|"SEEKERS," DANCE THEATER WORK FROM
BELGRADE BASED ON POETRY OF HAFIZ, EXPLORES INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY, IDEALISM,
HATRED AND FORGIVENESS IN TIME OF WAR.
Work recalls the ennobling examples of Sufi heroes in WWII. Rare NY appearance
for DAH Theatre Research Centre's Jadranka Andjelic Project.
The 1990's conflicts in the Republics that formerly made up Yugoslavia left
the young artists of Serbia grappling with essential questions of war and
peace that will permeate their work for many years to come. One of the best
examples of the Serbian movement of post-civil war performance is the women-led
DAH Theatre Research Centre, whose motto is, "In the contemporary world,
destruction and violence can only be opposed by the creation of sense."
"Seekers," a dance theater work by DAH Theatre Research Centre's
Jadranka Andjelic Project, is inspired by the poetry of Sufi master Hafiz
and recalls a sister and brother, brought up in the Sufi tradition, who
were heroes of World War II. The piece is created by Jadranka Andjelic.
The intricately choreographed piece is largely based on the poetry of
Hafiz, a Sufi poet from XIV century Persia, who wrote, "Any thought
that you are better or less/Than another man/Quickly/Breaks the wine glass."
Hafiz has influenced intellectuals and artists for centuries. The bravery
of this poet is his intentional breaking of clichés of mind and
convention, rare even today. Personal and direct, his poems remind us
of our responsibility to create the world as we would like it to be. The
performance uses translations of Hafiz' poetry by Daniel Ladinsky from
his book, "The Gift."
"My aim is to express the spirit of Hafiz' poetry" says Andjelic.
The piece is nonlinear, with occasional songs and text, primarily in the
first half. Movements are used and deconstructed into other artistic actions,
then recombined with objects, songs, text, and interaction relating to
the space. The resulting performance style is clean, precise and minutely
choreographed, resembling free-form dance and improvisation (but actually
nothing is improvised). It is the product of about six months' development.
The sister and brother in question are Noor and Vilayat Khan, children
of Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, founder of the Sufi Order in the
West, and his American-born wife, who adopted his religion and traditional
dress. Noor and Vilayat were raised in Suresnes, near Paris. As guardians
of the Sufi tradition, they were supposed to be above matters of nation,
race, and creed. But, after witnessing merciless dive bombings in the
Nazi conquest of France, they were drawn to the Allied side, although
with conflicted feelings (war, they reasoned, was like "killing a
Noor joined the British secret service and became a radio spy with the
French Resistance. Vilayat joined the Royal Navy and survived the bombing
of his minesweeper. After the war, he succeeded his father as leader of
the International Sufi Order, promoting love and compassion between all
people and religions of the world until his death in 2004. (Further info
Noor sent reports from occupied Paris; when all her colleagues were arrested,
she refused to return to the safety of England and kept alive one of the
few radio connections working inside occupied France. She ultimately was
captured by the Gestapo and became the first British agent to be sent
to prison in Germany. She would not betray her comrades and received the
St. George Cross posthumously for her bravery. Accounts of her interrogation
infer that although tortured, she steadfastly bore no animosity to her
captors. During her imprisonment, the Nazis were irresistibly both drawn
to and threatened by her goodness, and so kept her secluded from both
prisoners and guards. She was shot and incinerated at Dachau only a few
days before the Allied rescue.
The performance aims to tackle fundamental questions like: what is individual
responsibility in the face of war and hatred? What is action? What is
inaction? How should those of us who wish for peace respond to a time
of war? The sources of the piece are the poetry of Hafiz, a biography
of Noor by her friend Jean Fuller, written shortly after the war; and
personal testimony which Vilayat recorded a few years ago.
"Seekers" is an intricate montage of images and music, blending
the real and surreal, exploring essential ideas and questions of life
through the metaphorical languages of body and voice. Accompanying the
movement are beautiful poems of Hafiz, often sung, which challenge us,
through their simple but beautifully surrealistic imagery, to explode
our images of life. The stage image moves from the reality of 1940s costumes
into a land of dancing demons, shadows and mysterious songs. In the montage
of the performance, these realities drift into and out of each other,
mixing fluidly, suggesting the existence of life on several levels. Noor
and Vilyat made such an impact that many cannot believe that either of
them could really die. Electa Behrens, the American-born performer who
plays Noor, testifies, "It has been very strong to work on this character
of Noor - because she is so real and so recent - with a story so powerful,
beautiful and awful, sometimes you feel like you are stepping into a ghost's
Director Jadranka Andjelic defines herself as a "Seeker,"
both in finding ethical and spiritual paths and in using the arts as a
tool to continue to seek human experience. She says that her first inspiration
for "Seekers" was Sufi poetry of Hafiz. Says Andjelic, "Noor
was a little-known woman, not famous, not found in history books, She
was not from Western culture, but lived in the West. She was not a typical
heroine, fighting for her country like Joan of Arc. Rather she was a person
struggling for individual dignity and spiritual values. Both Noor and
Vilayat had to decide what to do according to their own values. Noor and
Vilayat's connection with Hafiz is that the poet taught that one must
stay ethical, but must find and follow one's own spiritual path. Today,
we often have dogmatism in both religion and politics, and this was the
same in Hafiz' time." Ms. Andjelic adds, "Noor and Vilayat were
not 'typical patriots,' but rather first citizens of the world. If you
do not have your primary identity as a patriot or citizen of one country,
what is your responsibility as an individual in time of war?"
The company is proud that this piece is a collaboration between Serbian
and American performers, a Serbian director and an Italian designer. The
piece was devised in Belgrade, a place where theatre collaborations along
with every other part of life, are fighting for stability. Originally,
it was performed in Serbian; the US performances will be in English for
the first time. It is created by Jadranka Andjelic and performed by Electa
Behrens (USA) as Noor and Janos Bus (Serbia) as Vilayat. Set and costume
design are by Antonella Diana ( Italy).
Jadranka Andjelic founded DAH Theatre Research Centre with Dijana Milosevic
in 1991. Until 1997, they co-directed all its performances. From 1997-2002,
Ms. Andjelic directed international projects including Teatret Om, an
international company based in Denmark, while also being artistic director
of Festivals for the Association of Independent Theatres in Belgrade.
In 2003, Dah Theatre Research Centre (DTRC) split into two production
lines: Dah Theatre (the group) with Dijana Milosevic directing, and the
Jadranka Andjelic Project under Ms. Andjelic's direction. Both production
lines are developing performances, workshops, symposiums, festivals, special
cultural projects and projects for young. These include long-term collaboration
with the Roma (Gypsy) communities of Belgrade, as well as being a major
force in the Balkan Express network of IETM.
(Further info see: http://www.rex.b92.net/dah/index_eng.html.)
Ms Andjelic wrote, "This performance, like the DTRC in all, is
based mostly on female artists and their personal and artistic interests.
We have never been a feminist theatre in the sense that we deliberately
choose 'female topics,' but our work and history is a result of our engagement
as women in our society (in the wider sense) and in the time of history
we all live. And somehow it seems to me that female artists are more persistent
and strong than their male colleagues in the field of non-commercial theatre,
contemporary European theatre."
This piece premiered in Belgrade, Serbia. It was performed at the Balkan
Express meeting of the IETM Festival held in Belgrade in April, at the
INFANT international festival in Novi Sad, Serbia, and then traveled to
small towns in eastern Morocco and a larger international festival in
Marakesh under a program of cultural exchanges supported by the Roberto
Cimetta Fund. The performance was realized with the support of the Secretary
of Culture of Belgrade, in cooperation with Belgrade Drama Theatre.
On October 9 at 8:00 pm, the piece will be performed at the Sufi Center
in New Lebanon, NY (www.theabode.net),
an institution that was founded by Vilayat Khan in 1975.
Another branch of the DAH Theatre Research Centre, DAH Teatar X 2, is
giving a program with two lectures at HERE (www.here.org)
on September 23. The evening includes "The Role of the Artist in
the Dark Time," a lecture with video excerpts by Dijana Milosevic,
and "Inner Mandala," a lecture/performance on the healing power
of the theater created and performed by Maja Mitic.