On October 16th, 2014, in the Dawson Theatre, Montreal, Quebec, S.P.A.C.E. presented THIRST, a dance performance by Suzanne Miller & Allan Paivio Productions with dancer Magali Stoll. Below is a meditation, inspired by the performance, on the mythology of water.
Thales of Miletus (c 624 –c 546 B.C.E.), an ancient Greek philosopher and early scientist, argued persuasively that the source and origin of all existence is water. He also claimed that water appears to have the kinds of powers usually ascribed to gods since water has no need of any other being to bring it into existence. Water has the power of self–transformation and can manifest itself in different states: solid, liquid, or gas. In this way it appears to have the powers of a divine being.
Thales argued that water must be the primary substance of everything that exists, since it is the common element in every existing being and the origin or source of every existing being. Water, Thales reasoned, is everywhere in the world: it falls from the sky, it surrounds land masses, and it swells up from the ground. Everything that lives and moves needs water to sustain its force. No animal, insect, human being, or plant can live without water. For all these reasons, Thales is one of the first scientists, who, like today’s nuclear physicists, tried to define the most fundamental substance of which all material beings are composed.
I thought of Thales and his fascinating and imaginative scientific theory on the origin of being as I watched the contemporary dance performance Thirst in the Dawson Theatre on October 16th. Two outstanding artists danced icebergs that eventually broke apart and melted away into waterfalls and lakes that were then greedily quaffed, guzzled, and gorged in a thoughtless manner, at times playful, at times just mindless wasteful overconsumption. It was a “wet production” with some water right on the stage. A dancer scaled the heights of heaven on a ladder to literally drink up the divine substance of water only to then spew it out carelessly right onto the stage below. Later in the dance we saw water turn the great wheels in a watermill, working for us, harnessed as sustainable energy to grind our flour and work our machines. We saw clouds become heavy with big loud drops of comforting cool rain. And then, a beautiful and serious dance that had already enthralled us with the importance and power of water to sustain life, and had already gently reminded us that the kind of play we engage in with our natural resources is deadly serious, invited us into the darkest chambers of a world in which there is scarcely any fresh water left. In this grim world, the precious liquid must be dispensed in carefully measured out doses and administered with syringes to human beings who are on all fours. Why were those human beings on all fours, were they babies crawling, grown-ups weak from dehydration, the human race transfigured into more ape- like beings, a kind of devolution at work in a world with no water?
We were then drawn into an asphyxiating realm in which the dancers gasp for breath as it dawns on us that our lungs need water to function, and we cannot breathe if there is no moisture in the world. We are more than half water ourselves! The dance ends with a beautiful source of water turning into mist, into a vapor that slowly disappears over the horizon. We get a last glimpse of the divine substance that gave us life. We realize that Nietzsche, the nineteenth century thinker who famously prophesized that human beings could kill the gods, was right after all, and that our insatiable thirst has devoured and squandered the divine being that sustains every life form. The beautiful mist finally disappears altogether as the lights dim and we are left in empty space, in the darkness of non being. The insatiable thirst of human beings is a force to be reckoned with.