© Vainius Sodeika

It’s the beginning of the pandemic when Łukasz calls and says he needs my help. I don’t know him well. We’ve seen each other a few times in our lives, at theatre events. Everyone knows everyone in the theatre world, but not always that well. We’ll soon get to know each other very well.

*

On 1 March 2020, my boyfriend gets on a plane to Washington. He’s scheduled to spend five months there on an internship. The plan is for me to join him in April. I don't end up joining him. At the beginning of the pandemic, I find myself in my small hometown where I visit my parents. I end up staying with them. I write a novel. I call my boyfriend. I read books and watch the news. In Zoom calls, Łukasz tells me about a strange group he has joined. Every day is the same.

*

End of March 2020 – the global lockdown has been going on for several weeks. The news continuously gives updates on the number of infections and victims. Italy is faring worst. I get the results of a medical exam I had before the pandemic. I am sick. I need an operation. The doctor tells me that hospitals won’t perform any more operations, only lifesaving ones. I have to wait. One of my lymph nodes is swollen. I visit a private doctor and I’m prescribed an antibiotic. The public-health sector is only concerned about Covid. My fear grows. I worry about my health. I worry about money. All the productions I planned have been cancelled. Communicating with my boyfriend in Washington via Facetime is killing me. Finally, I go back to Warsaw, to focus on the project from Łukasz and his group. When I first went away, I figured I’d be back in a week. I was gone for two months. The flowers had all dried up. Someone had stolen my bike from the stairwell. More flights from Washington are being cancelled a few hours before departure. I’m lonely. I’m afraid. I don’t know what to do with myself. The world is strange and foreign. I have never really liked the times I’m living in. Now I like them even less.

*

Łukasz tells me more about his group. It’s called Respublika. They live near Vilnius and spend their days planning raves and their nights at them. From what he tells me, I gather these aren’t huge raves. A dozen people simply dancing in the woods, amongst them Łukasz. He says they want to organise other raves, not ordinary ones. Others. The kind that resemble a theatre performance. Or a movie. Or an exhibition. They need a script for their performances. Someone to write down the entire path, from A to Z. A script that can be replicated in different places. Like a show. Łukasz sends me footage of their time in the woods. Several dozen hours, several dozen gigabytes.

I’m a writer; text files don’t take up so much space. For the first time in my life, I’m buying external hard drives to load more footage. I never liked watching recordings of rehearsals, improvisations and exercises. I spread out more puzzles on the ground and just listen. The people in the recordings mostly just sit around and talk. The expressions on their faces don’t interest me. I hear everything through the voice. The words are short and to the point, because one of the group members is translating from Lithuanian. He’s not a professional translator. I guess hes translating roughly, with no finesse.

*

In further Zoom calls, Łukasz gives me more information about the group. I’m unhappy and I’m afraid. My partner is stuck abroad and I try, with the help of video snippets and Łukasz’s stories, to understand what this group that lives in the forest and plays techno is all about. Out of fear and loneliness, I start to internally sabotage everything Łukasz says, but I do it so that he doesn’t notice. He’s my only connection to the group. I have the feeling that he isn’t a good link. He’s not in the position to properly convey their vision. What they’re doing and why. I ask him lots of questions, I mine him for information, because, despite everything, I feel strangely drawn to the group, even if his explanations are unclear. Maybe my sabotage stems from me wanting to do what they’re doing but I lack the courage? And maybe that’s why I tell myself they’re a bunch of freaks?

I SLOWLY BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THAT, FOR THEM, PERHAPS, IT’S ABOUT A BETTER MODEL OF THE WORLD. AND THAT THEY’RE TRYING TO BUILD THIS WORLD THEMSELVES, THROUGH PRIVATE AND VERY INTIMATE EXPERIENCES. JOANNA BEDNARCZYK

I notice that the group is quite sensitive and not easy to describe. I slowly begin to understand that, for them, perhaps, it’s about a better model of the world. And that they’re trying to build this world themselves, through private and very intimate experiences. They don’t want to change or demolish the system. They’re not anarchists. Utopia is not a general, political system, but rather a delicate inner structure. They’re sensitive, sometimes overly sensitive, but they’re not like hipsters. One of the girls in the recordings has shaved armpits but those armpits are not sterile and dry. You can see black dust, stuck together by sweat.

*

Łukasz tells me that one of the ideas they’re testing is that of a basic income. They managed to get 15 euros per day from some cultural institution in Vilnius, so they moved to the country and live on that. Fifteen euros. No more, no less. How is that? To get paid without working? Not huge sums but at least amounts you can survive on. That allows you to stop working in order to spend days searching for an experience whose existence you merely suspect but don’t entirely understand. Searching for something that lies beyond the imagination, because you can’t imagine it. It’s not true that there are no limits to the imagination. They exist when we simply cannot imagine something. We can’t imagine where the power of the imagination ends. And it ends exactly at that point – the point we can’t imagine. Yet, sometimes, we can detect the factors that limit and structure the imagination. For a while, Łukasz and his friends decided to embrace capitalism and put aside their principles. Then, they stopped working and began dancing, hoping to expand their consciousness. Hoping that their minds would transcend the trusted boundaries of cognition.

*

I know that, without some background reading, I can’t write a script for the group. I read Harari, Hobbes and Meillassoux. The pandemic eases up a bit and the doctor sets a date for the operation. Flights from Washington are still suspended. I go to the hospital alone. I take my Kindle, loaded with Hope in the Dark by Solnit. What a paradox: for weeks, I have been working morning to night on a script about a group that doesn’t work at all! As I internalise the ideas of a new sensitivity, about being sensitive to oneself, about subverting the capitalist indicators of success, I turn on my Kindle a half hour after I wake up. The letters jump back and forth before my eyes, but I don’t give up. I keep reading. After two hours, the words «book completed» appear. I go to the nurses and explain that I can now be discharged. They suggest that I stay another couple of hours. But I insist that they let me go. I tell them I am fine, even though I’m still dizzy.

*

Nothing that Łukasz tells me about the history of the group or what I can figure out for myself convinces me. Maybe I’m a pessimist, maybe I’m stuck up and consider the rest of humanity to be dumber than me. I don’t believe that the experiences the group is seeking and trying to hard-code with the help of a script are special or beautiful. It all reeks a little of New Age, of the 1960s. At any rate, not new. I read philosophical books about techno culture. About bodies connected in a trance. About the energy of the beat that stretches the boundaries of capitalism. I get the impression that these books have been written by an algorithm that learned its subject-predicate sentence structure from books by Foucault, Deleuze and Lacan. I make twice as much effort, because softness, subtlety and working only when I feel like it feels like weakness. I try to describe these dancing people who believe in the magic of community and multidirectional love, as I sit alone in a one-room apartment. I impose a strict regime on myself: write a dozen pages of the script every day. I feel like a bull trying to make my way through a china shop without breaking a single cup.

*

I decide with Łukasz that we’ll describe the group as though it has been around for decades, which means that, in my imagination, I have to move into the future. I’m afraid that I’m not up to the task. That the power of my imagination will turn out to be rather weak. That I won’t be able to conjure up a future for a group that I don’t even know in the present. I’m afraid of clichés. Pop culture knows many visions of the future. Deserts everywhere, for example. I don’t want these visions to seep into my script. For a while, I have no idea what I’ll come up with. I suggest to Łukasz that the world we’ll describe won’t have any animals. They have all died. And specific parts of the human consciousness can be turned off with the help of pharmaceuticals. The body is in pain, but the brain doesn’t know it. Arms and legs move for 72 hours but the person to whom the limbs belong doesn’t feel tired. I don’t know if it’s original but at the moment, I don’t care. I feel betrayed by the group. They preach love and tenderness but none of them has invited me to join. They’re waiting for the script. If it’s ok, then I’ll be able to join them.

*

There is a scene in the script that came about when I joined the group in August 2020. The group members look back at themselves from the past. The past selves are dressed like the Amish. They make the same gestures as the ones from the present. They utter the same sentences, as if an echo is shuttling back and forth between time periods. At that meeting, we tried to find the carriers of continued existence. Do beings that are replaced by other beings over the course of time leave traces in the universe? If so, then how? In the language? In the unconscious? In the genes? In the memory? When we dance, do our muscles breathe the memory of other dancing bodies?

Searching for something that lies beyond the imagination, because you can’t imagine it. JOANNA BEDNARCZYK

I haven’t seen the group members for a year and a half. Since our last dance together, I have danced many times. In other places, with other people. I am an atheist; I don’t believe in God. That’s why it’s often hard, especially now. For days, I have been waking up and thinking: yeah, you’re still alive. I ask myself whether any part of me will remain after I die? It’s not about material things. I’m thinking a lot more about the continuity of specific movements, intellectual processes, private philosophies. I guess I’ll just disappear upon my death. That’s it. But I know that certain emotions and feelings that I experience will appear in the same form in another person. One of these emotional constellations will, I’m sure, be traced by someone else in the future. That’s the feeling that wells up inside me when I dance with other people in a room somewhere.

*

As I write this text, I keep tearing myself away from the open window of my word-processing program to watch the news. It is early March 2022. War has been raging in Ukraine for a week.

*

Up to 2020, I had never had anxiety disorders. Or I didn’t know that I was suffering from it, because I was always moving and never had the opportunity to feel the anxiety that was, perhaps, lurking inside me. As the pandemic started and the days became empty, the anxiety finally had enough space and time. Hey, I’m here, let’s get to know each other. I hate it. I prefer ordinary fear. It doesn’t take so long and I know where it comes from.

*

Movement is good for anxiety. When you keep moving, fear doesn’t have any space. That’s why clubs on the weekends are full of dancing people, while during the week, people run to catch the bus, as if there’ll never be another one.

*

In the pandemic, it turned out that the one-room apart-ment my partner and I lived in was not enough for us. We put all our money together and bought an apartment. We spent a year renovating it. In Poland, renovation is a traumatic process. I have two hard years behind me and even worse years ahead of me. The fear is overwhelming. I walk around my new apartment and get stuck every now and then. I stand still, motionless. Every now and then, I look out the window and observe the Polish counter-intelligence building. My apartment is in an old building surrounded by military government buildings. I imagine that, one day, I won’t wake up and won’t even notice. Neither will my neighbours.

*

At the beginning of 2020, when the media was saying that the pandemic could last up to two years, I thought: that’s impossible. When my father asked me three weeks ago if I thought there would be a war, I said: not an ordinary one, maybe a hybrid one.

*

I have always believed the scientists who warned mankind about the climate catastrophe. Until recently, however, I had hoped it would not be as bad as predicted. Now I am convinced that it will be even worse. And that it will happen before we’re ready for it.

WHEN WE DANCE, DO OUR MUSCLES BREATHE THE MEMORY OF OTHER DANCING BODIES? JOANNA BEDNARCZYK

I know that events like Respublika make one see the world differently. I experienced it myself. I know that the community that forms from such events is absolutely real. It’s also short-lived. For several hours, weeks and months, you are with someone with whom you share a sense of excitement, and then the inevitable separation occurs. However, I believe that the body and brain remember many things. The receptors store memories of everything that was strong enough to be encoded in them. Respublika is such an experience for many people. The openness, freedom, liberation and sense of community experienced by Respublika participants are treasures to keep within. Will the world change as a result? No. Will it change the individual? Probably not. Is it necessarily about change? Maybe not. Is trying to change enough to make you feel you’ve done everything possible to make it happen? No. Is the attempt the only thing that lies within the scope of our possibilities? I think it is. Is that a trivial conclusion? Yes. But it’s exactly at this point that the power of my imagination ends.

*

Respublika is an attempt to imagine the future. The members of the group live in a world without animals. Capitalism has collapsed. Facebook and Ryanair no longer exist. The group has its own infrastructure – musical equipment and mock-ups of living spaces they occupied many decades ago. In this makeshift, nomadic world, they immerse themselves in music. What are they looking for within it? Probably a lot of things. Or maybe nothing. The vision of the future that Łukasz and I have developed is melancholic and sad, but not without love. Today, almost two years after its creation, it doesn’t seem delicate enough to me, it’s maybe even embarrassing. As I write this text, I realise that this vision was shaped from the beginning by the collaboration of two completely different minds, characters and temperaments. My face is like sandstone. Every now and then, something moves in it, like grains of sand on a stone in a light gust of wind. Łukasz’s face is like a handbag, from which everything pours out in a torrent: smile, teeth, French, Polish, English, Russian. And a little smoke from the Iqos. My scepticism and his hope. We learned something from each other, although we probably never thought about what exactly it was. Today, when I think about the vision of the future that we wrote down in the script for Respublika, I try not to blame ourselves for not having foreseen the war. For focusing, in our vision of the future, on the experience of a group playing techno, dancing and inviting others to join them, and, even if the participants are filled with melancholy, no one dies. I don’t know what the future will look like. I don’t know any more than I did two years ago. But I do know one thing: as long as we exist, we will always love and dance – even in the very worst of times.

Translated from Polish by Rose-Anne Clermont

JOANNA BEDNARCZYK, dramaturge and author, studied psychology and Russian philology in Krakow. She furthermore graduated from the faculty of theater directing at the Academy of Theater Arts in Krakow.