Calling for Dancers for The Dancing Floor

Calling for Dancers for The Dancing Floor

 

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The dancing floor in our projected film

We are about to start working on the special dance which is the climax of The Dancing Floor.  This dance is crucial to the film – it embodies the mysteries which the rest of the film has been hinting at – and yet it will be performed by ordinary people, dance newbies or amateurs, who will help with devising the details, developing it and rehearsing it –on and on – until it works.  Luckily I have found a local choreographer, Gillian Hipp, to partner with on the project.

The dance includes a wild horde of children being the Four Elements, a shamanic animal dance with masks which morphs into a vigorous Morris, then there are the courtly dances of the gods and goddesses as they make the worlds and the poignant dance of the sacred couple, the Owl and the Hawk.  The symbolism is from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion (which is a creation myth).  Each phase of the dance has a completely different quality and should have a specific effect on the audience so that they go on the journey of creation and re-union with the dancers.

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Horn-dancers from a while ago.

This has made me think about what sacred dance really is and does and what sacred dancing I have done in my life.  I found three main strands: Tai Chi, Gurdjieff’s dances and the whirling dances of the Mevlevi dervishes.  In each case,  watching each of these in action, I was aware of a powerful and unusual effect on me.  With Tai Chi it was a sense of weightless flow and ease which was irresistible, like hearing for the first time a language which seems familiar though you cannot speak it.  (A bit like the chattering of the swifts outside today, ‘don’t fly through that door, it is a prison and a fierce orange cat guards it, he will eat you…’)  With a certain Gurdjieff dance it was an upswelling of strong emotion, both  exquisite and painful, which had been long half-buried, and with the whirling it was, simply, a sense of being in the presence of God.  The whirling I saw at the tekke of the Halveti dervishes in Istanbul, when their sheikh was a very holy man, and I will never forget that it was this practice from mystical Islam which literally opened the gates of heaven for me.

Dervdancing

I learnt the whirling myself in a church hall in Manchester, taught by my friend Dick who had learnt it from someone who’d learnt it from the Sufis.  We approached it with proper respect and once we had got over feeling nauseous, were able to whirl together, floating round each other as we moved, for half an hour at a time.  At the end I felt as if I had been drenched in crystal water, and had woken up a different, much enlivened being.  I also noticed, as I sipped my orange juice, that I felt very well disposed towards all present, my heart warmed up and open to the world.

Gurd dances
A Gurdjieff dance based on the enneagram

The Dancing Floor dance also springs out of a long study of sacred geometry and principle. When I first tried to get my head round this metaphysical stuff about the origin of the worlds, I would either fall asleep or get angry.  I just couldn’t get it.  It felt like trying to scale a sheer cliff with no handholds.  Then I saw that there were other ways of scaling cliffs and my mind started to take some short flights, which eventually made me realise that we can understand a lot more than we think we can – just not with the front brain.  The whole being, the whole body needs to get involved.

I realised that movements, gestures and rhythms which map or limn these abstract principles have a kind of subtle power, which tweaks and shifts your normal consciousness, takes you to different places, and this is why sacred dance can have such a strong effect.  You can see traces of these patterns in much folk dancing.  Maybe that’s why we find (some of it) so compelling?

The ‘dancing floor’ pattern we show in the film is a way of  expressing the way something comes out of nothing, which our normal rational minds cannot ‘get’.  But deeper down there is something in us all which does get it and which knows the truth – and I believe dance is one of the best ways to activate this part, whether you perform it or simply watch it.

So, if you live in south Wales or borders (I am between Hay and Brecon) and would like to get involved in working on this dance, please get in touch at dancingfloorfilm@gmail.com.

 

 

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More on the Four Hallows and protecting the Soul of the Land

More on the Four Hallows and protecting the Soul of the Land

sword in stone2

On Saturday I invited three friends for a meal. We are all singletons, independent thinkers certainly, and there were two men and two women. After we had scoffed curry and crumble and a certain amount of wine we had a jolly good argument, about the state of the world and the meaning of life. It was very animated and I for one was surprised at the intensity with which I expressed my point of view. Even Hilary, who thought she wasn’t arguing, noticed that the rest of us behaved as if she was.

Well, I reflected afterwards, that’s ‘fourness’ in action. It is a warrior number. Either the knights of the ‘Fours’ are occupied defending a cause, or fighting for it ; or they are fighting each other, albeit sometimes, as in our case, good-humouredly. Which is why fourness, and in particular the fourness of the 4 Hallows is so important as a foundation for democracy. When they (the two ‘female’ hallows are the cauldron and the stone, and the ‘male’ ones are the sword and the spear) are creating our foundation we can have vigorous debate and disagreement in the chamber of parliament, without our aggression building up into civil war. This is because the four are at the service of the principle of Sovereignty, in the case of Britain, that’s the Queen. The Queen is not allowed any executive power. She just is, emanating the spirit of our land on every state occasion.

If you have been to visit parliament in London, you will have noticed that the floor the lobby is based on the interaction of four fournesses.

Palace-of-Westminster

So how is this foundation of fourness made and maintained? In myth you will find many interactions between the male and female Hallows and each one achieves a magical end: when Arthur pulls the sword (male) from the stone (female) we find the rightful king who will save the land. When Lleu (in the fourth story in the Mabinogion) throws his spear through a stone at his rival and murderer, Gronw, he restores the balance of justice. When the Pagans perform their ritual of plunging a blade into a cup, they are enacting the moment when the sacred marriage happens between male and female, between eternity and time, between spirit and matter. And behind this, is the moment which all the great creation myths are pointing at, when nothing becomes something!

At this extraordinary moment, which is not a moment at all because it is before time, Unity splits and 1 becomes 2 –though immediately this happens 3 also arises because of the relation between 1 and 2. This is why many creation myths feature brother and sister incest, because the ‘first two’ who must copulate to create the third – and all of creation, are intimately related. In the Mabinogion story there is a sense that the magical child, Lleu is the result of brother-sister incest between Arianrhod and Gwydion. And yet, if this ‘transgression’ does not happen, nothing will come into being. Necessity dictates that it does and so here we are, all of us. We have come out of nothing and yet we are something, an incredible paradox!

And how do we get from 3 to 4? This is the key move which turns the ineffable into the tangible, by laying down the principle of fourness. Somehow one of the three mirrors or doubles itself, so that it is the same and yet different. In the Four Hallows: the sword and the spear are two things and yet they are quite similar. Are they a reflections of this moment? And any rate the Hallows point to and yet protect the Great Secret: how the virgin bears a child/how something comes out of nothing. This is not something which we can understand with our normal mind, and yet we can grasp it, albeit fleetingly by studying sacred geometry, or by watching or participating in movements or dance, or listening to or acting out a story…

..or watching a film? That’s why I want to make The Dancing Floor feature film because I want to carry on the tradition of the Children of Don, the ‘race who brought magic to these islands’ and who gave the Four Hallows to Britain and Ireland. In this tradition the great truths about reality are embedded in symbol and story, so that they shall not be forgotten. In the midst of our crazy, image-proliferating, hyper-ventilating materialistic world, don’t you think that’s a good idea?

From the Dancing Floor pilot film
From the Dancing Floor pilot film

Smoke and mirrors and The Dancing Floor

Smoke and mirrors and  The Dancing Floor
Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 18.22.12
Screen-grab of drone footage of Brechfa Pool by Tim Browning

Some people have asked me to say more about this film and so I am going to try to do that – without giving away anything which would spoil it for you when you see it. I am especially going to try and avoid analysis: ‘this stands for this and this is what is really happening here, and this whole chunk actually means this.’ There is already too much analysis out there and it is an enemy of storytellers.

SeiriolRenuspiral
Sita (Renu Brindle) and Gethin (Seiriol Tomos) argue over the spiral Dancing Floor, with Ewerton Mendonca on sound.

So, the story is about a forty-something psychiatrist, Sita, who lives in London and is trying to get money for research into the role of the brain ventricles in mental illness. Sita is half Indian and half Welsh, and in my film is played by Renu Brindle who is a medical woman herself! She is called back to Wales when her uncle Mal dies and finds she has inherited his house – and a mysterious and troubling task. At first reluctant and sceptical, she meets the Welsh builder, Gethin (played by Seiriol Tomos) who has been looking after the house and thinks that he should be Mal’s inheritor. Misunderstanding and anger arise between them and then….

SeiriolRenu2

Sita finds out that the tradition which her uncle Mal carried is that of the ‘Children of Don’ (Irish: Tuatha de Danaan, Welsh: Plant Don), the tribe who, in the oldest tales were said to bring magic to these islands (which we now pitifully call ‘The UK’). In particular they brought the four ‘Hallows’ which are the Sword, the Spear, the Cauldron and the Stone. These crop up everywhere in our mythology: think of the ‘stone of Scone’ which the monarch sits on to be crowned, think of Lleu throwing his spear through the rock to kill his rival, Gronw. To me, magic is about understanding the basic principles of creativity, especially how something comes out of nothing. It’s something I have studied and discussed endlessly (yes, often in smoke-filled rooms) with kabbalistic friends, explorers of metaphysical philosophy in Saros/Sareoso groups and Buddhist meditators. You could say the quest to know something about it has haunted and animated my life.

I wanted to weave all this in to a film and it has taken me five years to get to this point, where I am making a short film which will be used to gather finance for a full-length feature. This is only possible because I am working with a group of highly-skilled people who are, actually, magicians in their own way. Cinema is in essence a magical art which seeks to put a spell on its audience. These skilful people (Aes Dana?) have been doing it for love not money so far – not love of me (though there is plenty of affection around) but love of being part of a creative process.  “It’s all smoke and mirrors, Mal, cheap magic” says Sita to her uncle in the film.  Well below you see a smoke machine over the mirror-lake at Brechfa, ‘smoke and mirrors’ indeed, but without them, we would dwell in nothing forever and never know the joys and pains of somethingness.

"It's all smoke and mirrors, Mal, cheap magic!"
We make some smoke over the mirror-calm pool at Brechfa

I have re-written and re-drafted the screenplay about twenty times. Patient friends have read it and commented, sometimes very candidly (ouch!). I have attended two Ffilm Cymru Wales writers’ labs, which both provided screenwriting mentors who helped me see what needed to be done. Believe me, screenwriting is a hellishly difficult process – and yet, the day you see your words, your painfully crafted scenes, brought to life by actors, you instantly forget all the angst. My real breakthrough came this summer when a fine writer called Rebecca Lenkiewicz said she liked my screenplay (the film she co-wrote, Ida, has had brilliant reviews). Then another of my mentors said he thought I should and could make it as a ‘micro-budget’ feature for £250,000. So that’s what I am going to do.

Filming at Ciliau
Seiriol and Renu, with Danielle Williams (make-up) and me in the old house of Ciliau

We have just spent three days in an ancient Welsh manor house (graciously lent us by the inhabitants, Emma Beynon and Roger Capps) telling our story on film, plus one day around Brechfa Pool where I live in a little chapel overlooking the mountains. I think every person involved, from our seven-month pregnant make-up lady, Danielle, to our most distinguished DOP, Richard, felt the magic of that ancient place seep into their bones and out into their work. As we sat in the kitchen at dawn or dusk with a fire flickering in the open fireplace a hush would sometimes fall on us and we could feel infinity pressing up from the earth under our feet. The Children of Don were present then, not in ghostly form, but in us, their inheritors, as modern magicians and storytellers trying to keep an old tradition of understanding reality alive in a new form.

The last morning, with a smoke machine coming and a friend (Tim Browning) of a friend with a drone-camera, about to arrive from far away (God bless him), I lay in bed praying for good weather. I went out at five and felt the soft breath of dawn coming as I looked up into a clear sky. No fog, only stars – Caer Gwydion (The Milky Way), Caer Don (Cassiopeia) and Caer Arianrhod (Corona Borealis.) Yes, there are names for these constellations in our own old tradition, though few people know them now. Later the drone sailed out over the still, glittering water of the pond, tinged with pink, and on through the dancing trees, then soared upwards to see them from high above. Little Sita (played by Isha Gurung, a child of Gurkha parents from Brecon nearby) raced up the hill in her red duffle coat and the drone followed her from above. The force certainly seemed to be with us that day!

Isha’s dad, Bel, brought us home-made momo dumplings to eat. Our youngest crew member, Jordan, must have had at least twelve.

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Young Sita (Isha Gurung) and her uncle Mal (Rob Howell) at Brechfa Pool.

I felt dazed. It was in the can, except that there is no ‘can’ any more, only a ‘stick’ or hard drive. After everyone had gone, I realised we had forgotten one shot, but I didn’t panic. As all film-makers know, there is usually a ‘way round’ it. Magicians have to be flexible and ingenious, don’t they? Isn’t that part of the secret? That, and the right people coming together at the right time and the right place? But I am saying all this very quietly: I don’t want the gods to hear and think we are getting cocky…

The Crystal Palace, Doctor Death and Miss Norris

My friend, Mollie, says she is going to start a ‘Death Cafe’.  You eat cake, talk about death, and drink pleasant beverages, but no alcohol.  Apparently they are spreading like wildfire, and Mollie seems a good person to be in charge, since she has had many a brush with Dr Death in her life, and seems to have less fear of him than most of us.  Having just been sun-bathing on a grave in my graveyard, I know my own attitude to be more ambivalent: on the one hand I feel death to be the end (I have always felt that the people in my Welsh graves would have been so exhausted from a life of toil on the farm that blot-out would be a relief) whilst on the other, I often sense the presence of dead people in my life – in dreams, thoughts and funny feelings while at certain places.  Before I bought the chapel I felt sure that the people in the graveyard wanted me to have it.  When a friend announced that her boyfriend was interested in buying it, I retorted: ‘oh no, they want a woman!’

Anyway, as I drift towards old age myself, I think about death a lot more, and today I was remembering an old lady I used to visit in my youth.  Her name was ‘Miss Norris’ – in those days 17 years olds would not have addressed 80-somethings by their first names.  My school had a project whereby sixth-formers could volunteer to befriend a lonely old person.  Miss N and I liked each other.  She lived near the Crystal Palace in South London, or rather near where it had once stood.  This impressed me from the start, since I already had a romantic feeling about the place.  She told me she had been to school there, had even played the violin in an orchestra there.  But, although she watched it burn down, in great dismay, on that terrible day in 1936, she was not actually in it.  The smoke hung around for days after, she said. Furthermore, she had been an independent woman from the start, flying around the countryside in the sidecar of her brother’s motor-bike and not bothering to get married.  She had a career too of course, though now I cannot remember what.

Now in her eighties, her eyesight was failing and she would make me very strong tea in grubby cups.  I drank the tea of course, and ate the cakes, but made myself a mental note to clean my cups properly when I got old.  However nowadays, when my glasses are not to be found, I fail to notice the cobwebs and dirty windows in my own house, so am obviously going the same way as Miss N already.

The last time I saw her I was about to go off to university.  She confided in me that ‘they’ (the doctor maybe, since she appeared to have no family) wanted her to go into a home, since her poor eyesight was making life dangerous for her.  ‘Do you think I should?’ she asked. ‘Oh no!’ I instantly replied, appalled at the thought of my heroine being constrained and controlled in such a place.  When I came home after my first term, ‘they’ told me that she had walked out into the road without seeing a bus coming and fallen under its wheels. She died soon after in hospital.  With all the conceit of an 18 year old, my sorrow was shot through with guilt:  was I to blame?  Of course I was not – she only wanted me to confirm her own instinct.   I often think of her, and what she taught me about being old.

And the Crystal Palace?  Later in life, it gained a mystical, even metaphysical importance for me – you can read about that in Becoming the Enchanter if you want – but I am not going there now since this post is in honour of Miss Norris, her inspiring life and her intelligently engineered death.