stripped to the waist with a look of hardened concentration, far removed from the chirpy, trendy youth of the morning.
She was also semi-naked, with a splatter of what I initially thought was blood, but turned out to be red wax on her shoulder and breast. She was in an intricate breast harness, kneeling on the floor, looking down. She looked tiny, delicate and vulnerable. He tied in smooth, extended strokes, wasting no energy. He wasn't super-fast, but he was efficient, each movement was intended to cause an effect. He moved her through a variety of positions, pausing after each one to deliver a particular sensation - wax from a candle, a beating from a bunch of thin canes, heavy blows from a wet piece of cloth. The latter caused a lot of wincing from the audience. I smiled as he poured it onto his open palm before letting it flow through his fingers and onto her back, this had the wonderful effect of making him appear controlled and caring, whilst also, through her twitches and little yelps, showing his own pain resistance and hence, strength and more control. The thick, red wax candles were later slotted into different parts of the rope suspension, making a beautiful candelabra that made me wish they'd dim the lights in the club, as well as continuing the squeals from the dripping wax.
There was an obvious intimate connection between the two (I'd assumed they were partners, from her appearance at the class this morning) but it was very precisely done, he was absolutely dominant, she was absolutely submissive. I don't believe I caught a single glance between them, not even when he took her by the head and kissed her forehead. It was beautiful to watch and had a certain passion but it also made me feel a little conflicted. The one thing that has often struck me about the more traditional shibari models is their extreme passivity, and the same was true here. She was a doll, certainly. Beautiful, small but with full breasts and smooth, perfect skin. She was also relatively inert: the only responses given were to the pain received. It was strange to watch and I had mixed reactions to it. On the one hand I was drawn to her puppet-like behaviour, the way that the rope drew a line for her to follow, I was also impressed by her ability to retain the positions and stay so quiet. And of course, I can empathise with that sort of behaviour, the deep, dark space to lie in and be calm, to absorb all that you are given and be held by safe, cruel hands. Yet, it was also very different to how I perform (and perhaps the simple answer to this is that we just do it in different ways and certainly I know myself to be entirely inappropriate for classic shibari work), she never looked at the audience, only a small peek when she finally took a bow to massive applause, there was none of the interplay between performer and watchers. There was a bare minimum of interaction from him, thinking about it. Although obviously the scene was set and staged for our benefit, we were not involved, we were watchers drawn in only by our own minds and desires, held back by the awe and rapture exerted by the strange power of it all, by the way both of them were caught up in what they were doing, which in turn caught us up in watching it.
It would be very interesting to try that private, removed style of performance the next time I do something public. It was a lot more like the kind of play I would do at home, where I am not caught up in the buzz of exhibitionism. In some ways, it struck me that it would be like pretending to wear a mask or a blindfold, that cutting yourself off from the world that generates a certain sort of space. And, of course, being a candelabra is now on my to-do list, especially now that I've satisfied (or at least confirmed as being a hot thing to do) the urge to be a table for diners enjoyment.
1 week ago