THE BRIGHT VISION OF ‘INVOCATION”
Perhaps you are open to the amalgamation of glowing bespoke art, theatrical set witchery, specialists in Gurdjieff Sacred Movements and two new original dance performances? David Taylor’s Zikr Dance Ensemble and a bricolage of guest artists have created exactly what you seek in Invocation, seen by this reviewer at the Dairy Center for the Arts on the evening of June 12, 2015. Invocation is bracketed by two world premieres, The Lady of the Lake and Sadhu. Thematically, all seven works of this program share various spiritual, traditional, and mythical elements. These influences are geographically diverse, though they tend toward some specific areas: the Gurdjieff Sacred Movements, Sufi ritual tradition, Christian myth and mysticism, and Hindu asceticism.
Homage is paid to traditional use of breath, voice. singing, music and movement. These efforts and expressions have a central, crucial place in community- and self- development. Before widespread screen availability and use, our brains worked harder and in more fruitfully interdependent ways. I used to read a few books a month before I acquired a smartphone. Now I play word games with a computer. What else have I, and perhaps we, lost in this development/change? The obvious answer, communication and connection with people, is a major theme for Zikr. Keep this and other, more subtle yet potentially societally devastating, consequences in mind. You may perceive them somewhere around you, as I have around myself.
The sense of calm that had eluded me since I sent the kids off to the pool with no swimsuits (but with towels, sunscreen, snacks, water, goggles, toys, and extra clothes) almost three hours earlier became available to me as the clever illusion of a misty lake materialized with the rising of the stage lights. The set for The Lady of the Lake utilizes both simple and complicated elements. I appreciated the effect of strategic lighting on reflective surfaces that glinted from the coils of material that made up the perimeter of the lake, and the gently billowing dry ice that supported the watery illusion.
This piece features the previously mentioned works of art (by Dorothy Tanner, a longstanding Denver gem) and a strongly stylized version of a particular aspect of Arthurian legend, as well as a talented male cast. The contrast between the delicate-seeming Lady (Tracy Jones) and the smoothly agile Water Elements faded as a sense of strength, physical and otherwise, pervaded their interactions. The supernatural beings came together as a seamless group, with well-coordinated lifts and exchanges.
I did feel a distinct difference between the other-than-humans and the human Arthur-figure (well-supported by the focused acting of Gregory Gonzales’s Seeker). The Seeker was clearly physically strong, and apparently worthy of exalted attention, but his level of understanding and enlightenment was just beginning to develop. He could be understood as an accurate representation of a “conscious” human. The (even) more ritualistic and traditionally based pieces focused on different paths toward self-realization through meditative, repetitive, and other eventually unselfish pursuits.
One of Sadhu’s impactful characteristics (Sadhu being the other world premiere) is the costuming (by Wanda Rice). All dancers wear the same style robe. It is bright, hooded, sleeveless and flowing, and used to excellent effect in the choreography. Dancers that I know to be balletically trained are (perhaps!) challenged to execute more yogic, angular, flat- footed movements intermingled with the traditional ballet line and form. While visually interesting, I was more intellectually intrigued by the intense mental work such a mix would require of the dancers (who are already quite engaged).
Invocation involved frequent vocalization by the performers. This brings an additional level of complexity (and difficulty) to their work, and weakens the perceived barrier between stage and audience. Vocals in addition to movement presents as more vulnerable, arguably more involved, and potentially more personal than witnessed silent movement alone. As communication (with the audience, for the purpose of this argument) seems to be the lynchpin of Zikr Dance Ensemble’s purpose, this is an effective strategy, as well as authentic to the bases of the traditions represented.
Questions on the audience survey about (having) “greater insight into the human need to communicate” and “a greater understanding of the similarities that exist between cultures and their religious/spiritual expressions” give insight to David Taylor’s and Zikr Dance Ensemble’s goals. Consider the program’s explanatory sections/paragraphs; these indicate the creators’ strong desire for clarity of intention, and that the audience’s knowledge of greater (and specific) context is considered critical. Zikr Dance Ensemble, it seems, wants to reach and engage viewers in a particular way.
What is the balance between ritual (or ritualized behavior) and individual expression? Is there a point in certain rituals when the participants reach, achieve, or understand something more/greater than themselves and the ritual? This might explain the oft-seen penchant for whirling, perhaps to induce visual and mental confusion and a simulation of euphoria. Kids know this. Watch them spin around until they fall down breathless and laughing.
Could the sameness of ritual be a way of recognizing our inherent sameness/integral togetherness before expressing/realizing our (related) individuality? As far as the relationship of ritual and personal freedom, consider that there is a release/safety therein? in sameness, in repetition, in training some part(s) of the mind and/or body to engage entirely in a repetitive task, some other part– perhaps underutilized or unrecognized– becomes available to be exercised, reached, more fully realized.
This latter idea echoes the stated purpose of the Gurdjieff Sacred Movements, that is “to develop… what he (Gurdjieff) called ‘presence of being’… [to be] completely aware of the present moment and not… a slave to the unconscious mind… to bring about a higher state of consciousness and awareness.” This quote is taken from the Invocation program. I did not completely read through the program before experiencing the performance, and indeed I may not have understood it in as useful a way as I was able to later. Consider expanding your own borders at the next Zikr performance.
Jane E. Werle: With artwork and writing published by Bombay Gin, Hot Whiskey Press, Wyrd Tree Press, Summer Stock, and her own imprint, Thirsty Lizard Books, Jane is a passionate proponent of creativity, self-expression, and the pursuit of elusive and meaningful beauty. A poet, educator, and longtime nanny, she works and explores with kids, challenging young minds and safeguarding young hearts. Jane graduated with an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and has come up with no compelling reason since to move away from the lively Denver area and its admirably self-made cultural opportunities. Contact Jane with editing needs, parenting problems, and extravagant travel writing proposals.