How Original!

The other night I attended, in a local church (St. Paul’s, Clifton, Bristol), what I suppose was the premier (or world premiere, if you want to be particular) of Nijinsky’s Last Dance, written by and starring Philip Dixon. I chatted to many of the full-house afterwards and we all agreed that it had been an amazing production: cleverly written and staged, sensitively acted and very moving to watch. It was clear that Philip’s 5 years research and 7 years waiting (for the right time to produce it) had not been in vain: his portrayal of ballet star turned mad-man Nijinsky was utterly believable.

Highlighted was the underlying human challenge of growing up in such a way that our creativity (right brain) is balanced and integrated with the practical, daily, reality of living in the world (more a function of left, rational brain). To a greater or lesser extent, it’s a trial we all have to endure and one that’s intrinsic to our conscious evolution. Unless and until we can harmonise our personal originality with a shared groundedness within society we’re going to struggle. The tortured biographies of many a creative genius is testament to that and this excellent play, performed by a cast gathered together especially for the event, demonstrated Nijinsky as a classic and deeply saddening example.

However, I digress. The morning after this brilliant production I was idly web-searching Nijinsky’s Last Dance and found many hits. Some with video clips showing not dissimilar scenes to our Clifton performance, but usually based on a version of Nijinsky’s story by Norman Allen. Initially I felt a bit cheated: that what I had thought was unique wasn’t quite so original. It didn’t take long for me to realise that such a reaction was unfair on our playwright and star: who had obviously worked extremely hard to understand the ballet-dancer from the inside and to make Nijinsky’s story his own. What we had witnessed was unique and original . . . and certainly very special to us in Clifton, Bristol.

And then I got to thinking about parallel discoveries and inventions: such as Alfred Russel Wallace identifying an evolutionary theory at the same time as Charles Darwin. Looked at from a perspective of cosmic consciousness and there being a time for everything, this is not surprising. Each new realisation within humanity’s thinkers might be considered as intrinsic knowledge making itself felt and appreciated in that period of human history. If it (the knowing, the theory, etc.) has always been part of the fabric of reality why shouldn’t two or more people discover, or become aware of it, at the same time?

At his point a parallel line of thinking is triggered in my mind. As a university administrator one of the jobs I get involved in is checking for plagiarisation by students: have they copied the work of another? To quote what’s gone before and give due acknowledgement is fine, but to copy and claim it as one’s own is a big No-No. Tutors need to see that a student has taken in previous ideas, reflected on them, assimilated them and made them their own: for example, by using their own set of words . . . or dance moves. That, I’m realising is all that ‘original’ can mean.

In this particular time and place, as far as these particular individuals are concerned, this explanation of theory X or this performance about the story of Y, or this particular invention of Z, is their own work. For, since all time and all space are interconnected and known by cosmic consciousness, nothing is truly unknown and thus cannot be truly original.

True, if someone has put time and effort into creating their particular version of a created something, they may well deserve some return on their investment and a personal acknowledgement: hence the idea of copyright. But to claim that something we have written, or performed is totally unique? Doesn’t that smack of arrogance?

Take Nijinsky’s famous leaps. Totally amazing and apparently gravity defying. But other dancers, and many current figure skating stars (for example) seem able to float in or even fly through the air. The leap is not original. But then, I don’t think Nijinsky claimed they were. All he ever claimed, as Peter and our local cast explored so superbly, was to be was the one and only Nijinsky.

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