The Heart’s Desire


Poster for The Heart’s Desire. Photo by Paul Freestone, art direction and graphic design by Ayala Kingsley

This ambitious project, completed in June 2014, was a collaboration between Café Reason and voice artist Anne L Ryan. The aim was to create a unique, multi-layered piece of physical theatre combining original composed music, live voices, and butoh performance. We had already begun working with our voices as part of our butoh expression in 2011—12, so this seemed like a natural step for the group. Over an eighteen-month period we experimented, discussed, developed, and rehearsed, with work-in-progress performances at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in August 2013 and a research trip to Paris in January 2014. For more information about all this, see the Café Reason website.




At the Cluny Museum. Photo by Ana Barbour.

The Heart’s Desire was inspired by the series of 15th-century tapestries known as La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn), displayed in the Cluny Museum, Paris. Each of the first five tapestries is thought to depict one of the five senses, while the sixth tapestry, which bears the enigmatic inscription À Mon Seul Désir (To My One Desire), is much more mysterious, and interpreted variously as representing the assertion of Free Will, the renunciation of worldly passions, or an internal sixth sense – ‘Understanding’, located in the heart. Our performance set out to explore the personal journey of ‘The Lady’ as she searches for meaning and balance in her life.




Our final structure for the piece followed the mediaeval hierarchy of the Senses – Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing, Sight, Free Will (which was also the sequence of the Cluny display), with each sense being represented by an individual dancer, with the other dancers echoing this sense as a ‘chorus’, and the sensual/spiritual polarities of the Lion and the Unicorn embodied as presiding influences. As well as jointly administering the project (with Ana Barbour and Anne Ryan) and creating the publicity material, I took on the role of ‘Sight’ and of the Unicorn. I also made the Lion and Unicorn masks.


‘Sight’ solo. Photo by Paul Freestone. Video to come soon.