During that week, she was increasingly irrational and abusive towards me, often attempting to humiliate me in front of the group. For example, when I stepped forward to lead a choreography in rehearsal -- as I had done a few days before -- she yelled things like, "Oh are YOU leading now??" This shocked and disturbed other participants who brought their concerns to me afterwards.
Within two weeks of our return to NYC, she informed me via email that I was no longer in PURE -- with no warning -- no chance to figure out what was going on, much less do anything about it. She removed my name from the PURE website, and has since entirely removed my credit from PURE Reflections -- my writing of the story and my original direction, which was set in place as the work was created on its feet in September 2009, and which I refined and developed as the show's primary director over the following two years.
This act is both unprofessional and unethical.
She has never given any reasonable explanation for her actions, yet has continued to defame me personally and professionally. She also appears to have abused the faith of the PURE members and donors to further her various personal agendas. During 2012, I tried to make her aware of the severity of her actions in private correspondence; she abused me verbally in return, and then ignored my communications altogether.
The below critique was my first public attempt to bring awareness to her behavior: If she will not or cannot change, at least those working with her will be given an opportunity to more fully understand what may be in store for them -- an opportunity that I wish had been given to me.
For further info, please see the below entries, which refute a long, defamatory letter that Kaeshi sent to a large group in the dance community:
My Q&A About Why the Critique was Necessary
Part I: Introduction to the Defensive Screed
Part II: Perspectives on the Underdog
Part III: Anger Management
Part IV: Sabotage
Part V: Kaeshi's "Red Zone"
Part VI: Violent Communications
Part VII: The Gangrened and Diseased Limb
Part VIII: Transgressions
Part IX: The Inner-Warrior
Part X: Brad's "Delusional, Revisionist History"
Part XI: Final Thoughts (or If Lenny Bruce Had a Blog)
What follows is a series of comments I posted to a Facebook thread about PURE's procession event this past weekend.
PURE, as many of you know, is an international community of dancers and musicians co-founded in 2004 by three well-known dancers, Kaeshi, Darshan and Sarah Locke, who had experienced healing and peace through their practice and performance of bellydance.
Its purpose is to "bring positive change, beauty and awareness to the world through the power of dance and music."
I joined this group in 2006 and became a key member in 2009 during the creation of our dance-theater show PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined, which explores body-image and the struggle to come to terms with media-driven beauty standards.
The narrative is one of feminine individuation, which I developed from my work with Jungian psychology, so it is very dear to my heart and one which reached deeply into every cast and audience.
Over the following years, we recreated the show several times -- in NY, CT, Japan, Taiwan and Florida -- where Kaeshi and I led a series of workshops bringing each group through the painful but rewarding emotions of the show's journey.
With each successive show, I took on a more central role, partly due to my experience as an actor and director, and partly due to Kaeshi's increasing professional conflicts with her other projects.
When we produced the show last year in Florida, my centrality became untenable for her; after we returned, she ejected me from PURE with no recourse.
Last weekend, PURE performed its annual procession and premiered a choreography called "War & Peace." I and many others believe that this piece was her effort to come to terms with the conflict she felt towards me, but sadly it was ineffectual in its intended message of peace and reconciliation.
While the presentation itself is enjoyable and entertaining ... it is senselessly violent and sadly off-the-rails from the message of PURE that I and others have embraced these many years.
When I saw a thread appear on Kaeshi's wall proclaiming it the "best PURE performance" I was dismayed -- especially knowing the sad backstory and posted the below comments.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this event, although I did watch the video and the choreography is indeed impressive and exciting; it is clear everyone worked very hard on it to a stunning effect.
There are some aspects of the narrative, however, that are a bit confusing.
Is there a reason that everyone is in the same uniform? The division into sides indicates two warring factions, but are these the same people? And if they are the same people, what is the reason they are fighting? Further, are Kaeshi and Elisheva merely survivors of the battle or are they leaders? And if they are leaders, why are they not clothed differently and stepping forward to incite/lead their troops into battle? Is the military not by definition hierarchical?
If, however, there are no leaders, then what you are depicting is a riot, not a battle. But again, there seems no visible reason for it; it is just fighting for fighting’s sake.
What is most confusing is the moment when the leaders/survivors notice the dead and stop fighting. I have never been in battle, but I have spoken to veterans, and my understanding is that in a real battle one fights to the death. It is expected one’s comrades will fall, and awareness of these deaths is no surprise to anyone. It is never a reason to stop fighting; it is, in fact, a reason to fight all the harder until the enemy is vanquished even to the last.
To my understanding, THAT is what war really is.
Did you perhaps talk to any veterans to get a reality-based perspective? There are some, after all, within the PURE community itself as well as many veterans groups within NYC.
To have the leaders/survivors suddenly realize that everyone is dead, and make this the reason for their ending the battle, implies that this is a war game that has gone too far. But if that was the case, shouldn’t awareness of going too far happen sometime before everyone is dead?
And is a portrayal of war as a game consistent with the message of PURE?
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s OK for PURE to portray violence as a game -- for the purpose of showing the dire consequences of that violence. And indeed, this message begins to come through as the leaders/survivors express grief at realizing the destructiveness they have wrought.
Grief is very much the first step towards healing. But it is only the first step.
Too often, grief becomes an excuse for vengeance and more violence. And while the leaders’ coming together, facing each other with their heads down (inexplicably on the *tops* of their spears) may indicate some remorse, there is no definitive action demonstrating that they acknowledge responsibility for the atrocity, that they will do things differently in the future, or that they even understand why there was a conflict in the first place.
Instead, with the leaders’ apparent remorse, the angelic PURE dancers enter their space (even though they placidly watched the entire battle unfold and did nothing) and magically bring the fallen soldiers back to life! Or perhaps the soldiers are now spirits -- that, too, is unclear -- and if they are spirits, how is it that they are suddenly OK with having been killed? Has death brought them to enlightenment?
Kaeshi, this is not a message of peace; it is an endorsement of war.
In this choreography, you are saying, “War is fun and exciting, and when you’re done with your rampage of destruction, if you just feel bad enough, your sins are absolved, there are no consequences and everyone will get up and dance!”
It’s like Don Corelone going to confession every Sunday, only to return to more bloodshed on Monday.
It distressing, although not surprising, to see people on this thread call this “one of the best PURE events ever.”
Depictions of warfare and violence are cathartic and adrenaline-pumping; that is the reason violence is ubiquitous in our media. Indeed, such dramatizations have always dominated popular culture -- from Mixed Martial Arts to public executions to gladiatorial bread and circuses!
But since when does PURE kow-tow to lowbrow sensationalism?
The goal of PURE is to “bring positive change to the world through dance and theater.”
The goal of this piece, as stated on the Facebook event is to “explore the conflict between two sides escalating into war and the subsequent consequences, loss of life and eventual evolution to forgiveness, healing, peace and celebration.”
How has this performance effected any of those goals?
Is conflict explored? Is any reason for the conflict given? No. They just start fighting.
Is there an escalation? No. The level of hostility at the beginning is the same throughout.
And are there consequences? Well, the leaders feel really bad for a while, but then the dead are raised and everyone is happy! So I’d say no to that as well.
Would the parent of a fallen soldier appreciate the message of this piece? “Your child is dead, but the leaders feel really bad, so that makes it OK. So all is forgiven, right? Let’s celebrate!”
We are living at a time where a pathetic YouTube film trailer is being exploited politically by self-serving leaders to incite deadly riots. PURE was founded in the wake of 9-11, when thousands of innocents met their deaths; no angels revived them. And while some have found forgiveness, have there been celebrations? Even when Osama bin Laden was killed, many who lost loved ones did NOT celebrate.
Kaeshi, depictions of violence can only bring positive change if they can bring about new awareness of why the violence happened, how it might have been prevented, and what might be done to avert violence in the future.
Indeed, when the project was first proposed here -- https://www.facebook.com/events/437463076286959/ -- you wrote that participants would explore: “War and peace within ourselves, communities and countries. What is conflict? What is resolution? Is it possible to forgive even if you perceive someone else has wronged you? How to pinpoint and break through unhealthy patterns for more fulfilling relationships.”
These themes are so vital.
Their fruitful exploration is imperative if we are to truly understand the cause of violence -- “within ourselves” as you say -- because truly it is the violence *within* each of us that is ultimately what is meted out upon each other, from interpersonal squabbles to large-scale warfare.
Indeed, throughout history, the most effective warfare leaders have been able to channel their people’s internal conflict, and aim it at the Other (as is happening now in the Middle East).
But no such internal exploration happens here. There is only a hint of remorse which is rewarded quickly with absolution and celebration.
Even the most riveting choreography and skillful dance does not disguise the fact that this performance portrays nothing more than a senseless massacre, a violent fantasy with a saccharine Disney ending.
Yes, the violence stops, but if I may quote your quoting of Reagan in this event’s promotional material: “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
And that very “ability to handle conflict by peaceful means” is precisely what is missing in this piece, and from PURE in general.
When you first proposed “War & Peace,” I believe your intentions were sincere and that you wanted to explore the stated themes, to understand more fully what lies at the root of conflict. I suggested to you and the group that “the process of creating an authentic peace is rigorous and often painful; it requires honest self-reflection, humility, communication and compromise.”
And you seemed to acknowledge that by quoting JFK: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
But in this piece, and in PURE, you have not set about that difficult and gradual process; you have not eroded barriers; rather, you have erected the cruelest barriers and mercilessly defended them, at the expense of PURE itself.
And it is for that reason, that I feel it is appropriate to now come forward publicly in this forum -- for those who have questioned the agenda behind “War & Peace,” and those who cherish the ideals of PURE and who have committed faith and passion to this project.
Kaeshi, you have not honored the tenets of PURE -- tenets which you, yourself, crafted -- in your cruel and inexcusable behavior towards me and Liz Free, and in your creation of this highly inappropriate “War & Peace” project; indeed, you have abused and violated them.
I have debated whether to finally speak directly and honestly about the conflict underlying your preoccupation with violence, as it would appear I am a part of it -- and I’m still not sure it’s the right thing to do -- but consider this: If you learned that the Director of Greenpeace clubbed baby seals in his spare time, would you say something?
Well, it’s like that.
What is most heartbreaking to me is that even now you do not recognize your own hand in creating the conflict that continues to trouble you so much that you needed to enact it in PURE’s dance. Rather than squarely look at your own Demons, you created an army of Demons and set them to murder each other for fun and entertainment.
And you have asserted that it has all been done in the name of peace.
But how many wartime leaders have convinced their devout followers of the same? Throughout history, how many atrocities have been committed in the name of creating peace and purity? How many peoples have subscribed to the belief that all one need do is expunge whatever and whomever is unwanted, and life will be wonderful?
Would you say it is ironic that this beautiful organization of PURE, that has inspired so many extraordinary artists throughout the world, should find so venomously within its very core the seed of violence it had sought to cure?
Actually, it isn’t ironic at all.
It is the way of all things.
There is a principle called enantiodromia, articulated expertly by John Perry Barlow in this TEDx Talk -- it is “the process by which everything is becoming its opposite at all times … That which is peaceful becomes warlike.”
For example, the more one focuses militantly on what one associates with peace/positivity, the more necessary it becomes to purge -- forcefully, even violently -- that which one sees as against peace/negative. And so the one who sought to create peace becomes the very embodiment of violence.
The only antidote to this baleful pendulum, Barlow notes, is offered by the Tao Te Ching: We must stop seeing the world in terms of positive and negative, where we purge the negative: “It's not 'either or' it's 'both and.' And that [may give us our] turning point."
So, how do end the cycle of violence that must needs result from the “either or” perspective, to find our way the peaceful “both and” perspective?
According to Jonathan Sacks, one of the world’s great thinkers on religion and peace: “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation -- speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.” (From On Being’s “The Dignity of Difference”)
And I believe at some level you agree with this, Kaeshi, as when we returned from Florida in December, you asked to meet and talk.
When I agreed, but asked for a mediator, you then refused saying, “We seem to be in a constant state of mediation... where others are either mediating for you and I, or I am mediating between you and others.”
But we have never had a mediated discussion -- not once, not ever.
Your very distorted perception of this reality, along with the many cruel, blaming, defamatory, and accusatory statements in your letter to me made it very clear that you did not accept even the tiniest bit of responsibility for your actions or emotions.
It seemed to me that your perspective was that we were “constantly fighting” during the production of PURE Reflections in Florida last November; that this was “not fair to PURE or the rest of the team” and, most incomprehensibly, that “[You] don’t like who [you] become when [you are] trying to share the leadership role with [me.]”
This was absolutely shocking.
Kaeshi: I am not responsible for you “becoming” one thing or another. And even if my presence brings qualities out of you that you find difficult to stomach -- those are still YOUR qualities!
To blame me for this -- to summarily eject me from PURE, the Bellyqueen school, from a community in dance which had been a home to me for the better part of a decade, and deprive me of appropriate credit for my work on PURE Reflections -- simply because you refuse to see “negative” qualities in yourself is an act of unabashed interpersonal violence; it is emotional scapegoating of the highest order and ethically questionable.
Do you really not see this?
You quote Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
And yet you *forced* me out of PURE to preserve your personal “peace.”
You have never tried to understand my perspective; and when I have expressed it, you have shot back that I am, “depressed, bitter and angry...[and] dripping with vehemence and hate toward [you].”
And then, incomprehensibly, you offered to “send [me] positive energy … and love.”
Well, OK. I suppose that’s nice of you. But isn’t it a little bit like breaking someone’s legs and then sending them a “get well” card.
When I read that, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud -- because I think you really did mean it in a “positive” way.
But do you not see that characterizing me negatively is just a poor defense? You are saying, “Well, she’s just bitter, angry so I don’t need to listen to what she has to say.”
First of all -- when one is abused, anger is a pretty natural response.
Second, and more importantly, even if words are spoken in anger, that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. In fact, it is often in anger that we say what we feel most deeply -- and what the other most needs to hear.
And speaking of anger, I must again address your treatment of Liz Free -- PURE’s most enduring and devoted member.
“Forgiveness” was one of the goals of “War & Peace” -- yet you had none for Liz. Yes, she had wronged you; but she never denied it. When called on it, she owned up immediately and did her best to redeem herself. Indeed, she offered no excuse and begged for forgiveness.
But did you offer her any understanding? Any compassion for her?
No. You levied at her a stream of the most angry, vicious invective. You called her a criminal, threatened her, and ejected her from your “circle of friends.”
Is that the path to peace? To forgiveness and understanding?
Is that consistent with the mission of PURE?
How can you expect to forge a path to healing and peace in the world when you can’t create peace within your own organization?
Or worse, when your method of creating the illusion “peace” includes hurting others, don’t you see that the wound will only fester? That is what it is to scapegoat: when you take feelings you can’t handle and project them on others, then destroy the other so you can live “purely.” (And thus has many a woman been burned as a witch....)
Do you not think this has already had a negative effect on the ranks of PURE?
You may think that what I am doing here is destructive; perhaps it is. But truth is important to me -- especially inconvenient truths.
How can we grow as people, as true peacemakers in the world, if we can’t own our truths and speak them to others -- and offer to listen to others’ truths -- even if it causes some discord and discomfort in the short term?
Must PURE be a place of shame and “dirty little secrets”?
Does it not trouble you that my former sisters in PURE can’t look me in the eye? Don’t you feel even a bit of remorse for having forced them to feel they must “choose sides” -- that they must accept your version of reality or risk being “no longer welcome in [your] circle of friends”? That they are afraid to question your actions or motives or face your stony wrath?
They saw how you treated me and Liz; do you really think that hasn’t had a very negative effect on them?
Is that the kind of leader you want to be? Can a leader who controls by fear also be a leader for peace?
Have you not wondered why both Florida chapters have chosen not to embrace the “War & Peace” theme?
Do you not suspect that your behavior during the PURE Reflections project last year, as well as subsequently, may have given both of the Florida chapters pause regarding your intentions and agenda?
Have you not wondered why Rita bent over backwards to bring my solo show to Orlando, and why the Florida community supported it? If, indeed, I were the person you have tried to portray me as being -- angry, bitter, hateful, etc. -- why was I showered with such love and support there?
The truth is: They saw what happened during PURE Reflections; they saw how badly you behaved, how badly you had treated me, and how well I took it. And they respected me for it. And while I believe they still love you, I sense there was some serious damage done in their perception of you.
And it was in this that you became the person you don’t like, and for which you blame me.
Ironically, I believe the real reason you can no longer tolerate my presence is not that I have some wild temper, but rather that you are no longer able to push my buttons. Even at your worst in Florida, when you verbally abused me in front of the group for no reason, I did not lose my temper.
In short, you found you could no longer control me; so you had to get rid of me.
At least that is what I suspect.
You have never really offered me your side of the story -- other than to blame me for pretty much anything in your world that you didn’t like (including, it seems, dislocating your shoulder).
But I would welcome that discussion. Perhaps now, nearly a year later, if you are able to speak from your heart without blame, accusation or invective, I am open to speaking with you.
We can do it here, through Facebook, and give our friends a real-life version of the peace process at work; or we can do it face-to-face with, of course, a mediator.
Or we can continue to ignore each other at workshops and haflas and continue to make everyone else around us feel uncomfortable.
What do you think?
You’ve walked across hot coals, but can you hold your feet to the flame? Would you be able to face me -- to hear my truth and speak your own -- and ultimately face yourself?
Or will you simply delete my words?