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Flash Review 3, 9-29:
Letting It All Out
Walking Rumi's Spiritual Path at La MaMa
By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis
petitioned the official censors of the Iranian regime 125 times
to put on productions in Tehran theaters. He was rejected 124 times.
In 1999 he was allowed to mount a production of William Shakespeare's
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" for 45 performances in an abandoned
theater, but the fourth performance was raided by Revolutionary
Guards. Although Karimi-Hakak was not imprisoned, he was advised
to leave the country. After making art under these kinds of conditions
you realize why manipulations of the voice and naked outbursts of
speech figure so heavily into the selections from Jalal al-Din Muhammad's
"Mathnavi" presented last night at La MaMa. The spiritual path the
performers took was boisterous, passionate, humorous, and very,
Rumi wrote "Masnavi-ye
Manavi" as a six-volume poem that cut across all spiritual and ethnic
boundaries. Many Sufis place it second only to the Koran. As we
enter the theater a large pipe and canvas pavilion stand at the
center of the stage and a tower of pipes shoots straight through
the center. The audience is fascinated as we watch a performer circle
the tower, never losing contact with the structure. He appears to
embrace a trance-like state as his circles expand and contract and
he works his way, imperceptibly, up the tower. As the rest of the
performers file in, the musicians begin playing with more intensity
and the mix of chanting voices fills the room with a vibrating,
humming sensation. The cast settles in, sitting facing into the
circle, and vocalists Monika Jalili and Mehdi Meigani move around
the group singing on top of their chanting but somehow, causing
no clash with them. The piece seems to rely on layering material:
voices over movement over music. The effect could become assaultive
until you learn to take in the entire experience as a whole and
not try to decode each element.
Mathnavi appears to be
non-linear. The piece slides in and out of moods ranging from anger
to jealousy to bliss, and the performers use their voices as announcements
of what is to come. Not in words but guttural rattles, high-pitched
squeals and strange combinations of laughing and wailing. Revelations
seem to bounce around the group; we hear it first in Spanish, then
it's cut mid-way to be taken up in Turkish or French. During all
of this the group revels in each other's spiritual travels. Shouting,
clapping, and pointing their fingers in approval, they help each
other along and pass wisdom and interpretation from person to person.
There are a few odd movement sections that make use of a balletic,
lyrical vocabulary but they seem out of place because so much of
the piece registers as an experience and is not so presentational.
What Karimi-Hakak does contribute in terms of movement are contorted
and anguished postures that could just as easily stand for pleasure
or pain. The brief, hilarious section on adultery features a clumsy
romp for two while the unknowing husband is up in a tree searching
for a non-existent fruit. The group takes on the passion of the
couple and the accusations of the husband by thrusting and tensing
their bodies to fit the dialogue.
At the end of the work
there is a beautiful section that places each actor under an individual
lamp; chanting to themselves, they each divulge their ideas about
death. As they continue to speak, one person moves to each of them
and repeats: "...Never lost by dying." Whatever their fears or confusions
were, they are easily calmed by this simple statement. As the piece
illustrates, being able to voice your concerns puts them into the
mix with everyone else. Allowing yourself to express your ecstasy
makes it real, and feeling all of life's emotions completely is
the best way to know you've been here.
at La MaMa Thursdays through Sundays through October 15. For more
info, please call 212-475-7710.
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