Monday, January 28, 2008

Fame Costs And We Are Not Willing To Pay

It' s strange how people deal with fame. Actually, I passionately dislike the word "fame". I always think fame and power corrupts and even the slightest hint of it can be a heady concoction that will turn your head. Like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

It's not often so many of us can gather at the same place and same time for more than a few hours. This was one of those rare occasions. The four of us had not seen each other for years. 

So, we played hooky from yet another dreary industry event. It's rather hard for the four of us to disappear at the same time without drawing attention from the minders. So it was with much giggling subterfuge, plotting, out-and-out lying and cloak and dagger activities that we slipped out of our respective hotels to meet clandestinely.

Alas, the island was too small. We arrived at what we thought was a quiet, out-of-the-way cafe for light snacks and drinks, only to be seated next to a table of young dancers.

It curtailed our conversation, sending us into our usual circumspect & "media" mode. But our relative reticence enabled us to eavesdrop on the next table. Not that it was hard as they were the typical squeally, high-pitched, self-important, attention-seeking dancers in their early 20s.

We were much amused to hear some of them boasting of being "advanced" dancers at a local school, owned by a woman we had all taught at some point or other, and being in videos and such. At some point, one of them semi-recognised us. She immediately drew the others' attention and they started studying us. 

At last they came to the conclusion we must be their peers as one of them asked C next to me, if we were student of Y, their teacher. It was incredibly hard to hold our mirth in. As C choked out a negative response, we could see the girls wracking their poor little brains.

I decided at that point to adjoin to another cafe as I did not want to spend the night being gracious and in "media" mode. Tacitly, we all agreed to leave. 

However, one of the brighter sparks had cottoned on. As we left the cafe, we heard the excited murmurs and the unmistakable sound of greed. They had realised who we were and even had the cheek to try to follow us. Finally, I turned and announced to the young prima donnas. 

"My dears ... We're old women who need our peace. Thank you for your kind invitation to join you but if you want free advice, autographs, pictures and such, you may come to the workshops next week. But tonight is ours. Let 4 old friends be able to sit and talk together alone for we might not see each other again for a long time. One day, you too would understand. Happy dancing and be well."

A student once asked me why we were so notoriously low profile and elusive. Was it a gimmick? Did we want to be women of mystery? Are we so self-important we do not see the point of marketing? 

No, because someone once remarked that even in death a person could get no peace because he/she is a celebrity. Everyone thinks they are entitled to a piece of you. I told her that we were of the old school trained in the old ways. And we were nonentities who were fairly determined to stay that way. We also do not believe in being legends in our own lunch-times.

It's not fame but artistry we seek. A few, rare number of us do what we do for ourselves. Someone once argued we do what we do to be seen by other so is that not fame- & glory-seeking too? 

No, because our definition of glory is different. I place very clear distinction between artists and performers. If no one ever saw me dance, I do not care. Glory is in reaching what I know is in me before I die. I know I have one to two more masterpieces before it is time to go. The moment I reach that I will know true glory. Whether anyone sees it is immaterial and irrelevant.

Why then perform on stage? Because you feel and receive a vibe from the stage. The lights, the heat, the wide expanse of space, the freedom, the shutting out of the audience till all you hear is a vacuum of applause muffled yet deafening at the same time. The sea of blurred faces. The energy. Even the floor has its own vibe. 

Sometimes dancing on an empty stage all on your own is the most wonderful experience. An audience is a distraction and intrusion that is not always welcomed. My most truly creative moments have been just me alone in a darkened theatre. OK, with stagelights on as I am terribly clumsy when not dancing.

I feel sorry for the young ladies of last night. Because fame is fleeting and never enough. Your soul cannot feed on it and therefore you go hungry all the time. It changes you from a tangible sprout of promise into an incorporeal twist of desperation and superficiality. Fame once lost festers like a barnacle upon your psyche. The memory of it is bitter and avaricious.

Self fulfillment is another form of hunger but it is one that fuels your soul. Once you have tasted it, you want more but the memory of it is sustaining and enriching. 

I wanted to tell them to seek the latter rather than the former for the sake of their own peace of mind. But I knew they would not believe me and the best lesson learnt is not one that is taught.

It was with much pleasure the 4 of us retired that night to our individual thoughts and memories, sharing the same journey on different paths.