Not everyone needs genetic vulnerabilities, modern life and technologies alone don’t agree with the old mechanisms of human bodies. Or rather they can be easily hijacked. Consider how fast food hijacks our natural cravings for salt, fat and sugar, which would have been rare to find and also stored up by our bodies to use during times of hunger. Or how social media gamifies our need for human connection and social approval, releasing an addictive reward of dopamine each time we get a like. Or 24hr culture and eternal news cycles hijacking our ability to slow down and simply rest, without the need for being alert to any catastrophe going on in the world. Even blue artificial lighting can disrupt our circadian rhythm, an archaic function where our bodies are attuned to the rhythms of night and day to sleep. Unlike our ancestors, there is little time for rest, just constant states of alertness, vigilance and addiction to stress. No wonder our minds are constantly racing, chasing, grasping at thoughts and future threats. How does this persistent over-exposure manifest in the body? The human body evolved to handle short term threats. When the body experiences long term stress, it exists in a constant state of fight or flight.
Rachel Macmanus’ kaleidoscopic performance during Re-vision’s ‘Seeing you, Seeing Me’ tunes into this anxious existential dread of a mind constantly alert. She begins lying on the floor, remembering choking on a bug and jolting into flight out of sleep, she and her bug-kin both in a state of instinctual struggle. Just a dream. She speaks continuously, every single thought that floods into her mind is released out loud, in a completely improvised release. Her words are sweaty, nervous and wry, and they pull you through the stream of consciousness, the same way her body thrusts her around the room as she’s dragged through the anxious routine of day to day life. Furrowed brows, clenched jaw, tight shoulders, imaginary dog, squats. The boundary between waking life, dreams and anxious thoughts blend into her body. Her arms swell into the walls, as she remembers swelling and swelling and swelling in a waiting room until she could almost burst. Or she shrinks into herself as she wills herself to get enough space from the breath on her neck behind her in a que.
As Macmanus’ moves and flutters across the room like a daddy long legs trapped in a throat, her muscles tense, poised to fight or flight and tackle the sheer amount of things to do on her to do lists and the sheer amount of things flooding her mind; climate change, daft social things like pretending to like people you hate, global pandemic, social media productivity, another world war, the reality that we’re all sacks of flesh and bone on a space rock that could be destroyed by a meteor at any moment? She cleverly encourages the audience into her nervous energy, pulling them into her orbit and letting them buzz, reflecting how easily we can collect this nervousness, as the social animals we are. It’s only on the breathing exercises (after the squats) that she and the audience begin to settle a little, belly breathing, is one of the ways we can calm an overwrought nervous system into a sense of ‘ok’ by tuning out of our minds and getting back into our bodies.
Under the pressure of the modern world, Macmanus’ performance seems to be about letting go of the structure, imposed on the body by society and instead, letting it scramble. Giving in, to the instincts and motions of a body caught in chaos, at threat of extinction and shopping trips at equal measure, which leaves it no other option but to be on alert and constantly talking.
Kindly borrowed from Michaela Nash, Northern Ireland based Writer