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Art & care: where life and death connect

Margaret Cameron: Chamber Made Opera, Opera-Therapea

Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal premiering at La Mama, Dec 2013 Margaret Cameron, Opera for a Small Mammal premiering at La Mama, Dec 2013
photo Daisy Noyes
A powerful and idiosyncratic writer and performer, Margaret Cameron is a key figure in Melbourne theatre. She has created riveting solo works—Things Calypso wanted to Say!, 1987; Knowledge and Melancholy, 1998; Bang! A critical fiction, 2001; The Mind’s a Marvellous Thing, 2002; and The Proscenium, 2005)—several of which toured for many years here and overseas.

Cameron has written and directed for Aphids (A Quarrelling Pair, 2004) and Chamber Made Opera (where she is resident director) as librettist and co-creator with David Young of the Minotaur Trilogy (2012). She has collaborated with American choreographer Deborah Hay, new media artist Hellen Sky (The Light Room, 2002, The Darker Edge of Night, 2008), acted as dramaturg for video artist David Rozetsky and in 2010 collaborated in Wales as writer on The Threat of Silence—a bilingual contemporary performance work with UK artist Jill Greenhalgh.

An August 1 press release from Chamber Made revealed that Cameron had been “rushed to hospital with cancer earlier this year. She [has been] undergoing a long program of precautionary chemotherapy.” Given a title as direct as Opera-therapea, RealTime approached Margaret Cameron to write about how she sees the relationship between art and therapy [Eds].

* * *

“EXTENDED, the lines of relationships intersect in the eternal You.”
Martin Buber

A new kind of opera with myself (‘the subject’), Deborah Kayser (soprano), Jane Refshauge (Alexander Technique teacher, dance movement therapist and dancer), Hellen Sky (choreographer and performer) and David Young (director), Opera-therapea will be staged in a consulting room in Fitzroy in October. Participating in different aspects of therapy, it explores the fact that Mind and Body are inseparable.

“I half wonder if my body is an opera,” says Deborah Kayser. “Through therapy we are releasing what we no longer need. We are reconnecting systems that have the potential to vibrate as one optimal body of wellness. It is our hope that those who experience this with us, may feel recognition of something they already know very deeply within them. I am expert in ignoring elemental truths and pushing them onto the back burner of my 21st century life.”

In a medical crisis, in shock and shattered by surgery, your wounded body seems no longer whole. But you know like and dislike. How grateful you are for this simplicity, for straightforward ‘likes’ and how clearly you know your ‘dislikes.’ Each is palpable to the animal in you. Communicating through the touch of breath, of sound, of skin, of silence, you are to discover that you are naturally likeable—a good animal. This comfort invites you to (re)join humanity with new understanding.

There are nurses, doctors, surgeons and specialists but there are other kinds of practitioners with a desire to share and accompany the subject with whom (in our humanity) we are one. Art comes through life and following experience, leads us toward community. “Our permeable skin is an organ between outside and inside, Self and Other and this sensational transmission operates and orchestrates thoughtfulness,” says Hellen Sky. A sick society cares not for the carer and as if the earth were a shopping mall, seeks acquisitions above all else.

How grateful you are for friends, for a knowledge sense without words, for those hands that touch, for the dimming of hard lights, the hushing of hard noise, the unhurried and natural presence of the few, who share, in the reciprocity of relation, a community of being. It is as if your soul, even in the sterile institution of hospital, were clean, humorous, fresh and bright. You are surprised and brought home—to company—like one baptised.

Austrian-born philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) is known for his “philosophy of dialogue,” a form of existentialism focused on ‘I and Thou’ and the ‘I and It’ relations (I and Thou, translator Walter Kaufmann, New York 1996). His philosophic works provide some leverage into ways of thinking about Opera-therapea and a cultural body in need of artful care:

“Spirit is not in the I but between I and You. It is not like the blood that circulates in you but like the air in which you breathe. Man lives in the spirit when he is able to respond to his You. He is able to do that when he enters into this relation with his whole being. It is solely by virtue of his power to relate that man is able to live in the spirit.”

Care is integral to healing. “The anthroposophic nurse begins from the premise that the spirit is always health and that an illness is not accidental, but the chance to develop the patient’s biography further” ( Care includes spiritual, biographical and physical aspects for both the carer and the person cared for.

Jane Refshauge asks, “Can we find a universal medium and a new community of relationships that, beyond the limits of individual persons, reaches a liminal, oceanic place of transition through all the passages of life? All of one’s history and memory is encoded within one’s breath. Perhaps healing can only happen when we understand how life and death are actually the one energetic movement.”

In Opera-therapea practitioners of (an)other kind(ness) explore the felt sense of being human and how, through a midwifery of the soul, this links us to a place where life and death are connected. Complex relations of how we think, feel and act reveal holistic models and modes of co-presence that touch upon the boundaries of what we know. “Lying down on the floor in the therapy room, a light blanket resting over my body, I feel tender, vibrating tones penetrating my bones. Deep feeling comes from hot, song-filled air. I am carried by breath” (Tim Stitz, Creative Director, Chamber Made Opera, participant’s note).

Chamber Made Opera, Opera-therapea, Melbourne, 27 Oct,

RealTime issue #117 Oct-Nov 2013 pg. 10

© Margaret Cameron; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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