Persephone’s Journey, Dancing Lilith, and the Lumen Obscura II Gala

This is the second blog regarding my three-part workshop with Aepril Schaile at Lumen Obscura II, April 7, 2012 in Santa Cruz, CA. see previous blog: Bellydancing Through the Underworld with Aepril Schaile which describes the trance journey to meet Ereshkigal in the underworld. The following reports on the ritual drama and choreography sections of the workshop as well as the LOII Gala at the Rio.

Part 2: Ritual dance-drama—The Journey of Persephone   Persephone’s story is more well known than that of her predecessor, Ereshkigal, but follows a similar three-part plot: the descent into the Underworld, the transformation, and the ascent. For this section of the workshop, we would re-enact Persephone’s journey as ritual theater. We stood in a tight circle and Aepril passed out 13 slips of paper. Each slip was numbered and described one moment in Persephone’s story e.g., “She smells a flower and feels the ground shake.” This also acted as a movement prompt and the woman holding it danced it out in the center of the circle. We completed the dance-drama twice so everyone had a chance to embody Persephone. After my earlier transformative experience with the shamanic trance journey, I felt quite free of worldly inhibitions and danced like I was Martha Graham herself. (She also is a dark goddess, of course.)

Part 3: Dancing Lilith   I wish we’d had more time to learn the choreography for Lilith. As I said earlier, Lilith is one of my favorite goddesses. I discovered her true story in college while researching lunar symbolism, a story that radically disrupts the Judeo-Christian origin myth: Lilith was Adam’s first wife. That’s right, Adam had another wife, one he found too pushy when she refused to be sexually submissive. So he complained to God who tried to make Lilith subservient to Adam but she, in essence, said screw you and flew off on her own. Eve, docile but sexy Eve, was Adam’s second wife. So you can see why Lilith would be a suitable deity for American spiritual feminists.

An ancient Babylonian clay bas relief of a winged goddess is believed to be an image of Lilith, though, interestingly, today some claim it must be Ereshkigal or Ishtar. Nonetheless, it was the image that came to my mind as we began to learn the choreography. I felt her as a terracotta figure coming to life and Aepril’s choreography supported that. We began with simple punctuated hand gestures followed by a moment of fluidity, as if Lilith is breaking through the clay. There was a moment when from complete stillness, we sharply rise up on relevé as our upper torso contracts into a vulture-like hunch, then drops back into stillness. Did she move or was it an illusion?

Aepril gave me a lot to think about and to play with. What goddesses or immortal figures do I want to embody? How will they express themselves in my dance? What music will enhance the experience? What costume? Aepril’s workshop was an inspirational experience and I look forward to the release of her DVD “Theater of the Dark Goddess.”

LUMEN OBSCURA GALA PERFORMANCES AT THE RIO

The Gala performances on Saturday night demonstrated the range of moods dark fusion can reflect, from satirical to mesmerizing, other worldly, and psychological. Aepril prepared us for the evening by invoking the spirits of the four quarters and dark goddess Hecate. This was the kind of ritual dance I’ve always wanted to see developed in the witchcraft community: skilled, knowledgeable, and moving. Aepril closed the evening  brilliantly as a mad women fighting her demons. If you live in the Boston area, look for her performances in Salem.

Ariella, Sashi, and Aruba were mesmerizing. Areilla and Sashi, in their black bedlahs, are among the best representatives of the dark fusion bellydance style: solid technique, evocative choreography, and stage presence that keeps you alert to their every movement. Ariella’s performance of “Haunted Beauty” was dramatic and spellbinding. With her confrontational rapid hip shimmies, she conveyed tension and longing. Sashi was classic in her simplicity of movement and gesture as she explored a shattered moment in time. Aruba danced before a strobe light in white bedlah manipulating burlesque-style feathered fans, a divine archangel come to remind us of our insignificance.

Deidre Anaid, Dusty and Earthchild created nonhuman characters for their dancing. Anaid’s large mass combined with very small movements—reminding me of Okinawan classical dancers—created an extra-terrestrial aesthetic. Dusty’s supranatural horned and tailed creature embodied earth magic and mystery. Earthchild performed in an entirely alien style known as Japanese Butoh, a form that explores the primal human.

Butoh arose in the late 1950s and early 60s in response to WWII and post-Hiroshima losses as a way to express their grief and loss of national identity. Known as the “dance of darkness,” Butoh dancers explore the grotesque and metaphysical and in that sense it would seem to fit with Lumen Obscura’s thematic interests. But I felt it was out of place: its origins are not Middle Eastern let alone bellydance. And it was too long and too weird (and I’ve seen my fair share of Butoh).

Her Undulating Scales is a music-dance group lead by Paige Lawrence. Paige sang a song without words with pre-recorded industrial and heavy metal driving the sound. This sound is very popular among dark fusionistas though it tends to give me a headache. Plus, I really wish Paige had danced more.

The duo Karmaja (Marjhani and Megz) and soloist Bex performed satirical pieces. Karmaja depicted a pair of Catholic nuns during lent misusing their crosses and prayer beads (I leave it to your imagination). Bex, who came here from the UK, explored the territory between hope and mourning with irony and humor.

Unsinkable Molly and Predslava made their costume an integral part of their choreographic struggle between force and surrender. They appear first in full black spandex dresses with a hijab-like head covering. As they spin away from each other though, we see that it is a single dress with long lengths of fabric attaching them to one another at the shoulders and lower back. These were used to convey the theme of force and surrender by pulling and releasing them. It was very modern and very effective.

There were other dancers whose presence enhanced the evening: Shondell, Dawn, and, of course, Santa Cruz’s own Raks Hakohaveem (Didi and Cathy) doing their wicked best to seduce us into their sexy dark night.

Lumen Obscura is a terrific event and under the capable leadership of Deidre Anaid and Doreet Didi, it will surely become a hot destination on the dark fusion bellydance circuit. Start making plans to visit Santa Cruz next April—you won’t be sorry.

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