Photo by Jane Ussher.
On his fridge, Douglas Wright has taped a quote by Einstein that begins: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
Mystery, says the dancer and choreographer, has always been part of his work. With his latest production, The Kiss Inside, he’s not aiming to please or explain, but to honour, through the medium of a highly physical, 70-minute dance piece, a subject both strange and intimate — the search for ecstasy obtained via mysticism, orgasm, drugs and sado-masochism.
“It’s not like I drew up a list,” says Wright. “But the movement [in the piece] springs from the seed of ecstatic worship, which is also the body trying to lose itself to merge with the infinite — like a spiritual orgasm.”
After a 35-year career, with his health precarious, he says he’s got little enough left to lose that he may as well pose challenges, for himself and his audience.
“There are little passages that I previously wouldn’t have allowed myself. Now I feel like I’m probably not going to make any more work, so I’m going to do what I’m going to do.”
That goes also for the music he’s chosen: Western classical compositions, Sufi devotions, klezmer music from the Jewish diaspora and “Radio Ethiopia” by punk’s high priestess, Patti Smith.
A well of emotion lies beneath each piece, says Wright. “The Patti Smith song is an incredible distillation of a certain type of energy that came out of punk, and seemed apposite for this piece — it could match the feeling of searching for ecstasy through movement.
“It’s music about being human. It’s not dry and intellectual, it’s from the heart.”
Wright has publicly retired before, only to keep producing as an author, poet and visual artist alongside his dance work, and when he says this serenade to extreme physicality and divine rapture could be his swansong, it might be. But we hope not.