COOLS kicked off yesterday first of March. The Cultural Occupation Of Liberty Square started with a bang, with the Dzieci Theatre group. The idea of COOLS’ facilitating group is to “inspire the movement, build community and keep the call for power and income equity sounding by occupying using teach-ins, workshops, music, art, sign-making and the like” as stated on the virtual hub of this month-long initiative by one of the Occupy Wall Street working groups.
I arrived in Liberty Square from the North, at the centre four people danced in circle, singing. Their voices grew louder as I approached. What they sang sounded like an enchantment of sorts. I crossed the square and stood not far from them on the southern side of the square. Behind me a queue of customers waited to be served their fast lunch at a food truck. To the West groups of builders, perhaps from the nearby 9/11 memorial look at the dancing circle. The singing and circling goes on in the centre of the square for few minutes, long enough to establish a bond between the actors and the place. Then the four actors, two men and two women, move from the centre weaving their way through the whole square redrawing its geography with their bodies and their voices.
When they come twirling and singing around me we smile at each other. The second time they dance around me I feel like a magic spell has been cast on me, a very auspicious one. I feel almost levitating as my sight travels high above the little square surrounded by monstrous creatures of steel, glass and cement. The priestesses and priests of this magic ritual move on to occupy the square and return it to us, at the same time liberated, saved. They dance and sing their enchantment around benches, people and trees and their voices cleanse bodies and space. A worker in an orange waistcoat jumps on a bench and dances few steps laughing, his arms high towards the grey sky above, the others dance around him. Further away a man lets his plastic bags rest on the ground and dances in circle. I don’t feel cold any more though the weather is not ideal for outdoor ceremonies.
When the ritual is over and the square is rescued, when the exorcism is accomplished and the square is returned to its public, the actors move towards the south-eastern corner where food was distributed by Occupy activists to all who wished to share a standing meal. I moved through the small crowd to join the actors, to thank them. The woman by the sparkling blue eyes tells me that today is her friend’s birthday so I wish her a wonderful day, she smiles and we hug, someone asks if knew each other and someone else answers that yes, now, we know each other. As in all birthday celebrations we sang Happy Birthday. The director of the company makes us tune our voices and then he leads us into the most beautiful version of the trite song that I possibly ever sang (or heard, for that matter). The voices danced for a minute, freed from the constraining pattern of the song and what remains are genuine wishes to the dear Madam Olatva (I’m not sure about the spelling but she later explains to me that in Ukrainian Yiddish it means, well… Madame Potato, so we laugh more at the name of her character). After the applause that followed our performance (during which I hope I did not permanently damage any, or at least too many, eardrums) we spoke a little.
The four gipsy elves of the cement woods invited me to their show the next day. It is a “Gypsi ritual adaptation of Macbeth” as I read in the invitation. I had a pang of disappointment. I can’t come, I have to go to give some help at the puppet workshop. The Occupy’s Puppet Guild is making birds at the Great Small Works’ workshop in Dumbo and I promised I would go (I joined the puppeteers already on Tuesday but this is another story for another time). Oh shame, but become our friend on Facebook so you can learn about the next shows. Of course I will. Matt (Matt Mitler, the director of Dzieci Theatre) mentions that they had been discussing to meet with the puppets guys and I think how great it would be to see the theatrical interventions of Matt’s group accompanied by magic puppets. We then exchange names and as Matt learns that mine is Giuseppe he says that well, of course you will go to make puppets tomorrow. We smile and I tell them that so far none of the little achievements of my very short career as a puppeteer were made of wood or came alive. They say Yet, yet and I promise I will try harder. Yes, harder, harder.
Before parting Matt suggests a silent prayer. We stand in circle and in the silence I reflect how beautiful it would be to have all corners of the city, of all cities, periodically liberated from the evil eye of rushing, competing, struggling by magic artists like those around me now. In fact, I dream briefly of an arrangement by which, in my ideal world of federated communities, each community would nurture its artists who would perform in squares, gardens, libraries and with their performances help all community members to enhance their perception of themselves and of the bonds that keep together a healthy community. They would contribute to make both individuals and their communities whole and happy. And they would heal the communities when conflicts shake them. I dream more but I realise some of those dreams take me too far from this moment so I raise my eyes and I meet those of the others in turn. It is not something we do very often in our cities, to look in each other’s eyes, to lock ourselves in looks which are not threatening, that do not convey menace but a desire and an attempt to discover the other so that she or he can mirror our selves and help us discover their nature and possibilities.
When we part I stroll through Broadway considering the role of these actions within the overall framework of a social movement and in particular of Occupy Wall Street. There is a very leisurely pace in my thoughts but what I am certain is that this kind of art is more than an inspiration for the movement as claimed in the virtual poster I mentioned earlier. But as I start boring myself with abstruse analyses of the role of art in social and personal transformation my eyes catch the sight of a man in pink. Well, at first I am not sure it is a man, all I see is a long pink furry overcoat surmounted but a huge hat made of the same material. The man holds a cellphone to his ear and seems to be conducting an absorbing conversation that (apparently) makes him completely unaware of the mayhem that he generates around him. He walks at my same pace so I observe people’s reactions for around six block, the pictures taken the looks exchanged between perfect strangers, the smiles and the question marks wrinkled on people’s faces. When I finally catch up with him as he stands at a traffic light I see his impeccable suit matching his coat, hat and shoes. He reminds me of the dandies of Kinshasa though for a second I thought earlier that this was part of the art interventions related to the COOLS’ actions.
Later, after going all the way up to East 110th to find out that the Museum for African Art is still nothing more than a shell, I end up in Barnes and Noble in Union Square to write up my notes and do some research about the Dzieci Theatre group. I browse the Internet and read about the group and a sense of great luck warms my heart the more I read about what the company is about. I also discover that they held drop-in workshops every Sunday… in February. Oh, well.