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GIL ALON, actor, director and singer from Israel
by LV, Chennai
Mar 2002

Anita Ratnam and Arangham Trust organized a workshop “Into the Moment - a journey to the innermost intuition” by noted Israeli Theatre and Film personality GIL ALON on March 25, 2002. About 32 participants had a fun time doing the various theatre exercises involving music, movement, expression, emotion and words. The participants discovered new, individual creative sources in them and at the end of it, felt amazed that it is alright to be in the state of not knowing what one is going to do next, something that every creative person goes through at some time or other.

Gil Alon is an actor, director and singer as well as a Reiki master and a follower of Zen Buddhism. 'Gil' means 'happiness' and Alon means 'Oak tree' but much to his amusement, Gil finds that the cheeky children in Chennai call him 'mottai' meaning baldie!! And this is his first visit to Chennai!

We were asked to wear comfortable attire and bring a blindfold. Gil had a great selection of music for the varied exercises. We first lay down with our eyes closed and blindfolded and listened to Celtic singer Enya. We had to describe the music in one word. We then got up and moved around the room still blindfolded and had to tell the others our word - peace, harmony, creativity, sleepy, enthusiasm, dance and so on, but who came up with the word 'salwar' (a dress item)??

There were various partner exercises. One person had an imagined pain in some part of the body while the partner was the pain itself and had to latch on to the affected part without letting go. The ensuing tussle was a sight to behold. The roles were then reversed much to the glee of the afflicted. Some significantly opted for 'a pain in the neck'!

Then one blindfolded participant was a 'car' while the partner was the 'driver' and the twosomes did some horrendous driving around the room dodging other 'vehicles', something we in Chennai are very adept at. The 'cars' had their sweet revenge when they became the manipulators! That was energetic and fun!

'Fly like a bird' said Gil. Something like 'I don't know what I am going to do'. Everyone felt quite happy with their plight, before trying to take to flight. There were some amazing interpretations, the most eye catching being Madhusudanan who scaled up the wall on the bamboo pole, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style, and then lay on his stomach on the beam atop, flapping his hands in a flying motion. As luck would have it, the camera battery died at that moment and it was lost to us for ever!

2 participants seated cross-legged, knees and palms touching, stared into each other's eyes to the strains of 'Want to make it with you'! That was the easy part. The hard part was.... not to utter a word!!

We had to choose an object from the room and use it as a dance partner and develop it further into group movement. The choreographic abilities of even non-dancers came to the fore because there was no 'trying to be the best' attitude from anyone. It was just joy of movement.

Irrespective of age - the oldest was 47 and youngest was 15 - the room came alive with naughty, weepy, happy, sporty, dancing 5 year olds. Physical exercises were alternated with sedate exercises. We then entered a realm of
pain where we had to experience the trauma of pain to anguished music! What next? To lie down blindfolded and laugh away our cares. Starting with an artificial 'ha! ha!', the laughter became real enough and the room
reverberated with joy!

In a matter of 3 hours, we agonized, fought, laughed, created, spoke to 'strangers', guided and were guided. No self-consciousness, no trying to be best, as Gil put it, just being ourselves.

At the end of the workshop, we sat in a circle and exchanged ideas and interpretations. These thoughts put together are sure to raise a few points to ponder about.
We listened to a piece of music blindfolded and you asked us to think of only one word to describe it. I actually had at least 3 words in mind, but had to restrict myself because of what you said.
Random thoughts are important, but we lead our lives as slaves to our thoughts and emotions instead of being the boss. That's why I suggested the choice be narrowed down to one word. When you are blindfolded, it makes you see other dimensions more clearly. Just like how blind people develop other faculties.

You ask us to relax by lying down blindfolded, listening to soothing music. To the contrary, one may have all sorts of needless thoughts pervading the mind instead of keeping it blank and relaxed.
That is something that happens whether we want it or not. That's because we are slaves to our thoughts and the impact is more when we close our eyes. When we have our eyes open, we go about our work and keep ourselves busy, so these thoughts do not bother us then. We cannot force relaxation. Relaxation comes when we release ourselves. 'The thoughts are mine, but I am not the thought' - this helps to surrender our thoughts and we then go on stage and surrender to art, not think about the ticket sales, who or how many are in the audience, will they like my performance and so on. It is not easy.

What was the purpose of the exercise where the blindfolded person was the car and the partner was the driver?
The blindfolded person does not know where he is being led, he's totally in the hands of the driver who maneuvers him in-between other pairs of participants. Just like, you totally trust your teacher, director or choreographer. But one should not trust anyone fully, not even your own teacher. You can, of course, ask questions. That does not mean disrespect. 'Re - spect' means to re - view, try to see things from your point of view too.

Here in India, we are taught to follow a teacher's instructions implicitly.
You must surrender first of all to your art, then to your teacher. Ask questions. Think, “How can I be on stage and be the dance, be the art?” Being the art on stage is more important than being the dancer or actor.

Doesn't that start with the director or choreographer?
There are 2 kinds of choreographers. One will say, “Do this, do that”. The other will say, “Do what you feel, do not copy me”.
When we create something together, dancer and choreographer, actor and director, the repetition of instructions is in order to make the work professional and fluent. You can do the same thing again and again and yet retain the freshness every time you do it. The purpose of the teacher, choreographer or director is to be the creator from the outside. The dancer or actor finds his freedom from within the form.

You asked us to behave like a 5 year old. For what purpose?
A child is free to do what he wants - play, sing, fight, jump, shout… there is no condition he is under to be this or that. To condition a mind to fixed norms is wrong. If you want to be like a child, be a child.

This is where the question of individual and personal comes into being. 'Persona' in Greek means mask. It is what society wants you to be, so you are showing a side of yourself that is not your true self. Even if you achieve whatever goals you have set for yourself, your success is defined by others. Success is the illness of the modern world.

Pay more attention on being an individual, on being yourself. It may be difficult, but when you are yourself, you find the art in yourself. Explore inside yourself, tell yourself, “I will not change my art because he said this or he said that”. Why do what society expects you to do? There are many artistes who have done just that and become famous and rich. I do not know if they are happy or fulfilled by compromising like this.

And fame…Fame is nothing after you are famous. Then what? There is nothing. Being famous is very important because when you are famous, you realize it is not important!

We moved around blindfolded among 'strangers'. Though I could not see, I felt no fear since I know most of them.
I did try workshops by asking the participants to just close their eyes instead of using the blindfold, but they were all the time trying to screw their eyes and look!

You practice Zen philosophy. Can you tell us about it?
Zen Buddhism originated in China and is close in some parts to Hinduism. I came to know that only now. Zen philosophy is a wide topic and I like it very much though I find interesting messages in other philosophies too. The fundamentals are similar. My favorite thought is, only the present exists. Think logically, “When can I learn from the past?” Now. “When can I plan for the future?” Now. What is important is the now, not past, not future. Even as I say this, it has now become a thing of the past.

Gil Alon
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