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3 (1986), pp. 328-355 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1567602 Accessed: 23/08/2008 04:09
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Four Interpretations of Mevlevi Dervish Dance, 1920-1929 X. Theodore Barber
Few dances are as famous as the whirling of the Mevlevi dervishes. For many centuries, despite Orthodox Islam's opposition to dance, some orders of dervishes, or mystics, have employed dance movements in their ceremonies. Each order, congregating in its lodge, or tekke, had its own unique movements meant to induce an ecstatic or trancelike state. In unison, the dervishes would do such things as sway back and forth, turn in a circle while holding each other, or jump at set intervals, all the while repeating the name of God (Allah). Musicians and even singers would often accompany these actions. Yet no dervish sect has fascinated the West more than the Mevlevis, who whirled like tops in the course of their rite. Founded in Konya, Turkey, by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the mystical poet of the thirteenth century, the Mevlevi (follower of Mevlana) order eventually established branches in many of the major cities of the Ottoman Empire. By the early seventeenth century Western travelers were writing accounts of these strange and impressive whirling dervishes, and such accounts continued to be published in the following centuries.1 Nearer to our own day, public awareness not only of the Mevlevis but of all aspects of the Ottoman Empire was heightened by events surrounding World War I. The Ottoman Empire was constantly in the news when it joined the side of the Germans and later, when it was broken up by the victorious Allies. Then, after Turkey was proclaimed a republic
? 1986 by X. Theodore Barber
Mary Wigman. At the outset the dervishes and the sheik-the head of the lodge-took their seats on the carpets or mats strewn along the edge of the octagonal or circular assembly hall. many of which had been rebellious against his policies. Mustafa Kemal (Atatiirk). in an effort to modernize the country. Everyone had bare feet. Western dancers for many years had been looking to the Orient as a source of inspiration. working independently of one another during the twenties. set about doing away with many of its Islamic traditions. and abstract qualities of the continuous act of whirling. The dervishes wore long black overcoats with wide sleeves and tall cylindrical hats that narrowed slightly toward the top and were made of yellow camel's hair. They next removed their black overcoats to reveal the outfit in which they . the nature of dance. which took place on Fridays and special holidays. it is first necessary to establish the typical components of the traditional Mevlevi ceremony. and whirling was officially banned until after his death. the dervishes rose and in single file made three circumambulations of the room. 1920-1929 329 in 1923. After some opening prayers and musical numbers performed by the orchestra in a special gallery. The sheik wore a similar overcoat of a dark color. In 1925 he outlawed mystical orders. each claiming to be the first in the West to do so. George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. This decade. geometric. welcomed the repetitive. In order to discuss the extent to which the four interpretations differed from authentic dervish dancing.2 and four choreographers. These choreographers-Jean Borlin. Dance periodicals such as The Dance Magazine and The Dancing Times began publishing articles on the Mevlevis. but his hat was taller than the others and had a green turban at its base. and the importance of authenticity. noted for experimentation in all the arts. each created a dance based on the whirling dervishes. and in the 1920s their attention was called to the spinning of the Mevlevis as a hitherto relatively unexplored dance form.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. and Ted Shawn-took very different approaches to the spinning dance. and an analysis and comparison of their work should reveal their various attitudes toward such subjects as the Orient.
Gradually his arms extended out horizontally from his body and assumed the traditional whirling posture. did not himself spin. but usually as they spun. or dance master. and the speed of their turning often depended on their age and vigor. rose above his head. they recommenced their gyrations. while maintaining the rotary motion with his right. each dervish slowly began to turn counterclockwise. His head inclined toward his right shoulder. The semazenbashi. At the completion of these three . In fact. The robe and jacket were white during the summer. and the hymns of the chanters. Meanwhile. from teenagers to the very old. flared outward in a bell shape. either straight or bent at the elbow. the skirt section of their robes. which involved bowing to the right and then to the left of him. in the background could be heard the lulling melody of the reed flute. Some turned quickly and others slowly. Balancing on his left foot as an axis. after circumambulating the hall. Then. At the end of ten to fifteen minutes. sleeveless robe that was bound at the waist with a wide belt. This consisted of a tight-fitting. his face remained expressionless as he concentrated on repeating the name of God silently to himself. long-sleeved jacket worn over a long.330 DANCE CHRONICLE whirled. but otherwise of a dark color (often gray or brown). the hand bent palm down. The dervishes arrested their movement suddenly and bowed in the direction of the sheik. participated in the whirling dance. while his left arm remained horizontal. Then. the sweeping harmonies of the zither. the steady beat of the small drums. In return he kissed the hat of each passerby. he stamped his feet on the floor as a signal to stop. and did not bump into each other. the dervishes filed by the sheik to make a gesture of obeisance. making sure they were arrangedin a circle. Men of all ages. they whirled three separate times. with the hand turned palm up. His right arm. made from ample material. With his eyes downcast or closed. and the linen trousers beneath could be seen. but wandered among the dancers. who wore his black overcoat at all times. or a series of concentric circles. one by one. this serving as a signal for the individual to set out to the floor and start whirling.
MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. which gave its first performance in 1920. designed by Picabia with a score by Satie. The black overcoats represented the tomb or death. Leger. the dervishes resumed their seats and their overcoats. casting B6rlin in such productions as Cleopdtre. . Les Ballets Suedois. La Creation du monde. by Cendrars. a Swedish millionaire and friend of both Fokine and B6rlin. Ultimately. often twirled alone in the center of the hall to symbolize the sun. Besides spinning free of unworthy attachments and passions. it staged such works as Reldche. which entered through their upturned right hand and was directed downward to the earth through their left. though.4 One of the first dances B6rlin choreographed for Les Ballets Suedois was Derviches. Each dervish represented a planet turning on its axis.3 Jean Borlin Jean B6rlin began his career as a dancer in the Ballet of the Stockholm Opera. and there were closing prayers. and Milhaud. international dances. When Fokine moved to Copenhagen in 1918. B6rlin was chosen to be the principal dancer and choreographer of this new company. In the course of its fiveyear existence. and Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel. the whirling had as its essential purpose the attainment of an ineffable mystical state. which was centered in Paris. which was based on a solo he performed in March 1920 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. with a scenario by Cocteau and music by five of Les Six. Then Rolf de Mare. 1920-1929 331 sessions. in many ways became a showcase for French painters and musicians. B6rlin followed him there to study under him. Despite its name. which would perform works inspired by Swedish national dances. and an elder member of the order. decided to found a company. Les Ballets Suedois. A rich symbolism lay behind the Mevlevi ceremony. In 1911 Mikhail Fokine arrived in Stockholm to mount ballets for the Opera. In spinning they re-created the glory and harmony of celestial bodies. or the sheik. which the dervishes put aside in order to achieve a new spiritual life. the dancers also became channels for spiritual energy. and contemporary art movements.
The critics admired the subtle range of greens and mauves and the striking gold illumination of both the backdrop. which was relatively unadorned. and was on a bill with two other ballets by the company. the dancers collapsed. gyrating more and more swiftly and with increasing abandon as the music itself became wilder. perhaps even with Loie Fuller in mind. Paul Eltorp. but they managed to get up to acknowledge the applause. kneeling on the ground with their skirts spread around them. Mouveau. Actually.6 A highlight of Derviches was the set designed by G. praying in Moslem fashion. including the vivid choice of colors. the concept for the dance probably came from Rolf de Mare. 1920. and the foreground drop. The ballet was choreographed to the music of Alexander Glazunov's "Danses de Salome. and B6rlin. The dancers wore short red hats (which looked like fezzes rather than Mevlevi hats). The five dervishes. who had traveled the world studying native dances before founding Les Ballets Suedois and who appreciated the avant-gardeappeal of a performance of spinning.9 ." which was seemingly inappropriate in its subject matter but nevertheless had an "Oriental" sound. and white robes. blue jackets. Rumor had it that B6rlin based the work on his experience while living a nomadic life with a company of dervishes5-an obviously fanciful idea because the Mevlevis were not a nomadic order. in addition to Borlin himself. They then gradually rose to their feet and started to whirl.7 Yet no matter how much the set might have conveyed a sense of an authentic Islamic building. designed them this way so that they would billow grandly as the dancers turned. which probably owed much to the influence of Bakst and the Ballets Russes.332 DANCE CHRONICLE Having its premiere at the same theatre on November 13. it resembled the interior of a mosque more than that of a dervish lodge. Kaj Smith. Finally. Derviches featured the whirling of Holger Mehnen. falling with their faces against the floor. bowed very slowly. cut in an arch shape and painted with flower designs along its border. Borlin's costume design also had fanciful elements. and Nils Ostman.8 The skirt sections of the robes had an inordinate amount of material. Descriptions of the dance itself suggest that it was fairly simple and straightforward. depicting an ornate Islamic doorway.
. Photographby Isabey from Les Ballets Suedois dans l'art contemporain. By courtesy of the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library. 1920-1929 333 Jean B6rlin in Derviches.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES.
As they began whirling. B6rlin decided to return to his solo version of the dervish dance. they usually spun at that rate for the remainder of the dance."'0 After Les Ballets Suedois was disbanded. however. The Mevlevis themselves did not strive to build their speed to a climax. This new dance fascinated the critics. billed as "Divertissements. One Philadelphia reviewer even accused B6rlin of misidentifying his solo. As a solo it was very popular. of course. but it lost something of its important ceremonial and social context through the elimination of the set and the other dancers. gradually work up to a comfortable speed. where he . the semazenbashi would not have allowed the dervishes to lose control or to spin wildly and collapse. but once it was attained. Publicity photographs of B6rlin's ballet give no clear indication as to how or in what formation the dancers whirled. Furthermore." which became a staple of the company's repertoire in the following years. are not turned according to Mevlevi practice. B6rlin continued to tour on his own. His arms seem to be approximating the traditional dervish posture since his right arm is raised above his head. which "was more truly a Hindu dance. the fingers are spread gracefully in gestures appropriate to ballet. And. One especially ambiguous photograph. bringing his dervish dance to New York once again in April 1930. After the first season of Les Ballets Suedois. His hands. tion. Denis's whirling nautch dances or her Radha. or perhaps simulating a spin for the camera. if they so desired. taken when B6rlin performed the dervish dance as a solo. shows him rising into a turn. who had nothing to compare it to except Ruth St. in fact. which leans toward it.334 DANCE CHRONICLE Borlin apparently gave the dance an orgiastic interpretain keeping with the general public's conception of the Orient. some dervishes turned slowly. instead. American audiences saw Borlin's dervish when Les Ballets Su6dois presented "Divertissements" in New York's Century Roof Theatre at Christmas time 1923 and when the company toured the United States in the following weeks. The Mevlevis followed a strictly defined ritual procedure when they stopped their spinning movement. He included it in a series of ethnic dances. they did. and his left is extended downward.
but eventually Thomas de Hartmann. 1920-1929 335 died later that year. became pianist for the sessions. in Fontainebleau. an accomplished composer whose ballet The Little Pink Flower was produced in St. declared his techniques to be even more fulfilling than those of Dalcroze and Duncan. Gurdjieff. which came to be called "The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.13 When the Institute was situated in Constantinople. from June 1920 to September 1921. D."'4 In this period. the movement training was emphasized. In the following years. in July 1922. Ouspensky and de Hartmann both documented these visits. was born of Greek and Armenian parentage in the Caucasus sometime in the 1870s. the Prieure of Avon." Gurdjieff began giving his pupils rhythmic exercises and dances set to music around March 1918. By 1915 he was in Moscow gathering followers. at the age of thirty-seven. had to keep moving from place to place because of the changing political situation. George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff G. however. He spent the early part of his life traveling through much of the Orient. and Gurdjieff and his assistants taught classes in "Harmonic and Plastic Rhythm" and "Ancient Oriental Dances. taught to his followers. when his organization was located in Essentuki. seeking spiritual masters who had knowledge of esoteric truths. He set up his organization." in various Eastern cities before making his way across Europe and settling. Petersburg in 1907 with choreography by Nicholas Legat.'5 It is possible. Gurdjieff.'2 At first Gurdjieff played guitar to accompany the movements. Gladys Alexander. gymnasand dances (collectively called "the movements"). Ouspensky met him and became his leading disciple. that Gurdjieff .MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. whose primary reputation is as a mystic and occultist. Gurdjieff paid many visits to the local Mevlevi lodge to view the whirling ceremony. with his pupils in tow. from jaundice contracted in Brazil. He prided himself on being a "Teacher of Dancing. Gurdjieff developed a system of sacred exercises. at an estate near Paris. and at this point P. I." and one student. which he tics.
who sat on goatskin-covered cushions. Guests sat outside the fence on benches covered with rugs. draped with Eastern textiles. in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. but Gurdjieffs first major public performance in the West took place on December 13. Orientalist style. and the occult geometric figure of the Ennegram suspended from above.20 .19 Although accounts of the performance did not make it clear to what extent the Oriental paraphernaliafound its way onto the stage. enclosed by a short wooden fence.17 Once in France. Gurdjieff played up his Eastern background. J.16 In any case. where. in some ways reminiscent of a mosque. Oriental rugs of various sizes were strewn in the area in front of the stage. The windows of the hall were painted with Persian designs. 1923. Bennett. decorating it in an opulent. and white cloth embroidered with aphorisms written in a "secret language" (resembling an Arabic script) billowed from the ceiling. This area. At the rear of the hall was Gurdjieffs raised booth. was reserved for students of the Institute. The foyer was turned into an Oriental palace where the public could taste Eastern delicacies.336 DANCE CHRONICLE had previously seen the whirling dervishes during his early travels. At the foot of the stage was a piano and a small hexagonal fountain. At least they were mentioned in Meetings with Remarkable Men. with Eastern musical instruments hung on the wall behind it. by coincidence. written after 1927. who witnessed one of the Institute's dance recitals in Constantinople."8 Visitors were allowed to view five-hour presentations of Gurdjieffs exercises and dances in the Study-Hall on Saturdays. which was scented with Oriental perfume and wired to produce a colored-light show on the water. G. He was fully aware that the Orient fascinated people as a place of mystery and enchantment and that the public was eager to learn of the secrets and philosophies of the East. Gurdjieff's semifictional account of his early years. Berlin had also appeared. At one end of the hall was a raised stage. The entire contents of the Study-Hall was transported to Paris in order to decorate the theatre for the run of the show. Alexander de Salzmann's lighting design was said to have been spectacular. At the Prieure he built a large "Study-Hall" for the daily practice of the movements. noted that Gurdjieff had begun to incorporate Mevlevi whirling in the movements.
for example. dervish and other sacred dances. and this dance. overcoats when not participating in the dance. All the dervishes pictured are men.24 Whether or not the audience . perhaps taller than authentic ones. to some extent. and this corresponds to Mevlevi tradition. so these dervishes are probably just attending the ceremony without whirling. rather than black. Tibet. was credited to a group of monks drawn from the Kubravi. judging from a posed rehearsal photograph.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. the music for this WhirlingDervish Dance probably had.21 Many of these demonstrations were probably of questionable authenticity. Kaljandar. The Mevlevis wore light-colored. yet all these types of Islamic mystics traditionally eschewed the dance in their religious practice. 1920-1929 337 Thirty dancers selected from the international assemblage of Gurdjieffs followers at Fontainebleau performed to the accompaniment of an orchestra of thirty-five musicians playing the compositions of de Hartmann and Gurdjieff. Eight or nine dervishes are standing in an appropriate circle formation. and their hats are of a dramatic height. at least. in which the dervish becomes a channel for spiritual energy. are five dervishes wearing white overcoats. Djellali. one can just make out the figure of the sheik with his dark robe. On either side of him. all from such places as Turkestan. Afghanistan. which allowed only men to take part in the ceremony. One dervish dance. he in fact believed that dervish dances were too vigorous for women. while any women present observed from behind a screen. lining the wall. though. and de Hartmann had even tried to write down the music he had heard at a concert performed by Mevlevi musicians in Constantinople. was reasonably genuine. and Chitral. Although Gurdjieff's attitude would be frowned upon today. The program included gymnastic exercises. They are not slanting their heads to the right.Nag'shbandi. as designed by Gurdjieff. They are wearing the traditional white jackets and belted robes. and religious ceremonies. Gurdjieff and de Hartmann were both familiar with Mevlevi music. In the background of the photograph. and their arms are posed in the usual whirling position. however. and Kadiri sects.23 Despite the Western instruments and the orchestration.22 Mevlevi whirling was on the bill at the Theatre des ChampsElysees. facing center. an authentic sound to it.
and in this way he functionedas a type of semazenbashi.but he did indeed stand is Theatre in the wings givinghis dancersdirectionsand commands. Gurdjieff behaviorand performnon-natural . Gurdjieffbelievedthat thought. as there was for his movementteachingsin general. Nott. voice while the music was playingat the could hear Gurdjieff's des Champs-Elysees not certain. Teachingsof Gurdjieff. From C.26 Thus. and action are all interconnected and that everyonehas only a limited repertoireof habitualpostures.25 An essay in the programfor like other writings.we must breakout of our typical patternsof physical movements.rather. feeling. S. These dancerson the Parisianstage did not seek to entertaintheir audiencesor receivecriticalacclaim. 1923. some of Gurdjieff's outlined a mystical approachtowarddance and movement.338 DANCE CHRONICLE DervishDance A rehearsalphotographof Gurdjieffs Whirling taken in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. In order to achievenew states of sensationor perception.clearly the performances.they performedthe movementsin order to develop themselvesand spreadthe word about Gurdjieffs ideas and work. Paris. There was a complex philosophybehind Gurdjieffs whirling dance.
the Mevlevis were probably not relating specific astronomical knowledge through their dance. Perhaps the Mevlevis would have agreed in part with this interpretation of their dance. too. according to Gurdjieff. the laws governing the motion of the heavenly bodies. which he believed worked according to sacred geometric principles. an occult science that assigned mystical meanings to numbers.32 The Mevlevis did. was also a means to improve concentration. Gurdjieff also thought that the original purpose of sacred dance was to reflect and transmit the mystical laws of the universe and that the religious establishments of ancient times used dance as a language to express these laws. for example. In rotating like planets. such as silently repeating a series of numbers or doing calculations. the dancers had to perform various mental exercises of a mathematical nature as they moved. but they were engrossed in repeating the name of God rather than numbers. Not surprisingly. but they would have referred more specifically to the Divine and to union with God to explain their experience. He devised complicated group dances in which the performers would be totally lost if they did not pay attention. among other things. He had the whirling dervish dance in mind when he told Ouspensky that sacred dances could record. made further demands on their attention. many of Gurdjieff's movement exercises were purposefully strange or awkward.1920-1929 339 was against dancers having a personal "style. Furthermore. though.28 Obviously.MEVLEVI DERVISHDANCES.29 Gurdjieff used the Mevlevi dance as an example of this theory. did counting exercises while they moved."27 Dancers should instead strive to move in untypical and unexpected ways. they sought to participate in a rather general idea of cosmic harmony.31 Gurdjieff believed that the secret of the absorption of the Mevlevi dervishes was that they. These exercises. Students would. whirling was another extraordinary way of moving. Dance. in fact. keep their arms outstretched for great lengths of time or cross the lower parts of their legs and then force a kick. citing the way it imitated the movement of the solar system. meant to induce a unique state of consciousness in Gurdjieff's pupils. Gurdjieff probably emphasized mathematics because of his belief in arithmology.30 Actually. focus their attention. Every movement served to indicate some aspect of a specific doctrine. .
she looked "even toward the Orient for a mystic answer to a wordless riddle. Nott. Although Wigman did state that Monotony. Not surprisingly. some of the works she choreographed had an Oriental flavor. and at theatres in Philadelphia. including the WhirlingDervish Dance.36 she generally played down this connection. Boston."38 In her book The Language of Dance. we have within us a living belief and strong yearning from which we create dances of mystic character. S. Wigman described how a Chinese gong .340 DANCE CHRONICLE Following the performances in Paris. Gurdjieff was in a car accident. he thereafter decided to devote most of his energies to writing rather than to the movements. at Leslie Hall on January 23. and one such piece was her solo Monotony (WhirlDance).34 Mary Wigman Mary Wigman has written that before she began dancing at the age of twenty-seven. which lasted four hours."37 Furthermore. At least one individual present in the audience. before Gurdjieff and his troupe returned to France in early April. who himself was fascinated by the dances of the East. was related to dervish dance. Although he recovered from his injuries.33 Additional demonstrations were presented in New York at the Neighborhood Playhouse and Carnegie Hall. created in 1926. Wigman preferred to allow audiences to interpret Monotony in any way they wished. on July 6. and Chicago. She apparently did not want to associate herself with a specific religion. "We have no undivided religious concept in whose name we may celebrate the dance. This free performance. exalting in it. which was influenced by Mevlevi spinning. 1924. then being extinguished by it. 1924. Gurdjieff came to York with twenty-two pupils and staged his dances and moveNew ments. As she wrote. C. Then. However."35 Her interest in the Orient was furthered when she studied the techniques of Rudolf von Laban. The dance could be "expressive of sheer ecstasy in geometric form" or even "symbolic of mankind seeking the riddle of life. which he continued to teach only sporadically. was so inspired by the show that he decided to become a follower of Gurdjieff. attracted a large crowd.
a drum maintained a steady beat that changed according to the pace of the dance. II. 1920-1929 341 was another source of inspiration for the dance." The cycle was staged again. Meanwhile. receiving much critical acclaim for her virtuoso spinning. The sleeveless top. lined with red. the following year. and her feet were bare.39 The first public performance of Monotony took place in Germany in 1927. She was strongly affected by the circling movement of the leather-covered stick striking the gong and by the resulting sound. which seemed to cause the room to spin. but then she picked up speed. Wigman spun on the same spot continuously for six or seven minutes. in an expanded form. and the skirt.40 A general sense of the dance can be had by piecing together Wigman's own accounts with those of various critics and by examining photographs of the performance. it was frequently featured as the grand finale. When she danced Monotony during her three tours of the United States.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. the piano started to play a short Oriental motif composed of two phrases of four notes each. Her arms and hands were continuously weaving sinuous and seemingly . She toured widely with it. between November 1930 and March 1933. Her whirling was in no way stiff. Her hair was pulled back. she slowed down again several times before finally accelerating to a breathlessly fast pace of two revolutions per second. At first her movements were slow. reached to her ankles. repeated over and over. with two triangular points jutting from the bottom of it. but Wigman was soon performing her whirling dance as an independent solo. Wigman performed the piece within the group cycle Die Feier (Celebration). and a Burmese gong added a continuous vibration. Here Monotony was clearly given a religious context in that it appeared during the cycle's first section. entitled "The Temple. or even monotonous. She continued to perform the dance until 1942 and claimed she never changed it in the course of all those years. mechanical. As she began to whirl. left her midriff exposed.41 Wigman appeared in the center of the stage wearing a two-piece silver brocaded outfit. as the name of the dance would imply. An audience in London in 1928 supposedly clapped all the way through it.
her arms went up and down as if to the tick of a metronome. carryinga great rapturewith her.342 DANCE CHRONICLE arbitrary patterns in the air.43 . Is she not for the moment the central point of the world? . and the various positions she assumed as she turned were all incompatible with authentic dervish whirling. Suddenly something mysterious occurs: she rises from the ground. And at the next instant there is the awarenessof being unable to bear this state of lightness. Wigman'sgender. she flopped down on the stage. the walls begin to circle around her. the length and speed of her dance. and the music had an Eastern tonality. Monotony was something of a mystical experience for Wigman. except at the conclusion of the dance. At another. often rose upward from the earth as he spun. but she no longer feels the movement itself. Yet Monotony had little in common with actual Mevlevi dance. She is conscious that the spell must break. when she stopped suddenly during her fastest turn and went on tiptoe while stretching her arms above her head and looking upward. clearly noticeable at first.almost obliterated while expandinginfinitely and widened in a rapid. outside of the act of whirling. After this.42 and in her essay "The Dancer" Wigman described how whirling gave her a sense of weightlessness: Now she spins incredibly fast around herself. that her unity with the elements must be sundered. raging revolution. Her feet generally remained flat on the floor. At one point. Wigman's dance had an oddly Oriental atmosphere-her dress suggested that of a belly dancer. their founder. Uplifted with such ease she floats. full length. The main purpose of Wigman's interpretation was to convey a mood rather than to re-create a foreign dance in all its details. then becoming more and more blurred. The whirlingmotion is communicated to the room. they extended out in front of her. Nevertheless. remainsas if still in the air. as if floating in quiet suspense! She knows only too well that her motion continues. The Mevlevis believed that Rumi. Her upper torso and head would also lean in different directions as she turned. . that she must roll back to the same heavinessfrom which this flight grew.. but rose to take her bows.
The Languageof Dance. . 1920-1929 343 MaryWigmanin Monotony (WhirlDance).MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. By courtesy of the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library. translatedby Walter Sorell. From Mary Wigman.
since they themselvesacted as mediators. However.45 Also.of course. no real content or meaning." which pulled her back to earth at the end of the dance. which she was desperatelytryingto resist. channelingspiritualenergy from above and leadingit downward.. Ted Shawn his WhenTed Shawnchoreographed MevleviDervishin 1929. cape Then there was a "suddenletting go" and "the fall of the relaxed body into the depth with only one sensationstill alive: that of a complete incorporealstate. She was.344 DANCECHRONICLE Wigman's discussion of Monotony in The Language of Dance includeda furtheranalysisof the sense of heaviness. she did a "Whirling Dance" (which was created also at a later date than my own "Dervish Dance" . but B6rlin's on the bill." The Mevlevis.the dervishes might have found much of Wigman's experiencefamiliar.or the "vortex..especiallyher referencesto feelingsof lightness. and I did not expect that. was revealing: These dances had no design. as we all know. For instance..which included spring Monotony. not a beautiful woman. rapture. an represented effort to graspa "non-existentsupport"as an esfrom the vortex.44 Apparentlyher final gestureof reachingupward.before collapsing.and unity with the universe. The first time Shawn saw Wigman performwas in Berlinin the of 1930. He had attendeda performance Les Ballets dervishpiece had not been Suedoisin Parisin 1923. architectural structure.nor did they emphasizea conflict between the pull of the heavensand the earth. he of had not seen any of the previousinterpretations the probably of whirlingdance. the DenishawnDance Companywas away on tour duringthe weeks that Gurdjieffappearedin the United States.she might have achieved somethingakin to a mysticalstate.centricity. AlthoughWigman's dance was not authenticMevleviwhirling. His assessmentof her recital. did not collapseat the end of their whirling. But I was surprised to find that the basic quality of all her movement was masculine-and to me masculine movement in a woman dancer is just as repulsive as feminine movement by a man dancer .
47 By November 1914.46 Shawn had a decidedly negative reaction to Wigman's almost freeform style and was obviously eager to demonstrate how his own dance was superior to hers. I executed a dashingvigorous dance full of leaps and turns accented by pounding feet. Shawn noted that he had difficulty finding anything dancelike in their wild. in 1923. Arabic Suite had become Ourieda. worked to a terrific climax of spiralleaps ending center front in a heroic pose with scimitarheld high above my head. . In his account of their rituals. in which case he was incorrect. His statement about her dervish dance being later than his is open to interpretation. The dervishes in these ceremonies worked themselves into a frenzy and pierced their flesh with pins and swords.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. Since he was not willing to stab . to the accompanimentof rolling drumsand clashingcymbals.48 Then. he wanted to stage an Aissoua performance of his own. . or he was referring to his Vision of the Aissoua of 1924. Shawn choreographed a sword dance for his duet with Ruth St. Either he honestly believed that his Mevlevi Dervish was created before Monotony. but was actually just a variation of some of his earlier dances. Brandishing curved sword. no doubt realizing that such a piece would draw audiences. in which Shawn played the lover of an Ouled Nail dancing girl (St. I was a veritablewhirlwindof movement and. shaking motions. no significanceor idea back of it. Shawn toured North Africa and witnessed Aissoua ceremonies in Biskra and Kairouan. In the summer of 1914. and she did nothing but whirl-there was no theme. Arriving at the coffeehouse where the Ouled Nail was performing. he did the same sword dance and then whisked her away. burnoose flying and white turban twisted a high. which was indeed centered on a North African dervish (or Aissoua). 1920-1929 345 although it was heraldedin Germanyas something never before done) . Denis in Arabic Suite. which had no connection with Islamic mysticism. He described his performance as follows: In this role I entered. Denis).49 Yet on returning to America.
" Shawn developed Mevlevi Dervish for his solo performance at Carnegie Hall on April 15. These assistants remained in silhouette in front of the whirling Shawn and depicted worldly incidents involving love.52 Although Shawn's Aissoua dance of 1924 included some turning. mourning.51 Either this had been present in the earlier productions (something difficult to determine) or he decided to add it because he had seen the Aissoua dervishes make occasional crazed spins during their ceremony. A passage in his book Gods Who Dance (1929) makes this clear. he now also did a wild spin on one spot.346 DANCE CHRONICLE sharp objects through his skin.57 As explained in the program. in later life. reveling. he had not seen any Mevlevis during his trip to North Africa. and death.56 and the programs for his performance referred specifically to the dervishes of Tripoli. the dervishes believed that "the objective world and its emotions are only a pageant of shadows. since some assistants (Anna Austin. and Erestine Day) participated in the piece. Shawn decided more or less to recycle his earlier sword dance. Thus.55 Shawn was familiar with this book. . who believed "that in the rhythm of the dance is the finest means of absolute union with God. Seabrook in Adventures in Arabia (1927). which did not seem shadowy and haunting enough. and he wanted to establish himself as an independent artist. his sword held high in both hands. In any case. entered the coffeehouse in Vision of the Aissoua. as Jane Sherman has noted. This dance was not strictly a solo. 1929. at least one critic did not care for the foreground figures. Denishawn was beginning to be dissolved. when Shawn. Regenia Beck. B. as a dervish. according to Sherman's reconstruction of the 1924 ballet.58 and Shawn eliminated them in all performances of Mevlevi Dervish after 1929.54 Either his memory betrayed him or he wanted to give more credibility to his own Mevlevi dance. Marian Chace. though.50 However." However.53 despite the fact that he was fond. his whirling dance of 1929 was based on the rite performed by the Mevlevi order in Syrian Tripoli. he performed much the same dance as he did in Arabic Suite/Ourieda. of stating that he had witnessed a Mevlevi ceremony on this trip. as described by W.
the dance was very popular-so much so that Shawnkept it in his repertoireeven into the 1950s. Berlin. Althoughit is done at times in companywith many other people doing the same thing. Shawnjustified Dervishis an exampleof the himself in this way: "The Whirling individualecstatic type of dance. outside of a social and ritual setting. As a true solo. By courtesy of the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library. Photograph by Robertson.DERVISHDANCES.1920-1929 MEVLEVI 347 . which Mevlevis would probablyhave consideredessential. from the Denishawn Collection. 1930. he did not have any qualmsabout Borlinand Wigman whirlingalone.7\a Ted Shawn in Mevlevi Dervish. Like before him. it is not a .
His method of whirling also did not correspond to Mevlevi practice in that he turned clockwise. a dark jacket that was really a wrapped. an ample skirt made of sand-colored woolen serge material and weighted in its hem so that during the whirling it would flare out in sculpted folds. though. he had to concentrate his visual focus inward. as he whirled.61 Although he whirled for a brief time compared with the Mevlevis. but rather two pianos and two drums. and black tight-fitting trousers. Shawn emphasized that his piece was more than a tour de force: "In my 'Dervish' the technical stunt of the 41/2 minutes of whirling. He did this with his eyes open but without "spotting.60 Fuleihan's composition did not employ any Eastern instruments. and he never moved from a space twelve inches in diameter. believing that a Syrian-born musician would create an "authentic" sound. Shawn also made an effort to create a realisticlooking Mevlevi costume. Shawn used his upper body to create a dramatic narrative expressing the conflict between the pull of the heavens (or spirit) and the pull of the earth (or senses). disciplined by remaining on one spot. horizontally striped belt made stiff with heavy buckram so it would not wrinkle in the course of the dance. a theme also present in Wigman'sdance. which lasted four and a half minutes. because each individual is inducing his own individual ecstasy. giving the impression that his dance was never-ending. a wide."59 Shawn commissioned Anis Fuleihan to compose the music for Mevlevi Dervish. he started before the curtain rose and continued even as he took his bows. His feet were bare." and in order to avoid dizziness. Shawn made approximately 270 revolutions during the dance. using the right foot as a pivot. He wore a light-colored dervish hat."62 Thus. . long-sleeved shirt with a white "bib".348 DANCECHRONICLE group dance as such. is justified by the theme of the Dervish going through an ancient ritual to achieve union with God-and this struggle between the pull of the senses and the spiritual aspirations is taken care of by the movements of the head. but which he neglected to notice. arms and torso.
with his right elbow leading. His arms are down at his sides and away from the body. Then he makes several gestures symbolizing greed. Now. For example. Next. his hands. reach above his head in a gesture showing his desire to rise above materialism. Shawn is whirling. mouth. he presses down until both his hands are behind his back.64 Using these sources. and his skirt is flaring. and ears to designate the senses. he grasps at the air and then brings one hand after another to his face as if putting food in his mouth. palms down. while only the drums continue. he smacks at the air with his hands. there is a sudden break in the music. Shawn's Mevlevi Dervish has been recorded on film. first alternately and then both together. the piano stops playing. hands bent. he beats at the air with clenched fists and shields his face with his elbow. After he touches his eyes. it is possible to convey a more detailed impression of the work. 1920-1929 349 Fortunately. elbows horizontal. One hand shades his eyes while he extends the other arm forward to the horizon. Then he represents the kingly pleasures by making undulating arm movements indicating court dancers. He slowly thrusts his chest out. He then accurately assumes the typical Mevlevi posture. At the start of the dance. Shawn interpreted this posture in a way appropriate to his narrative-the upper hand representing the pull of aspiration and the lower. standing erect. keeping his elbows bent and his upper arms above his head. as the full complexity of his gestures needs to be seen to be appreciated. Later. Now he shows the lust for power of kings. the pull of materialism. posing as if surveying his terrain. with the right arm up and the left extended horizontally. This pause indicates . the lights are red-amber to indicate the earthly passions. he bends forcefully into a spiral whirl. For instance. A new series of gestures represents combativeness.63 Shawn also tape-recorded his comments on the symbolism of the dance. With his palms down.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. nose. fingertips touching in front of his face. he makes a gesture of denial with his hands. Deciding now to abandon gluttony.
inspired by nautch whirling. This is an even stronger symbol of his break with earthly passions. Shawn's Mevlevi Dervish had its roots in two sources-Ruth St. then suddenly drops them behind him. and in many ways her turning resembled that of Shawn.70 so Shawn was careful to give his dervish an ecstatic appearance. including undulating ones. He is obviously experiencing a spiritual state. His arms are above his head.66 Delsarte and his followers divided the body into regions and devised schemes for determining the meaning of all possible gestures and postures. His speed now doubles. even though genuine Mevlevis remained expressionless. and the light becomes white. Shawn so admired this system that he wrote a book about it. which ended behind his back. were standard Delsartean designations of negation. and his hands press down as before in the gesture of denial.350 DANCE CHRONICLE a change-he is now going to renounce materialism totally. facial expression was important to dance. while his arms reaching upward (as at the closing) symbolized attainment of the supernatural. .65 St. To cite some of the more obvious movements in Mevlevi Dervish that derived from these principles: Shawn's arms stretching downward (as at the opening of the dance) represented attachment to the material. according to Shawn's interpretation of Delsarte. Denis spun in the "Delirium of the Senses" portion of her dance. and she threw her head back and increased her speed as she reached the climax.69 Furthermore. He crosses his clenched fists in front of his face. Radha presented a narrative similar to Shawn's dervish dance: a goddess experienced the senses and then renounced them in order to attain enlightenment. Denis's Radha (1905-06) and the theories of Franqois Delsarte. wrists bent. Every Little Movement (1954).68 and his gestures of denial. she went into a spiral turn at one point with her elbow leading. the curtain closes. Furthermore. and patterned much of his dancing after Delsartean principles. for his head is thrown back and he wears an ecstatic facial expression. The piano comes in again. palms up. she performed elaborate arm movements.67his chest thrust forward indicated pride. For example. At this point. as her skirt ballooned upwards.
Mysticism and Magic in Turkey (New York: Charles Scribner. 32. pp. "Dances of Anatolian Turkey. The Mevlevis were now allowed to perform on a limited basis and eventually even made their way to New York. and Albert Barett. At the end of the 1930s. 14-15. "The Chorus of the Dervishes: Like Human Gyroscopes the Dancing Priests of Islam Whirland Turn in Strange Religious Ecstasies. Gurdjieff centered his dance on his occult philosophies. and Andy de Groat featured whirling in their performances. Ira Friedlander. 3 (Summer 1959). The Darvishes (London: Oxford Univ. The other interpretations choreographed in the 1920s were unique in their own right.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. Adventures in Arabia (New York: Harcourt. pp. Some detailed discussions of the Mevlevi ceremony and its symbolism include John P. "The Holy Dances of the Dervishes. dervish dancing in Turkey entered a new era with the death of Atatilrk. Notes 1."Dancing Times. 2." Dance Magazine. Lucy Garett. 1927). Whirling Dervishes (New York: Collier Books. but this theme suddenly became very popular again in the 1960s and 1970s when dancers such as Kenneth King." Dance Perspectives. 1927). Brace and Co.. For examples of early accounts. transforming it into a Delsartean dramatic narrative. . Laura Dean. pp. pp. B. there were some attempts to choreograph whirling dervish dances in the decades following the 1920s. 1920-1929 351 Shawn clearly had a unique interpretation of Mevlevi dance. Press. Brown. March 1927. As far as the West goes. Another generation of experimentalists was being inspired by this Oriental dance form. and W. pp. 250-53. Seabrook. and Wigman made a free adaptation that was nevertheless mystically powerful. 1975). 1912). 282-85. 238-39. No. see Metin And. pp. 3. 88-92. too: B6rlin created a colorful spectacle featuring billowing skirts. 123-27. pp. Ralph Stoody. June 1929. a troupe of them appearing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November 1972. 60.
352 DANCE CHRONICLE 4. Bennett. Our Life with Mr. Philadelphia). "An Introduction to the Ballets Suedois. 22 (June 1978). 8. P. p. p. Dance Collection. pp. Rolf de Mareet al. I. Jean B6rlin clipping folder. Dutton. 1983). 20. 19. 9. De Mare. 7. 1 (1985). 6. 11. and Fritz Peters. 178-79. Mel Gordon. p.. p. In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt. New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. G. Les Ballets Suedois dans l'art contemporain (Paris: Editions du Trianon. La Creation du monde. De Hartmann. 1973). pp. 18. Gurdjieff. p. see Sally Banes. Gurdjieff: Making a New World(New York: Harper& Row. 15. 61. and Richard Brender. 118-21. P. p. 1949). "The Swedish Ballet: New Turns in the Repertoire of the ScandinavianDancers" (unidentified clipping. 9. 17. Bennett. ." Ballet Review. 140-41. de Hartmann. Thomas and Olga de Hartmann. "Swedish Ballet Is Spectacular" (unidentified clipping. 119-47. 5. 35. 42. Les Ballets Suedois clipping folder. Dutton. p. 382-83. 1964). J. 102."Drama Review." Dance Chronicle. "Gurdjieff'sMovement Demonstrations: Theatre of the Miraculous. 372. 2-3 (1978-79). No. and de Hartmann. Brace and World." Comoedia Illustre. England). 1931). 140. p. Nos. 16. 133. 123. 128. For further information on Jean B6rlin and Les Ballets Suedois. D. For descriptions of the Study-Hall. 1920. Dance Collection. p. 14. Meetings with RemarkableMen (New York: E. Ouspensky. p. 61. New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. 1974). see Bennett. "Reinventing Africa in Their Own Image: The Ballets Suedois' Ballet Negre. 129. Boyhood with Gurdjieff (New York: E. Ouspensky. pp. Gurdjieff (New York: Harper& Row. 7. pp. 10. p. Unidentified clipping (England). 20. G. "Au Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Les Ballets Suedois clipping folder. Bennett. 13. 60. and de Mare. and "Au Theatre des Champs-Elysees: Saison de Ballets Suedois. 48. Dance Collection. p. Dec."p. 28-59. P. New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. 12.
pp. 1931. Teachingsof Gurdjieff (York Beach. pp. 35. pp. Ibid. 226. 32. 1966). De Hartmann. p. 229.p. 39. 10-11. 341. The Language of Dance. 161-63."New York World. Ibid. 1961). 30. Viewsfrom the Real World(New York: E. 138.: Wesleyan Univ. and Gurdjieff. 25. 1973). 23. 37-38. p. p. 138. "The Dancing of Mary Wigman. 37. Conn. 158-59. p. 1975).: Wesleyan Univ. and C. p. 383. Nott. Mary Wigman. and Nott.. 33. Conn. pp. 92-93. pp. Robert Littell. 24. Mary Wigman. P. for a description of whirling exercises done under Gurdjieff's direction in the late 1940s. 102. The Mary WigmanBook. p. Gurdjieff. 123-24. 40. trans. Gordon. discusses the New York performance in detail. Gordon. p. Gurdjieff. Dutton. Bennett. 22. Bennett. 116. Walter Sorell (Middletown. Ouspensky. 28. Ouspensky. 31. In Search. pp. 27. Press. 26.. 227-28.pp. Impresario: A Memoir (New York: Random House. 36. 34. 1946).. ." New York American. pp. p. 1969). 1931. pp. 105-6. Views. Bennett. p. see de Hartmann. See Irmis Popoff. p. pp. 230-31." in a souvenir program for one of her American tours. Maine: Samuel Weiser. p. p. 38. Ibid. For Gurdjieffs attitudes concerning the public performances. 6-19. 138. 29.. 16. 38. 40. Bennett. pp. Knopf. n."But I Had to Dance. Ibid. S.. Ouspensky also mentions that the Mevlevi ceremony was patterned schematically after the solar system. Wigman. Idwal Jones. de Hartmann. pp. WalterSorell (Middletown. 226. pp. Nott. "PassingBy. MaryWigman. 41.p. and G. Hurok and Ruth Goode. 11. The Mary WigmanBook: Her Writings. 130. Press. pp. 168.MEVLEVIDERVISH DANCES. Meetings. In A New Model of the Universe (New York: Alfred A. Jan. pp. Ibid.. 1920-1929 353 21. S.ed. 26-27. I. 38-39. 1969). 226. Ibid. 41-42. 227-28.d. 112. March 17. Gurdjieff (New York: Samuel Weiser.
Brace and Co. 119. pp." New York Post. and other miscellaneous clippings. The Drama of Denishawn Dance (Middletown. "Ted Shawn Welcomed in Solo Dancing. 47. Dance Collection. 58. p. Wigman. Denis and Ted Shawn.and scrapbooks in the Dance Collection. Adventures in Arabia (New York: Harcourt. p. . Gods WhoDance. "Ted Shawn Returns to New York. 1929. 121. Seabrook. 1952. 56. 57. 48. Brown." New York Herald Tribune. Ted Shawn and Gray Poole. p. Ibid. 1929. 35. 12. 1960). 59.354 DANCE CHRONICLE 42. 1920). 1929). Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Nash. Wigman. Press. "Ted Shawn Scores with Old Favorites in Solo Recital.. 239. Dance Collection. 138-39. P. Ted Shawn. 115. 1939). programs. p. Ruth St. pp. The Mary WigmanBook.. "One Thousand and One Night Stands" (unedited TS). New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Jane Sherman. II. Denis. 46.: Wesleyan Univ. p. Dance Collection. and Ruth St. Ruth St. 67. 53. "Religious Use of the Dance. Shawn. 50. 123-24. Ted Shawn. 51. Dutton. Ibid. 43. p. Pioneer and Prophet (San Francisco: J. 1929. New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. 55. 255. B.p. New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Ted Shawn. 1979). W. p. 190. 39. 16. 45. Ibid. p. and other unidentified clippings. 118-19. Gods WhoDance (New York: E. Dec. New York. One Thousand and One Night Stands (New York: Doubleday and Co. "A Dialogue" (phonotape. 52. April 18. The Language of Dance. 54. An Unfinished Life (New York: Harperand Brothers. Ted Shawn." Institute for Religious and Social Studies. Shawn and Poole. p. H. 49. 1965).. April 16. p. 12. New York Public Libraryat Lincoln Center. Conn. 1927). Denis.. April 16. 44.." New York Times.
67. 66. and enl. 64. Ted Shawn. Ted Shawn. 1948-52). Dance Collection. 1976). 55. p. Ibid. 29. Mass. Ted Shawn. Dance Collection. choreographer. 70. 70. Ted Shawn." 65. Shawn. "One Thousand and One Night Stands" (unedited TS).. 63. p. The Complete Guide to Dance (Garden City. St. Ibid. 2d ed. and [Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Tour] (Motion Picture. p. and Don McDonagh.: Eagle Printing Co. p. Denis.MEVLEVI DERVISH DANCES. Divine Dancer (New York: Doubleday.. 32. N. Every Little Movement: A Book About Francois Delsarte. 1963). Conversation with Barton Mumaw.. 74. IV. p. 69. "Religious Dances: Commentary" (phonotape. Ibid. 193-). 1920-1929 355 60. [Religious Dances] (Motion Picture. (Pittsfield. Suzanne Shelton. New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. 33. 1981). p. . 61. 115. p.. An Unfinished Life. 61. 62. rev.: Doubleday.Y.. 68. 193-). New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. "Religious Dances.
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