The dance of joy and grief, part II: a meditation on loss

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

"Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive."  - Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

"All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes."  - Cormac McCarthy (The Road)

"[In The Lord of the Rings,] Frodo's quest is a middle-aged man's quest, to lose something and to give something up, which is what you start to realize in your thirties is going to happen to you. Part of the rest of your life is learning to give things up."  - Ellen Kushner (Locus interview)

"It is Story that heals us, that shapeshifts us, that saves us."  - Sylvia V. Linsteadt

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

 The paintings today are by the great Austrian book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger, for Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina.

The video below is "Thought of You," an animation by Ryan Woodward, with music by The Weepies. I've posted it once before, but that was way back in 2011, and it's worth a re-visit.

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger


Tunes for a Monday Morning

After posting photographs of the Morris troupe dancing near Fingle Bridge last week,  I was reminded of my favorite local troupe: Beltane, performers of the wild, almost shamanic form of the dance called Border Morris.

A Beltane Border Morris dancerAmericans tend to view Morris dancing as a quaintly charming slice of "olde England," and don't often realize how many of the English themselves find it hopelessly twee.* (This is the kind of dance they're generally thinking of.) As an oft-repeated quote (variously attributed to Thomas Beecham, Wilde, Shaw, and others) says snidely: "Try everything at least once once, my dear, except incest and Morris dancing." Personally, I like Morris dancing of all sorts (thereby "outing" myself as deeply uncool); and I especially love modern Border Morris as practiced by younger troupes like Beltane, with goth, punk, and neo-pagan leanings.

Border Morris originated in the west of Britain -- probably sometime in the late Middle Ages, arising from dance traditions that were older still -- developed primarily by dancers and musicians along the border of England and Wales. The distinguishing characteristics of Border Morris (as opposed to other forms) are shorter sticks, higher steps, ragged costumes, A Fire Dance on Dartmoorblackened faces, and larger bands of musicians. The history of the blackened face is much disputed: it may have had ceremonial significance in the dance's deeply pagan origins; or it might have been a form of disguise adopted in years when Border Morris was frowned upon as rowdy, subversive, and un-Christian.

It certain is rowdier than most other forms of Morris; it's also more overtly pagan, and thus (to me) more powerful. Often performed at sacred times in the Celtic lunar calendar, the dances invoke a palpable magic tied to the land, the seasons, and the mythic wheel of life, death, and rebirth. Like other forms of sacred dance the world over, the drum beat and the dancers' steps weave patterns intended to keep the seasons turning and maintain the balance of the human/nonhuman worlds. Yet in contrast to other, more mannered forms of Morris, Border dancers unleash an energy that is earthier, lustier, more anarchic...both joyous and unsettling to watch, especially by dusk or firelight. 

Beltane Border Morris, Devon, UK

Howard and I  once came across Beltane dancing in our village square, just as dark began to fall. At one moment in the dance, the music went quiet. The troupe dropped to their knees in unison, sticks pounding the ground in a slow, steady rhythm. Then, just as slowly, the dancers rose...the music started faintly...quickened and loudened...and the dance romped on again. It was breathtaking to watch: both beautiful and chilling. If a portal into Faerie had opened at that moment, I would not have been at all surprised.

In the video at the top of this post, Beltane performs a Fire Dance at the dawn of May Day (Beltane), 2012. The dance took place on Dartmoor, on a foggy crossroad near Hay Tor.

Below, a dance for Winter Solstice at Stonehenge, filmed last December.

A Beltane Border Morris dancer at Winter Solstice

And last, just for fun:

Dancing in the sea. This video (complete with wind and barking dog) was filmed at Teignmouth on the south Devon coast.

Beltane Border Morris: dancers and musicians

* The American equivalent of the English word "twee" would be "hokey" or "corny."


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today tunes....

"Man on Fire" (above), the new video from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, celebrating the various dancers of New York...

...which reminded me of "Be My Honeypie" (below) by The Weepies, which was also filmed in New York City. I've posted this sweet video before, but it bears repeating!

I hope these two joyous tunes get your work week off to a lovely start.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes The Weepies
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes; and The Weepies


Telling our stories

Alan Lee & John Howe

"Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories."  - Elie Weisel

Daughters of ElvinThe drawing above is by Alan Lee & John Howe. The photograph is of my husband as a unicorn dancer with Katy Marchant's medieval music troupe Daughters of Elvin, performing in a medieval church.


Butoh and Paint, Smoke and Ash

Cabaret art by Rick Berry My friend Rick Berry (who is one of the people who first taught me how to paint with oils) has a new series of painting inspired by a stage production of Cabaret -- which can currently be viewed at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH; and also on Rick's website. All of his art is gorgeous, but I've always liked this kind of monochromatic "oil paint sketch" the very best. 

"These are not renderings," he says, "but impressions of dancers from the KitKat Klub, the setting for a production of  at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As I watched rehearsals, the movement coach, Steven Mitchell Wright, had the performers go through Butoh training. I'd heard of Butoh, seen stills from various dances, but never experienced it in action. Crushing really. So instead of doing some sort of rogues' gallery pastiche (as had earlier been imagined being hung in the venue) I did these. I wanted something like images of ghosts projected on smoke and ash. Just at the moment you think you've resolved them, they shimmer and erode before your eyes. Color paintings of a world that's lost all sense of it."