Vesalius: an incomplete jigsaw


We’re piecing together Vesalius – a Requiem, from fragments – scratchy video excerpts, musical manuscript, leftover props, pamphlets and notebooks; photos taken by Martin in the police mortuary in Southwark, typed-out texts from Alan, scribbled texts from me…

…and memories. Memories which often contradict or fail. There was no single clean documentation of a performance, no complete script. Over the course of the 24 or so previous performances of this work – in Birmingham, London and Bologna – the piece changed. Scripts were edited and rewritten; props were tested, broken, remade or abandoned.

What seems strange, coming back to it now, is that despite its elusive quality the show inspires an almost blind faith in it for Richard and myself – which isn’t always helpful. Cheryl is directing, and it’s been a struggle to relinquish our ideas from the past, even when they don’t stand up to much rational scrutiny. It’s been a process of reinvestigating the validity of the ideas.

Week One of rehearsals was spent re-finding, researching and embedding the autopsy-related content. Visits to the South Australia Police Dept. Forensic Science Section (morgue) and the Flinders Medical Centre (anatomy / dissection dept.) together with bed-time viewings of Von Hagens Pathology Lessons. To be given the opportunity to see with your own eyes the viscera of another human being feels an enormous privilege, because the body is without question an astonishing machine – full of colour, form and wonder. Ethical debates will continue to rage as to whether this territory should stay the privilege of the licensed few – the death professionals; morticians, pathologists, funeral directors, etc. – but I remain convinced that our contemporary sensibilities deny us a community with death. Seeing a dead person may not yield all the mysteries of the universe, but I believe it a life education in itself and after visiting Flinders Med Centre I have the greatest respect for those who have chosen to bequeath their mortal remains for the advancement of medical knowledge. Like our guide-dissector Corey, I’m not yet ready to make that commitment myself, but the experience certainly reminded me to update the organ donor card.

With some powerful mental images to take away for the weekend, the show’s specially-assembled 16-strong choir came together for the first time on saturday, working their way coolly through Rick’s score. Here’s a tiny fragment from the Pie Jesu – which for a first rehearsal holds up pretty well, I think.


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