Choreography, concept: Anjali
Narrator: Tony Gaston
Photography: Tony and Anne-Marie Gaston
Music: John Armstrong (Ottawa), Groupo Gekko (Toronto), Eero Hameenniemi (Finland)
Costumes and design: Andrée Pouliot, Anjali, Pat Nuell
The Upanishads, of the Hindu tradition, are almost entirely devoted to the question of the deep nature of the self.'The Mirror of Illusion' begins by establishing a connection to the elements. A vessel, symbol of fertility and receptiveness, is filled from the sea of knowledge; the bottomless ocean of world culture.To wrap oneself in a tradition (the saree), celebrates entering an artistic lineage, heir to techniques and motifs sanctioned by time. Learning from the artistic past enriches the present. To be ourselves takes discipline and courage; what better symbol than the bow. A sure aim requires concentration, steadfastness and skill born of long hours of practise.
No quest can be without doubts, either our own or those of others, which haunt our dreams and weaken our resolve. The mirror forms a link between the serene wisdom of the Upanishads and the mercurial, sometimes fearful, revelation of our inner selves.
"The mirror can reveal many things. To some, it will show what they desire to see. But the mirror also shows things unbidden, and these are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What we see, if we leave the mirror free to work, we cannot tell. For it can show things that are and things that yet may be. But which it is that they see, even the wisest cannot always tell."
Galadriel, Lord of the Rings, Book I
Galadriel, Lord of the Rings, Book I
However deeply we delve into our own psyche, there will always be areas that are unknown to us; a sense of surprise at what our own minds can reveal. The beast within us, sinister and malevolent when first perceived, may prove benign, even humorous, on closer acquaintance. Both in the act of creating and in performance, a thin layer of illusion is shed, and we begin to know 'that person who inhabits the small shrine in the shape of a lotus flower'. At that moment, comes liberation and the freedom to be what we truly are. The finale is an expression of joy and gratitude for traditions received and knowledge won.
The choreography makes use of some conventions of Indian traditional theatre: the 'curtain look' of Kathakali, and the offering of auspicious symbols. Like many Indian dances, The Mirror of Illusion embodies several traditional moods: tranquillity, romance, joy, bravery, fear, and wonder. It builds to a high energy, equivalent to a Tillana or Moksha of the traditional repertoire, a dance essay in exuberant celebration.
Creating 'The Mirror of Illusion' encouraged me to look with greater depth at the Indian tradition. Music propels my choreography. It has been a privilege for me to be allowed to work with the music of such talented contemporary composers.
John Armstrong is an Ottawa composer who is clearly grounded in the western classical tradition, but who made use of Indian rhythmic patterns (in 9 and 7 beats). We first met when I taught Indian rhythms to his composition class. A performing classical guitarist, he also is a professor at the University of Ottawa. John's contribution to Mirror of Illusion is both exploratory and evolving, parallelling the gradual development in the choreography.
I was intuitively drawn the work of classically trained flautist, Debbie Danbrook, a Canadian who, like myself, studied with a master in another culture; in her case, the Shakuhachi tradition of Japan. She not only entered another culture in depth, but was a woman entering male territory. We shall both be taking part in the Conference on Sacred Dance to be held at Carleton University this summer. I have used a segment of her work with the Toronto-based musical trio Groupo Gekko. Their music evokes movement without sacrificing tranquillity; in this segment I develop my main theme.
The third composer to inspire me was Eero Hameenniemi, a classical trained Finnish composer who has made in depth studies of South Indian Percussion. We have met in Chennai, India for several winters past and share a keen interest in South Indian performing arts. His work is a jazz composition using Saxophone, and drums with South Indian rhythmic structures. The music moves from sombre and menacing to playful and celebratory and underlines the shift in mood from doubt and fear to joy and exuberance once inner demons have been confronted and overcome.