Colored light floods the stage in the form of vertical bars of color, representing the spectrum. The color story continues to evolve throughout the rest of the presentation to good effect; the impression is both beautiful and ethereal, the essence of minimalism. Who would have thought that a simple peach or green background would so transform a stage? It's perfect… and filtered through this gentle medium of light, we begin to enter the heart of the movements, the definite dances that describe life and effort according to an unknown form.
Unknown, I say, because nothing like the movements Gurdjieff has created exist anywhere else. They are strange; they are inexplicable; they are beautiful. They encode attitudes of relationship and worship from many different works and worlds; each position represents an inner attitude towards both life and God, and a bridge between the two that can be sensed in the body through attention. Even though they change from one to the next with breathtaking speed, each one is iconic and individual.
If one wants to understand Gurdjieff's “haida yoga,” that is, "hurry up yoga", one can sense it here in the demand to comprehend so many different sacred attitudes flowing together in such brief periods of time. It's as though the history of religion has been compressed into brief, essential minutes of interaction. Buddhism and Christianity have of course preserved the tradition of mudras expressed with the hands, but these are mudras for the whole body. One after the other, like Morse code; and indeed, one is even called Morse Alphabet Followed by a Prayer.
It's a work that cannot be measured against other existing works, because it has taken a left turn somewhere and gone off the road and into the garden. It's a beautiful garden; yet a strictly ordered one, tended not according to whim, but by law.
And law, it turns out, is a most powerful gardener; because in the strictest order and the most demanding execution, the most absolutely beautiful and informative flowers take bud and bloom. There is a moment, a point, at which I recognize that of course it is this way; it has always been this way, and it must be this way. The Gurdjieff movements embody what I call The Perfection; of course, everything embodies The Perfection, but this is a refined, distilled, and concentrated expression of it, which transcends the individual performers.
It reminds me that we're elements; each one of us a particle of something much greater which has a responsibility for interaction that transcends our individual prejudices and natures. I'm reminded that I need to learn to put aside my egoism in order to participate; I am reminded that I am part of a much greater whole and that the sacred feelings which penetrate me are only available to the extent that I agree I should participate, instead of attempting to stand on my own and take.
These movements set themselves apart from our society, which is all about standing on my own and taking. They set themselves apart from fashion and culture, history and art, and stand alone on the stage as though they've emerged from a sealed Sumerian crypt, whole and intact, after thousands of years. Initiation rites that have preserved themselves since the dawn of civilization, unchanged. I'm reminded of the subtle, inexplicable Presence in Egyptian statues, in the Lamassus and bas-reliefs from Nimrud. The same objective dignity is present here, but it's not in any way as static as the ancient arts of sculpture.
It vibrates; it sings.
Yet it sings with all the gravity and substance of a Gregorian chant, something that reaches deep into the echo chambers of the soul and creates resonances that linger throughout the body, penetrating every cell.
Who could have known that such a simple form would convey such depth? It's impossible. Yet I suppose such depths may escape those souls which are not prepared to receive them. After all, life is like this: it is the surface of an ocean which we stare out at in wonder, appreciating its vastness; yet we don't suspect that the vastness we wonder at on the surface is merely on tiny fraction of the life that supports it from below; the immensity of all that exists before the surface can ever manifest.
In the movements, some of that sacred energy, the vibration that supports the very existence of the universe itself, peeks through the fabric of our reality and makes itself known, as if to say,
"I am here. Come join me, in life."
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.