If anyone says "I am God," apart from the One, he should
set up a world equal to this and say, "This is mine."
He should not only set it up and call it "mine," but also should himself dwell
in that which he has made. For it has been made by this one.
Credited to Pythagoras by Pseudo-Justin, De Monarchia 2 (3rd century A.D.)
Behold, the Lord is our mirror.
Open your eyes and see them in Him.
And learn the manner of your face,
then announce praises to His Spirit.
And wipe the paint from your face,
and love His holiness and put it on.
Then you will be unblemished at all times with Him.
Ode 13 of the Odes of Solomon (early 2nd century, A.D.)
I took courage and became strong and captured the world,
and it became mine for the glory of the Most High, and of God my Father.
And the gentiles who have been scattered were gathered together,
but I was not defiled by my love for them,
because they had praised me in high places.
And the traces of light were set upon their hearts,
and they walked according to my life and were saved,
and they became my people for ever and ever.
Part of Ode 10 from the Odes of Solomon
I extended my hands
and hallowed my Lord;
For the expansion of my hands
is his sign.
And my extension
is the upright cross.
Ode 27 of the Odes of Solomon
Works from The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2, edited by JH Charlesworth (1985). Thanks Fr. Greg!
Thursday, May 31, 2007
If anyone says "I am God," apart from the One, he should
The soul and body of a human being are united in the following manner: After a man and woman have made love and the woman has conceived, the Angel of the Night, Lilah, carries the sperm before God. God then decides what shall be the distinguishing characteristics of that child – whether the child shall be male or female, strong or weak, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, long or short, fat or thin. Piety and wickedness, however, are left to the determination of the individual.
Then God signals the angel who has been given the charge to watch over that particular soul. God says, “Bring Me the soul of this child whose form is hidden in
In the morning, the angel carries the soul to
In the evening, the angel takes the soul to hell and there points out the sinners whom the Angel of Destruction is taunting with fire. During the visit, the soul hears the sinners crying out in the black night, “Woe! Woe!” But no mercy is shown to them. The Angel then asks the same question that was asked before: “Do you know who these people are? They are now consumed with fire but there were created just like you. When they were sent out into the world, they forgot their origins they did not observe God’s Torah and mitzvot. Therefore they have to come to the disgrace they now suffer. Know that your destiny is also to depart from this world. Be just, therefore, and not wicked, so that you may gain entrance to a future world.”
Between morning and evening the angel carries the soul around and shows her where she will lie and where she will die, and the place that she will be buried. The angel takes her on a tour of the entire world. In the evening, the angel places the soul in the womb of the mother, and there she remains for nine months. During this time, the angel assigned to the soul teaches Torah to the babe. When the time arrives for her to emerge from the womb into the world, the soul is reluctant to leave. She has enjoyed the warmth of the womb and the light of Torah. So the angel touches the babe above the lip and sends it forth in to the world. Immediately the child forgets all it had seen and comes into the world crying, yearning for the Torah it now does not realize it has lost.Based on Tanchuma, Pekudei from Sacred Moments: Tales from the Jewish Life Cycle selected and edited by Isaacs and Olitzky (1995).
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Review of filmed performance of Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel (1981), set to music by David Byrne.
When is a pineapple just a pineapple? Not when Twyla Tharp is using it in a psychodrama about the disintegration of the nuclear family, the shallowness of modern (post-modern) life, and the exploitation of nuclear power. The pineapple - yellow on the inside like the sun (get it, energy!), shaped like a grenade (get it, destruction!), and a traditional gift to a family in a new home (get it, energy and destruction in the home!!!). If you think these metaphors are silly, the large narrative section of The Catherine Wheel is not for you.
For myself, there are all sorts of fruit that carry semi-relevant connotations - one has to be careful with watermelons for instance (racist), apples (the fruit of temptation, unless you are down with the quince argument), pomegranates (Persephone AND the Church), even strawberries (if you are a child of the 80s, you know that there was nothing quite as delectable as the smell of Strawberry Shortcake dolls). And vegetables are just rife with alternate meanings. But pineapples? Only meaningful if you are Carmen Miranda, and it seems, Twyla Tharp. (I really think Gilbert and Sullivan found "Pineapple Poll" to be a funny alliteration and nothing more.)
Twyla Tharp received training in a wide range of dance styles including ballet, jazz, flamenco, and modern. A 1964 graduate of Barnard College, she danced briefly with Paul Taylor's company before starting to choreograph her own dances, breaking down dance to the steps that she felt were most important and experimenting with those moves and sound in constructing her idea of performance. This experimental phase ended fairly early for her, and by the mid-70s she was comfortably working in her own style that combined jazz, ballet, modern, and that special ingredient most associated with her: the use of everyday gestures, like idiomatic expressions, in "high culture" contexts. She has a gift for capturing what's relevant at a cultural time point and using it as an inside joke in her works. She has used street graffitti, break-dancing, Jane Fonda aerobics, surfer style, and numerous other pop culture creations, often straightforwardly so that some of her works appear as time capsules of American pop culture.
However, that does not diminish Tharp's clear gifts as a choreographer. She knows style and the language of movement, and her own style, featuring jerky stops and starts, flattened torsos with arms akimbo while legs do highly sophisticated kicks and toe taps, is quite recognizable if one has seen a previous work of hers. Tharp will use ballet's version of the golden mean, an attitude (knee at 90 degree angle, thigh and calf at right angles with the leg at a perfect right angle from the body), as a casual gesture, drawing attention to its power but using it alongside an absurdity (arms casually held at the side or waving in the air). She doesn't make fun of the ballet position; she is completely serious about it and therein lies her wit as a dancemaker (the charm is in the everyday gestures and cultural references).
The Catherine Wheel is a bit different in Tharp's oeuvre in that it has a straightforward narrative. It is inspired by St. Catherine of Alexandria's quest for spiritual perfection through physical discipline (and if you have read Tharp's 1993 autobiography, Push Comes to Shove, you can see that she is a consummate perfectionist, as is indicated by this quote: "I had to become the greatest choreographer of my time. That was my mission, and that's what I set out to do"). Tharp's understanding of St. Catherine's vision sounds fairly gnostic ('leaving aside the body to gain greater knowledge'), but this is Tharp's vision of perfection, and St. Catherine just happens to be a means to an end. It also gives her a chance to pontificate about pineapples.
Like the first Catherine Wheel exploded, injuring the pagans and sparing the life of St. Catherine, so too can the pineapple (a nickname for a grenade, but grenade comes from the word pomegranate...oh nevermind) explode, causing destruction. And the spiky leaves on a pineapple - don't they resemble the pointed spikes on a Catherine Wheel? Throw in some stuff about connection to energy and the atomic bomb, and graphics morphing a Catherine Wheel into a pineapple, and then into a bomb, and there you have it. As in almost all things, Tharp is completely serious about the implications of the pineapple. I was prepared to treat the pineapple as an absurdist symbol, a theatrical device, but Tharp thoroughly warned me of its hidden meanings - pineapple portents - so that I had to know that fruit is sometimes more than meets the eye.
And so it begins - a golden glowing pineapple handed down from on high to dancers backlit from behind a scrim. "Take a look, these people are savages!" sings/talks David Byrne on the recorded soundtrack. They clearly cannot handle the pineapple. And so we have a mock family, Mother and Father in a state of modern couple's anxiety but dancing a rather sweet adagio until the pineapplecomes along and knocks Father on the back of the head. Father goes off to rape the family dog; Mother does a tap-dance routine complete with the begging for money bit that will be situationally reprised when she pimps out Daughter to a suitor, and then seduces the suitor herself. The maid looks on in horror. Members of the family try to dance together, but the most success they can ever have is 2 out of 3 dancing the same steps to the same rhythm. The pineapple grows bigger and bigger in each scene (is it being fed by the increased disorder of the family?). A preacher lectures us from the soundtrack. A chorus backlit from behind the scrim provides "commentary." The family engages in WWF-style wrestling from behind the scrim, the pineapple gets hauled here and there, and St. Catherine, played by Sara Rudner, looks in horror at the devices of her torture as she tries to reach a state of perfection (this is an amazing performance from Rudner). Finally, release. The suitor tears apart the now huge pineapple in the presence of Mother, bathing himself in styrofoam chunks (mmm, pineapple juice is yummy; I really want some pineapple-orange juice.) Now the maid, as the societal conscience in the bourgeoisie household, screams and stutters in horror, making an array of disgusted faces. The violated dog kills Father, someone else (Daughter and the suitor?) kills Mother, and torn up plastic wastebaskets in red, green, and yellow colors start to fly on the stage (so does an aluminum pie tin). We live in a plastic, meaningless world, full of waste? Thank goodness St. Catherine can come along to hold all the remnants of wastebaskets and pineapple in her arms, and transform them into a high energy, gold-strewn dance. (More on the Golden Section in a moment.)
Does this sound absurd? Well, it is. There is no drama here; we aren't even treated to (spared by) an inside joke or two. Even the well-used theatrical conceits (a woman tap-dancing across a stage for money; people dressed up in layers and layers of clothing as if they are out-of-work performers on the vaudevillian circuit) are so straightforward they have no meaning other than what Tharp seems to want to indicate as an amorphous emptiness. And plasticky-ness. And then there's that stupid pineapple. It's not often that one watches dance and feels one's self getting dumber.
The welcome respite, over an hour into this mess, is the Golden Section. (The Golden Section has become its own, well, section, and is still performed separate from the other parts of The Catherine Wheel, especially by ballet companies wanting some Tharpian action.)
Freed from the constraints of the life of the pineapple (and with Tharp free from having to move the narrative anywhere), the dancers, now dressed in gold, enter into a dance of incredible energy, as if they were particles on the surface of the sun. Whereas there was disorder in the movements of the family in the previous sections, now the dancers can move in syncopation, 1, 2, 3. Some literally become Catherine Wheels, rolling across the stage, their legs and arms the spokes as the curved body of another is the wheel. But mostly they jump, crackle with energy, and jog when they aren't taking flight or catapulting someone else into the air. "This is perfection," Tharp seems to be saying: unleashed energy fed through the movements of dancers into coherency and meaning. "This is the first day; this is the second day," Byrne intones. For the first time, Tharp effectively utilizes the rhythms that Byrne has created (previously, she just followed the disconnects and words), and unlike many dances, where rhythm means in and out, like breathing, she uses it to keep a steady, amped-up flow. Dance like this is no longer organic - it is superhuman, and it is that state beyond human experience that Tharp seems to be invoking in this final part. It has little to do with St. Catherine of Alexandria (supernatural is different from superhuman, and participation in the energies of God is not what Tharp has in mind) or with pineapples (even though they are golden and can be cut up into sections). It's rather the call for mindlessness so that the body can participate in E = mc2. The dance is mass-energy transfer; we all become similar in the heat of nuclear fusion. The science of creation leads to the science of destruction, and Tharp only makes sense of it at the end.
A final note: the recording I viewed is widely available from Kultur, and fairly bad - dancers are cut off at the waist, the camera focuses on only one area of the stage while things are going on all over the stage, and so forth. One wishes Tharp, as director, could have loosened her grip and let her stage production play out on screen.