Within half an hour of starting the Wild Dance weekend I felt way out of my depth. I found myself shifting from one foot to the other as the rest of the group (an intriguing mix of ages, genders and lifestyles) thrashed, rolled, cried and cursed to a tribal rhythm thumped out on a massive drum. If I shut my eyes the beat did become a hypnotic, but I wasn't going to "express" myself for anybody.
This was a birthday present. I had asked for an experience I would not normally choose, and my wife had presented me with Wild Dance Events' brochure and suggested "Vision & Regeneration in Winter's Tale", at the Globe Theatre. This was described as "a weekend of mytho-drama". What attracted me was the prospect of hamming it up with Mark Rylance and Richard Olivier, two leading lights behind the rebirth of Shakespeare's Globe.
As the course developed it became clear that mytho-drama is a way of using a dramatic text to explore one's own emotional condition. Each person, obviously, gets something different out of the experience. Our dramatic text, The Winter's Tale, is an archetype of emotional stagnation and regeneration for which participants were asked to bring two suitable symbols. So from the depths of Oxfordshire I headed for London with some horse manure (my symbol of stagnation) and an egg from my daughter's chicken (regeneration).
The first day concentrated on the tragic first half of The Winter's Tale, and it finished with a requiem chant and the option to present an offering to an altar for something we had lost. I still felt silly swaying and singing in a central African dialect. But after 10 minutes - you need patience before the spirit turns up - I began to feel a strong urge to present my egg to my long-dead father. The more my inhibitions bridled at the prospect, the more I felt compelled to walk alone, in front of all those people, and make a private, personal gesture to someone I had been unable to communicate with in life and barely able to think about after his death. I found myself addressing an issue I had buried for 10 years, clearly and sincerely. It was like an unblocked sink draining away at last.
The next morning began with Richard Olivier leading us on a journey through the elements and seasons as a mythic assessment of our lives at different stages. Again, I felt that to view my condition as static or dynamic, male or female, was pop psycho-babble.
Apparently I was stuck in the autumn of a static male; in other words, I was a crusty old bugger like King Lear, who needed a good shove towards the next stage - "dynamic female". I had to "become" Perdita, heroine of The Winter's Tale. As a classically repressed Englishman I like to camp it up with the best of them; but turning into a 16-year-old shepherdess who is really a lost princess wasn't so compelling. However, soon we were moving to the rhythm of the drum and I found myself drawn to Perdita's wintry domain. Some lilies on the altar caught my attention and as I sniffed them in my abandonment, red pollen stained my nose. Before long I had daubed my face and arms and began behaving in the way one can't remember at a good party.
I spent the rest of the day looking like a savage. I braved lunch at a Southwark pub, and then threw myself into the next ritual. This culminated in being led blindfold by Richard Olivier along passages and up stairs. I was taken through a door and felt the wind on my face. I realised we were on the roof, seven floors up. I was led up ladders and round corners - I heard traffic far below and trains on the London Bridge line. Then I was told to fall backwards.
I expected to be caught almost immediately, but I continued falling into space for what seemed a delicious and liberated age. Then hands reached out to stop me. I suppose the essence of it was to be willing to take a risk - literally a leap in the dark.
Wild Dance, a non-profit making organisation, began seven years ago after Richard Olivier organised an event for the American poet Robert Bly, author of Iron John and doyen of the mythic movement. A veteran of the best and victim of the worst aspects of the men's movement, Olivier developed Wild Dance Events from his work with Bly.
It is now Britain's leading exponent of workshops for men and women and runs many events - from evenings to week-long retreats, for men, women, mixed groups, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. The media include poetry, story-telling, music, drumming and dance. Every event is unique, adapting to the needs and personalities of those taking part. Many of the rituals are chosen or even invented as the event happens.
There is no connection with any religion or New Age practice, so it is a comfortable place for rational sceptics and fundamentalists. You don't need experience or talent to take part, and at no point are you expected to reveal anything about yourself. Great emphasis is placed on physical and emotional safety; the leaders remain detached from proceedings to ensure everyone's well-being.
Next year their events will include a weekend for fathers and sons, two rites of passage weeks and mytho-drama weekends with Richard Olivier and Mark Rylance, based on the Globe's productions.
For next year's programme, call Wild Dance Events (0171-813 4260), or write to BCM, Box 8059, London WC1N 3XX.Reuse content