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.

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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.

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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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Davie Bowie and the Cauldron of Regeneration

Davie Bowie and the Cauldron of Regeneration

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When that fabulous shape-shifter David Bowie died I was curious to see the videos he had done to accompany the release of his album ‘Dark Star’. If you have not seen them, take a look here. The imagery is enigmatic and visceral: the ritual shaking of the buxom women in their summer dresses, the crucified scarecrows with their rotting faces, his own withered hands, the weird black costume with silver stripes (lines of coke?) and his final disappearance into the wardrobe at the end of ‘Lazarus’. These images haunted me, particularly one night as I lay awake worrying about a friend who had just had a life-or-death operation. To me the images were all about a terrible fear of death. For me there was no sense of acceptance or equanimity about dying in these videos. Fair play to Mr B for his courage in exploring and exposing this terror via these images, but I needed to get them out of my head if I was to get to sleep.

I got up and found that my friend was fine, up fiddling on his computer. Reassured I slept and woke to make a trip to the British Museum to see the Celts exhibition. I was not feeling too good myself, being dogged by a virus which was draining my energy – and then London is a shock to us country dwellers and the BM staff were grumpy and unhelpful. Or was it me out of step with ‘life’ having spent the night thinking about death?

Anyway I was finally admitted, still feeling fragile and bad-tempered about the crowds who were obstructing my view of the beautiful Celtic artefacts. But then I got to the Gundestrup Cauldron.

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Abruptly it all changed. As I clambered up the steps to look inside and saw the images face to face a wave of joy swept through my body: the horned god clutching his snake!

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the silver warriors marching towards the cauldron to be reborn!

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And at the bottom the  sinuous victory of the woman warrior over the Death-Bull with her three dogs (I can’t find a decent pic of that).  I wanted to cry and laugh. There was no reason for despair! This was the cauldron of regeneration itself, famed in our old stories! It was there to tell us there is nothing dies, everything goes into the cauldron and is reborn in a new form.

Later, back in Wales, I lay on my sofa staring at the pictures in the BM book (worth buying). I wanted to investigate how the cauldron had had such a galvanising and cheering effect on me – but I didn’t want to kill the joy and physical exhilaration I could still feel coursing through my body with analysis. There is plenty of that around, no more needed.

Here’s what I experienced looking at the horned god plate, here’s what I felt in my own body: the antlers connect me with the world around, melting my usual boundaries and joining me to the beasts and plants; the snake connects me to the life force, the chi, of the natural world, the torc anchors me and makes me feel safe. Sitting in the dancing half-lotus I sense the kick of the kundalini energy rising through my body.  I feel a blissful pulsing power flooding through me… I find myself letting go of thought, of ideas of who I am and what I want, I want to dissolve into the cauldron, to just let go … in the faith that all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

This is the quality I found missing in Bowie’s videos – but which I hope he did experience when he died. The Tibetan Buddhists say we feel this intense wave of bliss when we die, when we let go of the painful and constricting coat of flesh we have worn for our lifetimes here. The great mystery rituals like the one enacted at Eleusis in ancient Greece freed the initiates from fear of death. The great silver cauldron of regeneration, made by men and women long ago who knew the truth about life and death, has risen up from its bog in Denmark is delivering the same message. It’s only on show at the BM till 31 January, then it moves to Edinburgh. You have GOT to see it: it has come through time and space to bring back what is lost.

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Cinema is a magical art!

Cinema is a magical art!

When I hit sixty I realised that if I wanted to make a feature film, I had better get going. I had wanted to do it since I was fifteen and first started to make films, with an 8mm camera you had to wind up, at the same time falling under the spell of the clever, rule-breaking ‘new wave’ movies of people like Jean Luc Godard, Alan Resnais and Chris Marker. But soon I got distracted by the excitements of a nice job at the BBC, making TV programmes and documentary films, and then, to complicate matters, I fell in with a group of seekers after truth, people investigating the meaning of life, and that became my main interest apart from work.

Charlton Heston as El Cid
Charlton Heston as El Cid

But my passion for cinema still burned. It ignited when I saw El Cid with my brother on holiday in 1961. At the end of the film El Cid knows he is dying and asks to be tied onto his horse so that he can be seen to lead his men into battle, even after he dies. The emotional power of this scene knocked me out, aged 11. It took me into world of heroism and self-sacrifice which I had never met before. Since then I have always loved that feeling of sitting in the darkened cinema, watching the ads and trailers, waiting to be transported into a world of deep and strong emotion, a world realer than what we normally called the ‘real’ world.

Later I also started to enjoy the kind of films which shifted your perceptions in a shocking or door-opening way. One afternoon, skiving off work, I sat alone in the Curzon cinema in Mayfair and watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. He is on a planet which manifests the material of your thoughts and memories, and at one point a woman comes crashing through the walls of the spacecraft. solaris

It is his wife, who had committed suicide some time before. I will never forget the violent hot-cold thrill which ran through my body: I had witnessed something impossible and yet true! I wanted to do that too.

I believe that cinema is the great spiritual art form of our time, but I don’t think it needs to be the kind of out-there spirituality of – say – Terence Malick’s Tree of life (though I do love this film). A more subtle current favourite is Fill the Void by Rama Burshtein, a woman director who is also a Hassidic Jew.

Rama Burshtein, who looks delightfully unlike the stereotypical film director
Rama Burshtein, who looks delightfully unlike the stereotypical film director

I re-watched some of this the other day with cinematographer Oona Menges and both of us were entranced by the quality of light in it. Every scene, whether in a supermarket or a house or during a religious ceremony seems infused with a supernatural light, the Jewish mystics might call it the ‘Shekina’(the Glory of God, said to be feminine). There is a soft glow to the scenes showing the life of this small community which lights a beacon to the unfashionable virtue of devotion to your religion.

Still from 'Fill the Void'
Still from ‘Fill the Void’

Now my film, The Dancing Floor, is not ‘religious’ in that way, but it is suffused with a particularly British or Celtic sensibility, one shared by many people, and perhaps best expressed for me by the phrase from a hymn ‘there is a green hill far away.’ When we sang this in school assembly, I always thought not of the ‘Holy Land’ but of Scotland where my family came from, and now I think of the green hills around my home in Wales. I think of the silence of remote, forgotten chapels, the calling of curlews at dead of night, the rumble of sheep or ponies thudding over the hills, all part of a kind of magical resonance where the landscape and its beings seem to reflect or echo something familiar and yet ‘other’, that otherworld which the Celtic bards wrote about, that place where our perceptions slide and slither into new shapes and forms. Or become formless.DSCF1131

Brechfa pool, where I live, does this in a particularly striking way: shrouded for days in fog, it can suddenly emerge shining like a new-minted shield on a  DSCF1632

crystalline morning, or on a frosty night when the Milky Way (called Caer Gwydion in the old days in Wales) floats above like a glittering banner, proclaiming that the external world is not separate from us, that we can interact with it in all sorts of hidden and mysterious ways, that we can change our forms and become each other, just as characters in the Mabinogion sometimes do!

For me this is all about the Celtic (Christian or Pagan, I don’t mind) sense of relationship with the creator (or the ‘creative’ if you prefer), a sense that we can participate in creation, and we can learn to do it skilfully and artfully rather than blindly or destructively. And cinema is the ‘magical art’ par excellence, hard to get right but devastatingly powerful when it hits the mark – think Avatar, think Laurence of Arabia, think 2001 – to name three which thrill more audiences than they repel.

In the Dancing Floor feature film, I would like to do for our native mystery tradition what Rama Burshtein did for orthodox Hassidic Judaism – make a window into a world which still protects and values something most of Western humanity has forgotten and dismissed, but which has the power to impart a direct knowledge of who we are, where we come from and how we might make the best of it while we are here. You could call it a mystery religion like the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, to which all people, male or female, free or slave, were invited and which liberated its initiates from fear of death. That seems like something worth doing to me.

Our Dancing Floor crowdfunding campaign will be finishing in 3 days.  Have a look if you would like to contribute something and be part of this project.  And a big thanks to those who already have.