It may be, in other words, perceived as what we usually consider to be a form of entertainment.
Now, modern dance as it's currently practiced may approach the idea of embodying the sacred, it's true. Yet the idea that dance might illustrate universal laws is probably quite foreign to the world of dance as we know it today. Dance is supposed to express beauty, grace; it’s supposed to be about joy and celebration, or — perhaps —pain and suffering; that is to say, it presumably expresses an emotional state. Of course there are theoretical and intellectual components to it; and one can’t deny its very physical nature. Yet I think we would mostly agree that modern dance is, above all, some form of emotional expression.
Yet the way that Gurdjieff's sacred movements are constructed, they reveal the granular nature of the world; and in order to explain that, one has to look at the world of science, of physics and biology.
It may seem like these dances are a long way from physics and biology, but—and perhaps inevitably—they’re directly tied to its understandings.
On one level (and there are many) the movements can be seen to represent the folding and unfolding of molecules as they interact with each other; they reflect the atomic structure of creation, and the way that it locks and unlocks various gates and doors as the parts interact with one another. All of the molecules in the bodies we are in, and all of the molecules that organic life uses in order to manifest, move in specific patterns according to law, come into contact and then let go, fold themselves into different positions at different times, in unusually powerful and extraordinarily ordered sequences. When one watches a sacred dance, a Gurdjieff movement, one can see such action expressed on this level.
The Gurdjieff movements, along with the music that accompanies them, are expressions of lawful principles that govern all being. This isn't an abstraction; and one needn't understand the rules in all of the detail, one needn't grasp the minutiae, in order to understand the overall message, which is one of law-conforming principles. There's a great beauty in this, of course; yet above all, the movements are here to bring to us, in a visual and feeling format, the obedience that governs the universe.
Experiencing this obedience in a practical way requires an awareness of a certain level. One has to know one’s place; location, a sense of exactly where one is, is necessary. And in a certain way, it doesn't matter whether one is one of the dancers located in the middle of the movement, or an observer who is watching the movements take place. Either way, one needs to know where one is. The movements can help evoke a wish for this kind of understanding, an understanding of location.
One can’t really understand where one ought to go unless one first understands where one is. So the movements help us to see where we are. One can’t, from my point of view, watch the Gurdjieff movements and understand the relationship of the locking and unlocking, folding and unfolding parts that take place in uniquely timed rhythms without thinking of Gurdjieff's law of three and law of seven; and reaching, by way of intuition, an understanding that these laws govern the work of both molecules and universes. Material things follow the same laws throughout the known universe, on every level; the movements simply happen to be an expression of those laws as they might be understood from this level. The ubiquity of law guarantees that it functions in the same way on every level; so even the DNA molecule is embedded in the movements themselves.
The movements, in other words, are an artistic expression of scientific principles; they may be, in their own subtle way, the best expression ever of Gurdjieff’s adage to mix the best of the East and the West, and then seek.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.