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Creativity: Alexandra Borrie climbs out of angst with her original work

"I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and sit bolt upright in bed! “ declared Alexandra Borrie, a multi-talented veteran of Broadway and television.

Alexandra Borrie displays 9/11 photo used in her commemoration of the event
Andrew Moore

This jolt usually begins the labor pangs preceding her creative process: she knows that a work of art is poised to birth. It’s a call to create, but the response is not yet in view. Something needs to be realized. She can’t quite envision its embodiment, because it is literally still becoming, still taking shape. She does know, however, that this discomfort demands her attention, her receptivity to whatever images will emerge, and her flexibility to mold the unfolding process to perfection. In the midst of all this is the confidence that the creative process will not fail to yield results. Such a mindset triggered her creative process to form something from a state of consciousness that the Asians describe as “dukkha,” which literally means broken wheel. To illustrate this imagine a thought experiment, running into a grocery store, picking a grocery cart, and beginning to shop, when suddenly one of the wheel malfunctions. A daily chore that once was done easily now becomes a very uncomfortable task. Dukkha, the impetus for the creative process, according to an Asian belief can range from something relatively annoying to something deeply crippling, even an unfathomable angst.

Borrie heard her call in the middle of the night, and the call often gallops or creeps upon us in disguise. That disguise is more commonly called angst in our western culture. This trumpet alarm can wear a range of many costumes. Francis Story, a Christian Englishman in the early 20th century who spent his life studying philosophy to broaden his horizons, captures all the nuances of dukkha in his book, The Three Basic Facts of Existence with these synonyms:

“Disturbance, irritation, dejection, worry, despair, fear, dread, anguish, anxiety;
Vulnerability, injury, inability, inferiority;
Sickness, aging, decay of body and faculties,
Senility; pain/pleasure;
Excitement/boredom; deprivation/excess;
Desire/frustration, suppression;
Longing/aimlessness; hope/hopelessness;
Effort, activity, striving/repression;
Loss, want, insufficiency/satiety;
Love/lovelessness, friendlessness;
Dislike, aversion/attraction;
Decision/indecisiveness, vacillation, uncertainty.”

To be more succinct: everything that is not equilibrium is angst, even pleasant sensations. Artists are not intimidated by these experiences, because they provide something with which to work, something from which to embody a creation, and something that will fundamentally change. Artists know that this is the nature of feelings, causes, and conditions. They can even transform the artist and the viewer during the evolution of the process. For artists like Borrie, any form of angst is the beginning of something new, - a way to carry out the famous dictum commanded by 20th century poet Ezra: “Make it new!” Perhaps their confidence in responding to the call is the main difference between the artist and the citizen who falls hard into periods of tension, avoidance, aversion, and even torpor. This state, in folks who don’t consider themselves to be artists, can lead to a tension that closes down his or her receivers, distancing life from confidence in solvable solutions.

Alexandra Borrie unthinkingly understand that the ever-present sources of her creativity are awakened a call. She has developed her own approach to accessing this persistent undercurrent, how to allow it, to tend it, and to embody it in art. An antidote to any negativity that may arise can be found in the cues, the work habits, the attention, and the positive understanding that she has at her disposal: it is the creative response to the call of dukkha.

She describes this call in New York City, the day after the attack on the World Trade Center:

“All routes into Manhattan had closed but I had fought my way in from Queens in order to experience the city on a day I knew would be like no other in my lifetime. I was right. That day on Sept.12, 2001, I moved among crowds of people who were mostly in a state of shock but still standing, moving about or going ‘somewhere’. A sect of extremists . . . had killed my sister in law at her desk in the North Tower. “

This experience began her response, which to gather what she called then called the “great journalism and writing,” to experience it, understand it, and create her World Trade Center Commemorative Presentation called “9.11.A Tribute at Dusk.” She said that: “Thematically, it is really about he artistic response to the attack.” At that time she lived in Rego Park, Queens where she premiered this work five years after the event featuring juxtaposed poems, writers’ quotes and music to create a story-telling arch. Borrie's 9/11 piece included Thomas F. Flynn’s Bikeman: An Epic Poem describing a bicycle ride to the world center after the first tower collapsed. Flynn defines survival as “the absence of death . . . between pain and the tears.”

She repeated the presentation ten years later in New Hampshire on the 9.11 anniversary with the help of her three-woman group called Vocollage,whose mission, as implied by the name, are to “re-invent the voice recital” through layered voice collages from literary, historical, and first person documents woven through with vocal and instrumental music to heighten drama and emotion. The group features performances like “Sho'ah Voices” with first-hand accounts of the Holocaust, historical documents and costumes adding a multi-dimensional affect.

Borrie does not shy away from historically controversial writers like Virginia Woolf. Combining both text and music, she created a one woman show at the Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, garbed in the manner and accent of Virginia Wolf to reenact passages from Woolf”s A Room of One’s Own. She addressed the prerequisites of a woman writer in the 20th century, which must include “money and a room of one’s own if she wants to write fiction.” Borrie enacted Woolf’s words to illustrate the angst of women’s status in society: “Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor. What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?”

The local paper described Borrie’s performance aptly: "Borrie's fusion of music and text created the necessary medium to give Woolf's 1929 essay a modern voice, creating a riveting stir of debate applicable to a modern-day audience."

Additionally, Borrie’s radical one woman play about female performers and their stress in the “Looks Industry,” and her work on mothering, which she describes as “far different from a Hallmark card.”

Borrie’s creative method seems to welcome the juncture of angst and awareness to wait, focus, and engage patience. At another time in her life, she had rallied frustration and dismissal to stare cancer in the face, and confront her doctors soon after surgery while pushing the pole carrying her intravenous equipment down the hospital corridor; she greeted them there during their morning rounds with an announcement: she was ready to go home immediately. She had work to do.

Like the other successful artists, Alexandra Borrie unthinkingly feels the ever-present availability of her sources of creativity. She has developed her own approach to accessing this persistent undercurrent, how to allow it, to tend it, and to embody it in art. An antidote to any negativity that may arise can be found in the cues, the work habits, the attention, and the positive understanding that she and the others employ. As an actor-singer-dancer with 40 years of professional experience in New York, she also taught acting at NYU’s Tisch School and at Muhlenberg College.

She began her career as a ballet dancer and recently sang annual classical repertoire with the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall, Kent Tritle conducting. Ms. Borrie’s recent directing credits include “Riders To The Sea” with the Cantata Singers, the “Ordo Virtutem” with Cappella Claussura, Benjamin Britten’s “St. Nicholas” at Jordan Hall, and a chamber production of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” She also directed two seasons of Opera Boston’s The Opera Factory, featuring shortened versions of “Carmen” and “Cosi Fan Tutte.” She co-hosts the live radio show OperaWorksRadio in Portsmouth, N.H., and is an acting coach to classical singers in the Boston area using her personally developed Borrie Method, an acting technique for the Classical Singer.

Responding to personal impetus of dukkha in her life she is currently writing a short form documentary film on Pervasive Developmental Disorder and the transition of a family member from supportive to independent living;

Borrie is using her own methodology to transform dukkha into an artistic form of the Asian word suka, which can be translated as happiness or pleasure. It also describes a wheel that is translated in a collection of Sanskrit hymns as “running swiftly,” when describing chariots.

Alexandra Borrie’s creative process does just that, it transforms angst (dukkha) into pleasing artistic forms (suka).

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