At a Zikr Dance Ensemble performance, you will not know what you are seeing. You will be able to
identify isolated elements such as accomplished dancers, abstract video projections, trompe l’oeil costuming and elaborate set pieces, but the whole that results from these parts is inexplicable. Whether or not you believe in magic, it is created before you, through a combination of creative energy, intention, and people power.
On Monday April 12th, 2021, at The Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, Colorado, Zikr Dance Ensemble presented an extensive evening-length program featuring the world premiere of Lifting the Veil, a major new work two years in the making. The program included several other remarkable pieces, including encore performances of the critically acclaimed Runes and Oracle.
Though April’s in-person shows on the Front Range have mostly sold out (check the website for any remaining tickets and stay tuned for later dates!), you still have the opportunity to experience this phenomenon virtually. On Friday April 30th, the Dairy will be the first venue to screen the video of Lifting the Veil as part of their online film series. It will be available for streaming for one week. Visit their website for tickets and details.
Zikr Artistic Director David Taylor has been professionally involved in the Denver dance community for more than fifty years, and is an authority on dance history and sacred dance. While he prioritizes dancers and concepts in his choreography, he is also intrigued by the possibilities presented by new media, and uses multimedia elements to complement the fundamentals. Zikr identifies its focus as “creating original works of dance that fuse ancient cultural rituals with contemporary dance/theater realizations.”
Professional dance and ritual share the virtue of precision, required for effectiveness. They are not products of whimsy or impulse, but carefully considered and orchestrated expressions of thought, energy and emotion. They are practiced so that they can be done right, when they are enacted live. Each performance is a singular, unrepeatable event.
Zikr’s company members are an impressive group, outstanding both individually and together. Watching them was the best part of a full evening. It is such a pleasure to be able to note dancers’ unique strengths and attributes as well as see what happens in couple and group settings. This is a credit to the choreographer as well as the dancers, as the choreographer creates the opportunities that the dancers fulfill.
The power of the evening’s experience lay in the work of these and other people. Onstage and off; before, during, and after; seen and unseen, a multitude of hands is behind the smallest effect. In Oracle, onrushing storm clouds made of billows of fabric are drawn across the stage by running people. A gold-headed prophet rises into the air, lifted by the strong arms and hands of people. In Runes, standing stones (made by people) carved with runes reorder themselves into various combinations, stealthily moved by people.
It seems clear that David Taylor has considered the potential for cultural education through dance. While there are variations in the depth of information contained within the program, a great deal of effort went into providing a considerable amount of background and historical context. This is deeply necessary, as a number of cultures and sacred traditions are referenced and utilized in the pieces. Taylor has done his research and works to act respectfully in this use, and it is important that the audience/consumer does this work as well.
Read the program (though if you are like me, you will need to do it later, in bright light with glasses on). Each section of the program is followed by an informative paragraph. In some instances, I wanted to know more/wanted even more explanation, and would appreciate cited resources for further investigation/understanding.
Lifting the Veil is composed of several parts, as steps in a journey. One confusing part of the piece involved apparent automatic weapons wielded by dancers whose costumes seemed to suggest soldiers from the front and prisoners from the back. They were all destroyed by each other, but what it really looked like was (cooperative) self-annihilation. What they (and perhaps we) fail to see is their (our) inherent interconnectedness (as people and as beings in this planet).
In an evening centering ancient cultural rituals and exploring their continuing relevance to the human experience, the introduction of modern weaponry felt jarring. It took me out of a contemplative state and thrust me back into an everyday world that is oversaturated with guns and gun violence. Perhaps in this instance, “lifting the veil” could refer to laying bare the driving imperialist forces and individualistic conceits behind so many of the events and circumstances that shape our world.
In relation to the work’s other parts, this may be the low point of the journey. And indeed, that may be the point. The piece does not end there, thankfully, and let’s try to make sure that we, people together in this web of existence, don’t end there either.
Jane E. Werle At three months of age Jane E. Werle, unable to protest, was removed from Loveland, Colorado by her well-meaning parents. In 2004 she was able to rectify this error when she relocated from Massachusetts to Boulder for graduate school. One M.F.A. and a husband later, Jane works to further the arts in the Front Range as a writer (reviewer, interviewer, curator) and enthusiast (no-shame, first-on-the-floor amateur– despite some training– dancer). Jane is also a longtime nanny and a visual artist, taking one of these very seriously and the other as a growth experience. Every child she’s cared for has experienced some form of the SDP: Spontaneous Dance Party.