Prayer – a human function

 

Background

The act of praying is probably as old as mankind is. Would it be wrong to say that man is a praying animal? In the act of praying primitive man established a relationship of proximity and distance towards the sacred and divine. And that is still what he does when he is praying.

But praying is in the first place a ritualised set of physical movements mostly combined with ritualised language. Have you ever wondered how many millions of people throughout the world perform these movements every day? Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Animists, etc… What do these movements mean to them? How do they effect their ways of thinking, feeling, behaving and being in the world?  

We live in different cultures and different environments, we are the product of different histories and try to make sense of the world in different languages. We create variations on the same theme. We walk in different ways, but we all walk. The same goes for praying. There is no culture where people do not pray and no language that has no prayers. But the differences in words and ritual movements is enormous and fascinating.

How do people pray today? Some decades ago this question would be a very strange starting point  for an artistic research and a performance. That is not the case anymore today. After the Second World War a rapid and intense secularization of Europe took place. Religion became something very private, something one did not talk about in public. The notion of the sacred seemed to be lost, apart from the early beginnings of new age thinking in the sixties. Globalisation from the eighties onwards brought back religion into politics and public space. Profound shifts in international power relations, a new and political awareness of the Muslims caused a return of religion to the secular space. The islamic revival forced Christians to rethink their religious positions. Now at the beginning of the 21st century religion has again become an important public force.

But the focus of this project is not society but the individual. What does praying mean for the one who prays? What does it mean to believe and to express this through prayer? To perform a ritual behaviour daily or weekly? A prayer is a complex dialogue between body and mind, between physical movement and spiritual movement, between the material and the immaterial, between this world and the one beyond. This tension is the very heart of praying.

There is an ancient and profound relationship between the praying ritual and what we call now performance, theatre and dance. The rituals organising the prayers to the gods and to the dead contain the roots of our modern scenic arts. A return to the prayer is therefore nothing less than a reflection on the essence of performance itself: a communication with what is invisible and absent.

The starting point of the project is an intense dialogue between performer Heike Schmidt and a number of interviewees who tell about their concrete praying habits, what it means to them, and how they create the world over and over again from this intimate moment. These interviews will be part of the performance and the private will become public and political. The interviewees will provide much of the movement material on which the final choreography will be based.