Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On your marks! Get set!

(Free House Event- Sunday 25 March)
Doug Sandle writes:
When I was a teenager I had pictures from an illustrated sports magazine on my bedroom wall alongside pictures of work by the likes of Paul Klee, Mondrian, Picasso and Magritte. While sport and the arts are often seen to occupy different and oppositional realms, as  portrayed in the popular stereotypes of the super fit  sports ‘jock and the arty ‘aesthete’, for me the arts and sport are twin passions. As an adolescent I wrote poetry and also ran cross country, played rugby and was a middle distance runner.  

So as a 'Beck Arts' contribution to the Headingley LifFest, following on from our 2011 Food for Thought, for this Olympic year it had to be the literature (and some songs) of sport as the subject of our presentation. As luck would have it, LitFest guest Anthony Clavane in his Sunday afternoon session talked about the often perceived divide between mind and body and the stereotypical assumptions that arts and sport necessarily inhabited different worlds. He argued that arts and sport had much in common and as an example cited author David Storey, who had been a Rugby League player for Leeds.  As I research the relationships between the arts and sport it is surprising how many artists, writers, dramatists, film makers, composers, dancers and poets have used sport not only as a subject  to be celebrated (and sometimes critiqued) but as a rich expressive and symbolic narrative of human experience. For Anthony Clavane, sport is theatre and a dramatic spectacle. For conceptual artist Martin Creed, whose piece entitled Work No. 850 in which every 30 seconds a runner ran through the galleries of Tate Britain, there is the implication that our experience of, and engagement with, art and sport may  have much in common. 

So in our sporty clothes and entering slow motioned to strains of Chariots of Fire we entered our arena (the welcoming front room of Richard Wilcocks's abode) to perform On Your Marks! Get Set!  to a full house. The performers who joined me were Sheila Chapman (who stood in generously for Lis Bertolla, who was unable to attend as advertised), Richard Wilcocks, John Milburn and Maria Sandle. The programme included poems on tennis, running, football, cricket and golf and readings of prose works on football and cricket featuring both well known and perhaps not so well known poets and authors. 

Richard also revealed in suitable dramatic style (in his piece The Führer's First XI) that Hitler had once had an interest in cricket and that he attempted to rewrite the rules and characteristics of the game. Following some particularly lyrical poems on cricket, John performed the poetic Roy Harper song When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease. Maria concluded a section on football with an example of a song that had had become ‘appropriated’ and associated with sport by singing The Fields of Athenry. This has become a feature of several sporting events and is performed by fans, notably for Celtic and Liverpool football clubs and also for Irish Rugby games. 

Some works, such as Lis Bertolla’s own poem Team Spirit (especially written for this event), reminded us that school experience of sport was not a comfortable experience for some, while nonetheless recognising its metaphorical import later in life. Other readings playfully poked fun at being too obsessed with sporting prowess and physicality or critiqued the celebrity culture of commodified sport. The performance concluded with a song and a poem about boxing, and we then moved on to indulge in the refreshments provided by Anna. It was a very enjoyable event for the last day of the main LitFest programme.

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