“I’ve worked in worlds that Selina hasn’t worked in yet,” Taymor said long after Grendel had come and gone. “And I could explain something of the trials and tribulations, the joys and the sorrows, of bringing a gigantic work to light.” Seeing Taymor at work on Across the Universe was equally crucial. “Selina will work in film some day,” Taymor predicted.
It’s happening already. Cartmell has joined forces with Christopher Doyle, collaborating on a short of Cartmell’s Here Lies. A new opera is in an early stage of development. Meanwhile, however, there was Sweeney Todd, a work frequently appropriated by opera companies, even as it continues to be performed as musical theatre.
The affinities between mentor and protégée are far-reaching, yet at the same time, each has her quite distinctive profile. “I’ve been trying to pick up similarities,” Cartmell said as the year was coming to a close. “Julie and I are very different, it’s true. But I think we’re trying to say similar things about what the world is, coming from different ways.” Like Taymor, she sees joy and sorrow as waves in the same ocean.
Their meeting through the Rolex programme seems almost providential. Both Taymor and Cartmell are experimentalists at heart. And both, significantly, were drawn at an early age to the inspirational well of the East. Barely out of college, Taymor began absorbing ancient traditions of ritual, epic and puppet theatre in Indonesia and Japan. Cartmell’s epiphany came in a cramped rented room in Hong Kong, when a friend showed her dances she had learned in Bali.
“I knew right away that here was something I needed to learn,” Cartmell remembers. “I asked my friend how to make contact with the teacher. She said just to go to his village in Bali and dance for him. ‘If he thinks he can teach you,’ she said, ‘he’ll let you stay’.” Unannounced, Cartmell went and danced and was taken in as one of the family, remaining for three life-changing months.
And when she returned to Dublin for study at Trinity College, she walked into a bookstore where Playing with Fire was waiting for her: Taymor’s show-by-show survey of her work, richly illustrated.
“I can still remember the shelf the book was on, the way they displayed it,” says Cartmell. “And when I picked it up, I saw right away this was someone whose work would mean a lot to me. It’s not about making do. It’s about going the extra mile, never giving in. It said that you can do what you want to do. You don’t need pigeonholes. You can straddle worlds.”
Extracted from an article written by Matthew Gurewitsch for Mentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2006/2007 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.