When we first created PURE Reflections, we sought to expose how commercial images of beauty were false and destructive, and explore how true beauty springs from deeper levels of wholeness and appreciation of self and others, which we experienced through our practice of bellydance.
Yet over the past five years, the show and those now behind it have degenerated into the very shallow, image-obsessed, self-indulgent, destructive egotism we sought to heal.
If the show's most recent promo is any indication, it is no longer about appreciating the beauty of many different body types through middle eastern dance. Rather, every lead role is played by slim media-standard perfect modern dancers ... dancing perfectly modernly. And while they are talented performers, to be sure, the lack of variation in size, age, shape, and race wholly undermines the show's message, which is more apparent in the shows initial cast (show in the video below).
Indeed, most if not all of the original cast members are no longer with the production, or even with PURE itself.
I never learned why they left, though I'd heard rumors ranging from their belief that PURE had an "inner circle" from which they were excluded, or that the real purpose of the group was "ego stroking" of its remaining artistic director, Kaeshi Chai (the original co-facilitators, Sarah Locke and Darshan left the group for undisclosed reasons in 2007).
For years, I did not want to believe this group that for years had been so dear to me precisely because it was ostensibly devoted to healing and peace was in fact in service only to Kaeshi's ego -- until she unceremoniously ejected me and another long-time member from PURE following the increasingly successful productions of PURE Reflections in Japan, Taiwan, and Florida..
I have considered removing this blog post since the show has been, to my mind, destroyed by a focus on commercialism. But after much consideration, I decided to let it stand -- since its themes are still dear to my heart, and I continue to explore and develop them in my own work in Tandava Arts' Blood on the Veil.
And part of me still believes that Kaeshi will come to her senses one day and realize the damage she has done, apologize to those whom she has harmed, and restore the show to its original intention -- which brought the most stunning awakening in audiences and cast members alike.
See footage of PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined here:
[Note: if you are viewing this through my Facebook feed, and are unable to see the images, please go to the original entry at http://tandavadance.blogspot.com/2009/09/pure-reflections-beauty-reimagined-life.html. Thanks!!]
Last Friday, September, 18th, I had the honor to debut a remarkable dance theater work with PURE entitled PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined.
Audience members had been moved to tears and laughter. One educator remarked that "this should be seen by every teenage girl!"
We were honored to be joined by the extraordinary musical talents of Tamar Kali, Kristin Hoffmann and PURE's very own drummers, with our bodies lit by dramatic visual images created by techno-wizard Nasha Masha, and clothed by Couture dressmaker Diana Susanto, who created stunning costumes for us.
Since many of us are not experienced actors, it is no exaggeration to say this production would have been impossible without the contributions of Desert Sin's visionary founder, actor/director/dancer Djahari, who coached us through the beginning stages of exploring and embodying our personal demons, furthered by coaching by Dixie Fernandez, also an actor/dancer/musician, and finally with the task of creating this psychologically complex narrative in barely two short weeks falling on my shoulders, as I was the only member of the group with writing and directing experience, as well as foundation in Jungian archtypes and individuation.
This project had been a 13-year dream of PURE's co-founder Kaeshi Chai, also known for her excellent work as Artistic Director of Bellyqueen and a dance captain for the Bellydance Superstars.
She, like many of us, discovered bellydance as a means to heal both body and mind, and formed PURE in 2004 with co-founders Darshan and Sarah Johanssen Locke to bring the healing and peace of this dance to audiences everywhere from theaters to sidewalks to subways to parks.
The response to PURE was overwhelming, as chapters formed throughout the United States and beyond!
Most PURE chapters meet once a week, as both a supportive community of friends and a dance collective. And at least once a year, we hold a Procession at approximately the same time in our respective cities.
But this year, in addition to the Procession, Kaeshi came to us in early May with the idea of doing a theater project around the theme of body image.
She had been inspired by a riveting work by LA-based tribal dancer Heather Shoopman's troupe Se7eN where a young woman is tortured by demon images within a mirror telling her she is fat, ugly, etc. She is pulled through the mirror, confronts and ultimately calms the demons.
With the singular idea of body image/mirror/demon, we began to create this show.
We attracted new members who were intrigued by this theme, and began to explore our own paths of recovery from various eating disorders, low self-esteem and other unhealthy states.
We examined the source and effect of those punishing "Demon" voices that often set in during adolescence, and we looked to the healthy reflection we see of ourselves when we are very young, before we learn there is an image we "should" try to emulate.
We found how dance, peace, self-love and loving connection to others reintegrates the healthy image we once knew.
And we learned how the "Demon" voices merely speak for tortured parts of our own psyches that are squelched as we try to fit an artificial mould.
And then we set about putting all of this into a narrative dance.
Needless to say, this creative journey was a profound one. Many of us revisited traumas, dove into the heart of our insecurities and deepest fears. And, as one might expect, personalities clashed and hackles rose.
But it is a testament to the dedication of the group both to this project and the larger purpose of PURE -- healing and peace -- that we were able to voice and confront our conflicts; indeed, our resolutions came not by denying our uncomfortable feelings, but by expressing and reining those very passions towards our greater shared goal.
As a result, many of us experienced extraordinary transformations as friends, dancers, people...
One dancer, delving into her past as part of this journey, reunited with her father who had been estranged for many years.
Having missed many of her life's important events, he was moved by her enthusiasm for this project and attended the performance. They both beamed with exuberance and pride after the show.
Below are select images taken by Ken Stein, accompanied by the Program information.
[Note: As we explored the birth scene, we came upon the idea of a central figure -- a Mother Goddess -- representing our authentic feminine nature from which we would be separated and to which we would ultimately need to return.
Since the Mother Goddess figure has become highly charged in a religious as well as feminist sense, we found it would be necessary to clarify her meaning within the context of our psychological/emotional narrative.]
About the Mother Goddess
The Mother Goddess is a symbol often associated with nature and fertility, representing the part of us that is at home and happy in our bodies, that trusts the body’s instincts and freely enjoys its creative sensuality. To quote Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, “She knows the sacredness of matter...the divine body of love that holds creation together.” Yet her deeper wisdom recognizes that “life...is forever renewing itself [because] what does not move dies.” Through her we learn to bear and ultimately respect the pangs of transformation as essential to developing a consciously embodied, whole, and fulfilled life.
BIRTH (EMERGENCE)Music: Free Flow by Kristin Hoffmann
The Mother Goddess stirs us into life, nourishing and supporting us.
Music: Truth by Kristin Hoffmann
Enjoying and exploring the world around us, we find the Mirror and begin to discover who we are.
As our bodies change and we are immersed in media images of idealized, unrealistic beauty, the Mirror reflects a new, distorted vision: A seducing, controlling Demon emerges, exhorting us to embody impossible ideals. Overshadowed by this new influence, our connection to the Mother Goddess is lost.
This image is just before the Demons emerge. At the start of adolescence, we enjoy our bodies and emerging sexuality... before we are taught to do otherwise.....
YOUNG ADULTHOOD (OBSESSION/COMPULSION/COLLAPSE)
Music: Displaced by Amon Tobin from the Chaos Theory CD
The Demons reflect our inadequacies, driving us into compulsive, unhealthy behaviors as we struggle to conform -- to the point of despair, depression and ultimate collapse.
Notice the tape measure in the background of this one....
Alura's demon was compulsive plastic surgery; Debbie was her demon-surgeon!.
That's me torturing Amy... her dysfunction was self-mutilation (cutting, hair-pulling/twisting). As her demon, I would do these things to her to make her "feel better" -- after first shaming her, of course, for not being perfect....
On the screen above us, just out of frame, is the message "Your butt is huge!!"
REBIRTH (RETURN TO NATURE)
Music: Ocean in Me (Om Mani Padme Hum) Kristin Hoffmann
At bottom, we surrender and close off to the noise around us. We return to Nature, which becomes a second womb where we can once again feel the Mother Goddess’s support and nourishment of our true selves. We may further connect with others on a similar journey through suffering and recovery, and begin to rise again on a more solid foundation.
Music: Primal Breath Kristin Hoffmann
Stronger, but still developing, we return to the Mirror to reclaim the healthy Reflection it had shown us in childhood. To complete the integration, we confront and embrace the darker aspect of ourselves that had once functioned as a Demon.
That's Kaeshi, as Liz's Demon, trying to get between her and her Healthy Reflection. That's me in the back (just out of frame -- click on the image to view the flickr.com original), desperately trying to control Amy, but unable to... Oh those darned Healthy Reflections!!!
EXULTATION OF THE MOTHER GODDESSMusic: Chaos by Gabrielle Roth & the Mirrors from the Tribe CD
Having helped us integrate our full selves, the Mother Goddess celebrates our ability to reconnect with her.
SUN SPIRAL (CONSCIOUS CONNECTION TO THE DIVINE)
Music: Sundance Kristin Hoffmann
The Mother Goddess awakens each of us to the Divine within ourselves and each other.
PURE FOUNDATION (COMMUNITY)Music: Live Percussion by Brad MacDonald, Pete List, Dan Myers & Gina Callender
Now whole within ourselves, we are able to connect to others. [Note: The Foundation is PURE’s central choreography, created by co-founders Kaeshi Chai and Darshan at the collective’s inception in 2004, and which is now performed by PURE chapters throughout the world.]
HEALTHY REFLECTION (CELEBRATION)
Music: Ocean by Tamar Kali
No longer a source of shame and despair, the Mirror can be enjoyed playfully, as we celebrate the journey on which it has taken us.
[Sorry, I have no photos of this one -- yet!! We had several photographers at the event, so images are trickling in slowly... stay tuned!!]
Special thanks to Ken Stein for taking these excellent photos!!