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Ikebana for me.

I have had the art of Japanese flower arranging in my sights for a while.

It was brought to life for me wonderfully by Dr James Fox in a BBC series on Japanese culture. ( It is not available as I write but well worth watching if it comes around) a couple of years ago.

I recently was asked to accompany a friend to a local Ikebana show; the fruits of the North Oxford group's work this year. My friend has had a couple of very serious operations on her brain in the last two years and is determined to suck up as much culture as she can. We have been to dances, shows, and events at a furious rate as if gulping in as much goodness as possible. So it was that I found myself in the unlikely forum of the local ladies' flower arranging club. As soon, however, as I started to walk around the exhibits, arranged in the order of the seasons, as this was this year's theme, I became fascinated.

This really elaborate piece shows how it is much more than arranging flowers! There is a whole play of space, form and symbolism that can be delved into. The woman who made this collected the little "bells" over the winter with this display in mind!

This one shows how simple it can be. There are ratios between leaves and space that must be right. But what is great too is that this one is allowed some decay, if you see the end of the bottom frond.

This one just made me smile; perhaps nearer to the western idea of arranging flowers.

The enthusiasm of the, mainly, women at this event was infectious with the woman who seemed to be the "leader" confessing to something of an addiction to it!

Ikebana has many schools and goes back centuries. I will leave it to you to have a look here ( see link) rather than trying to explain it. I am no expert...yet!

The thing that really got me thinking about it, however, was reading in one of my favourite books A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology, edited by Eugenio Barba and Nicola Sivorese.

It proposes, in an early chapter, that the difference between an actor who is an artist and he or she who is not is the difference between the western idea of putting cut flowers in a pot and the Japanese ideal of creating dramas of space and form in Ikebana. The flowers in a pot are like what Etienne Decroux, the great French mime teacher once said about the actor, who is like a "man condemned to resemble just a man, a body imitating a body"; without a great technique and seriousness of intent, he or she is earthbound. In Ikebana the flowers, leaves, and accoutrements are specifically designed to resemble more than themselves which is the key to all art; to be of the present moment but to suggest an eternity. An actor who considers their acts and who develops greater awareness is more likely to touch the heavens.

As so often my hobbies and passions are filled somehow with the ideas of Moshe Feldenkrais. In this case, the connections are many. I will just mention one here though. Awareness is the watchword of the Feldenkrais Method and one of the things that we become more aware of while practicing is space. A human being initially moves and reacts to the space beyond them; their environment. Later, when we want to improve ourselves, we can learn to pay attention to the space within us, and how the space is interconnected by our bones. I see the structures and meanings in Ikebana as similar to the boney structure of the skeleton and the movements we make to attain a meaningful life.

I will be going to my first session in July and hope then to make it a regular event every month. I will keep you posted.

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