FLUX. Identities fluctuate. Identities grow and harmonize but they also destroy and cause conflict. They are negotiated and renegotiated over time and within different spaces. The choreography is inspired by the three chapters of Lutgardis’ hagiography (saint life), three parts of her identity. Lutgardis’ life was documented by her confessor and dear friend Thomas of Cantipré. He choose to divide this biographical work in three chapters, opting for a mystical-theological composition instead of a chronological sum of events. His first chapter is on Lutgardis as a devote young woman, the second on Lutgardis as a more advanced mystical woman and the third on Lutgardis as a full-grown contemplative saint. Each dancer represents one part of her life, congered up in one single moment in time, a dance of identities.
LUX. Light and vision play an important role in the life of the Flemish saint. At the end of her life Lutgardis becomes blind. The loss of physical sight is mentioned in the third chapter of her hagiography. It is counteracted with the gain in contemplative sight. In her perfected state the saint sees God. In order to do so she had to let go of her earthly life and her sense of sight. The dance introduced the symbol of the blindfold to depict this important change in her life. A classically trained dancer represents the third part of Lutgardis’ hagiography, her dance suggests nearly reached perfection. Confronted with her past lifes (the other two contemporary dancers), the saint struggles to move on. Her blindness urges her to renegotiate her idenity. The cineast explored the spectrum of colors and played with light and dark to suggest the change between physical and contemplative sight.
VOX. The thee parts of Lutgardis’ hagiography are personified by three dancers. In the making of the choreography the dancers discovered an enigma concerning the plural identities presented in the hagiography. The second chapter presents a woman who is nor young and unexperienced, nor perfect and divinized. The choreography revealed a crucial question, namely who is this Lutgardis of the second chapter? What is her role in society? Does she have a voice to proclaim her identity? The second dancer represents the struggle of reaching perfection in a world that questions her right to speak.
CRUX The cross unifies Lutgardis’ different identities. Love connects Lutgardis throughout her life with her heavenly groom, Jezus Christ. Her mimetic relationship to him is the one constant in her life, it inspired her to grow towards perfection. Lutgardis experienced the sight of the cross as the sign of God’s love for humanity. On the cross Christ gave his life for the salvation of humanity. This sacrificial eternal love inspired Lutgardis to grow: to grow towards perfection and to grow closer to Christ, intensifying their mimetic love relationship. The choreographic interpretation of the sign of the cross is repeated frequently within the dance, performed by all the dancers (all the different stages in Lutgardis’ life). The cross symbolizes unity within the flux of changing identities.
BEATRICE – Project 2 was originally a dance project featuring Sander Vloebergs and Sheila Van den Broeck. Unfortunately Sheila needed to stop the collaboration due to an injury. During the summer of 2018, both dancers worked on a pas de deux based on the short treatise of the Dutch mystic Beatrice of Nazareth called the On Seven Ways of Holy Love, while searching for interesting collaboration with musicians. During this period, Sheila wrote her own lyrics based on her reading of the text and her own experiential knowledge about the excessive nature of love. These lyrics served as an inspiration for Surfing Dino who created the music for BEATRICE – Project 2. This blog post explores Sheila’s artistic process and analyses the original lyrics of Seven Ways of Loving.
Sheila is a trained dancer and dance teacher. Currently she teaches in the master’s course in ‘Training and Coaching Dance’ at the KU Leuven. She gained some experience as a singer-songwriter competing in the Youth Art Competition called Kunstbende. Sheila took the initiative to not only create the choreography but also to add an extra layer of meaning by writing her own lyrics and thus engaging in an interesting interdisciplinary exploration of the original text. The dancer-songwriter initially wrote the lyrics to make an emotional connection with Beatrice and to deepen her own personal understanding of the text.
These lyrics reveal a very intimate image of a dancer on stage, and of a lover made vulnerable during the game of love. Sheila is a dancer in love with her audience, willing to sacrifice her being on the altar of the stage, where she becomes dance-incarnated. Music initiates this ritual; it creates the temple where the dance can be performed.
The Temple of Music
Sheila’s artistic process starts with music; lyrics are of secondary importance. The goal of her art is to convey emotions in order to communicate with her audience. Music helps her to create the right atmosphere for this emotional transfer. The dancer is invited to experience the overwhelming presence of the music and to become a character in its story. According to Sheila, dance is a way to move within this overarching musical story; it is her way to play its script.
The Safe Haven/Heaven of Dance
Sheila argues that, for her, dance offers a refuge, a space where she can freely explore her inner being on the rhythm of a preselected song. As a dance teacher she still values the potential of the dance to assist dancers to develop their own emotional response to the music – and by doing so, studying their own inner being. This exploration is not primarily a rational enterprise, it occurs within the realm of feelings. Therefore, it helps to escape the dominance of everyday life. Like Love in Beatrice’s text, dance creates a safe and warm environment. However, like Love, dance has a shadow side, a property that causes pain within the dancer.
“I would be satisfied if you just understood That I felt the need to do better than good”
Initially, this modified quote (from the lyrics) seems to suggest the dancer’s struggle to constantly improve her technique and skills in order to offer the audience a better version of herself. In the context of the original text about Love, and in the context of Sheila’s dance practice, this verse reveals insecurity about one’s own capacity to love or to dance and the fear of being judged. In Sheila’s story, the addressee of this verse could be both the (divine) lover and the audience. According to her, dance’s performative nature causes both pain and pleasure as it demands the dancer to transform herself and surrender to the gaze of the other (God, the lover, the audience).
As argued above that dance offers a space where emotions have free reign. According to Sheila, it is the ideal moment to escape reality and to focus on one’s inner voice, one’s inner rhythm. However, one cannot forget that dance is a performance art. Dance is not meant to be a private experience, it is supposed to be shared with an audience. Sheila recognizes her fear to surrender herselfcompletely – a fear known by both the dancer and the lover. She expresses the anguish of loneliness with the following passionate verses:
“My heart is yours, but still there’s no sound”
“So I’ll be forgotten and left behind Cursed to be searching blind Blinded by the pain, I can’t breathe, From heart, till throat, till mind, I bleed”
With these verses, Sheila expresses the psychosomatic effects of her fear to be left alone by the other. The dance teacher refers to the term vasodilation, a medical term that explains the widening of the veins when experiencing stress. Beatrice herself refers to a similar experience in her fifth way of Love.
The Afterlife of the Dancer
Sheila confesses to be scared of an audience that will not connect with her, unable to bridge the distance between stage and seeds, when “the body is walking on its own”. The dance requires – and the audience demands – the dancer to completely surrender herself; a complete self-emptying to become dance itself. Sheila writes: “Remember I am yours to be taken,” referring to the principle of performance art, one becomes the art piece – waiting to be experienced.This artistic self-sacrifice moves on the rhythm of desire, it pulses on the passion for dance. Both dance and Love require an endless devotion, only then the dancer-lover can be cured. Sheila writes: “my heart has forsaken my body,” her passion has led her to a point of no return. Her body is displayed on the stage and the heart is beating in time to the rhythm of the music, offered to the audience. Only when this heart is pure, bleeding for the love (of dance), the harmony between body and heart is restored and the dancer becomes the dance, the audience the worshippers. Sheila calls this state of unity the afterlife:
“Finally, together, forever inside Hope transformed into a reliable guide Being one makes me feel more than a wife, Take me with you to the afterlife”
7 WAYS OF LOVING – Lyrics
A sharp and restless feeling drives me insane, No stranger to me, but I can’t give it a name, It’s like someone lights a small fire, And so my heart is flooded with desire.
Desire in his unhealthy stage, Physical feeling is locked in a cage, I shall be satisfied if I could make you understood, That I have the need to do better than good.
If not, I will be waiting a lifetime longer, So please answer me so I can grow stronger; Strong enough to scream love out loud, My heart is yours, but still there’s no sound.
My heart is talking on its own, My body is walking all alone; Remember, I am yours to be taken, My heart has my body forsaken.
So I’ll be forgotten and left behind, Cursed to be searching blind; Blinded by the pain, I can’t breathe, From heart, till throat, till mind, I bleed.
Finally, together, forever inside, Hope transformed into a reliable guide; Being one makes me feel more than a wife, Take me with you to the afterlife.
And just when I released my fears, the end arrived; Destroyed, crushed and broken, but I survived. A swinging pain of desire it will be, But I am at peace with this path, you see, Because whatever happens, there will always be you and me.
Ondertusschen so wert minne so ongehmate ende so ouerbrekende in der sielen alse har seluen so starkeleke ende so verwoedelike berurt int herte, dat hare dunct, dat har herte menichfoudeleke wert seere gewont ende dat die wonden dagelix veruerschet werden ende verseert, in smerteliker weelichheiden en de in nuer iegenwordicheiden. Ende so dunct hare dat har adren ontpluken ende hare bloet verwalt ende hare march verswijnt ende hare been vercrencken ende hare borst verbernt ende hare kele verdroget, so dat hare anscijn ende al hare leden gevuelen der hitten van binnen en de des orwoeds van minnen.
In the fifth manner, Beatrice of Narareth – the writer of the short Middle Dutch mystical treatise On the Seven Manners of Holy Love – describes her psychosomatic response to the presence of Divine Love/God. Love rages through her body while her soul is captured in holy ecstasy. Throughout her treatise, Beatrice contemplates the nature of Love using seven manners to capture Her movement, alternating between presence and absence, ecstatic union and agonizing loneliness. In a way, the cycle of presence and absence is harmoniously repetitive, like ebb and flow, like seasons, like holy rituals.This tension between ecstasy and harmony was the main inspiration for both the video and the choreography.
This video was a close collaboration between the video artist, Jelle Wildiers and dancers Sander Vloebergs and Ina Wellens. Therefore, it is suitable to produce one blog post covering both perspectives. The rhythmic alternation between ecstasy and harmony are repeated in both cinematic and choreographic motions. The tension between Apollonial harmony and Dionysiac ecstasy is a theme in the music as well. In order to capture the ecstatic nature of the text, the dancers decided to focus on improvisation, while repeating certain pas de deux phrases which were choreographed and rehearsed in advance to resonate with the harmonic and ordered side of the text.
The video artist used fragments of the improvisation, fragments that illustrate harmonious repetition that occurseven during moments of ecstatic dance movements. After all, every dancer is bound to his embodied state and his own bodily memory. During improvisation, the dancer plays with familiar bodily patterns and unknown movements which are conjured up by the mood and the environment where the dance takes place. Furthermore, the artists decided to play with repetitive bodily functions such as breathing and blinkingto stress the repetitive nature of human-embodied life. The same use of patterns could be found in human love relationships when two people start to trust their harmonious exchange. These patterns are then again disturbed by moments of rapture, of intense breathing after physical exhaustion or increased heart rate when Love’s arrow strikes.
The artists decided together upon the location for the recording, namely a forest during autumn in order tostrengthen the relation between the video and the repetitive patterns which are beautifully shown by Nature herself. This location allowed for some great colorful contrast between the dark, but warm, tones of the fallen leaves (representing death and harmony) and the white skins of the dancers’ bodies(representing life and movement). In some shots, the whiteness of the body even recalls angelic light while the breathing and the sound of leaves evoke moments of heavenly bliss and harmony. These moments alternate with ecstatic movement, moments that are often presented hyperrealistically by placing the original sound of the recording over the music.
The excessive bodily phenomena, described by Beatrice in her fifth manner and accompanying the ecstatic experience of Love, are projected on Mother Nature’s body. The roots represent the veins which are about to be broken. The dancers’ bodies flash between Nature’s scars, finding love andrepetitively losing it. The images flash by on the vast speed of a beating heart, causing glimpses of ecstasis within the viewer. It is these moments of ecstatic rapture that make us feel alive;these moments of excessive Love keep the heart beating. However, dark tones were kept in the video to accentuate the darkness found within the text and to counter the romantic expectations of the viewer. After all, Love seems to escape our grasp and the threat of loneliness remains. Like Beatrice, the video artist plays with this friction between expectation and his rough visual language to deconstruct harmony and conjure rapture.
But for those who died and were destined to be saved, she danced so joyfully that it was a great marvel to see her so happy. (Christina 26, p. 142)
This project begins with the body. The body moves; it uses its own language and creates its own laws and dynamics. The role of the body has been reevaluated over the last several decades, and its intrinsic value for the human person has been acknowledged. This celebration of the human body is not new. Reading late medieval mystical sources, I discovered the dancing bodies of female saints, women from the Archdiocese of Liège (modern day Belgium). Those women not only praised the body as part of the human person (on an intellectual level), they also experienced a divine presence rushing through their veins, opening up their bodies as vessels for the divine to incarnate.
It is only natural that a dancer would gravitate towards these extraordinary moments of bodily extravagance, I believe. But why? How does my contemporary male body relate to a medieval female body? Is the language of dance enough to connect us, and to bridge eight centuries of embodied history? In this dance I try to discover the identity of these women and reflect on the bodily experience of dance that we share in common.
JOY AND PAIN IN CHRISTINA’S LIFE
For one night when the divine Spirit came upon her, the chains with which she was bound were loosed and, healed from all hurt, she walked around the cellar and danced, praising and blessing him for whom alone she had chosen to live and die. (Cristina 18, p. 138)
The woman who inspired me the most, at least as an anchor point and as a point of departure for this artistic and academic enterprise, was Christina the Astonishing, Christina Mirabilis. Christina was born in 1150 in the city of Sint-Truiden where she lived an extraordinary life, as her name suggests. Her body resembled the resurrected body, although it was not free of pain. On the contrary, the theme of bodily pain dominates the vita (saint’s life) of Christina. Nevertheless we cannot forget – as Amy Hollywood pointed out in her book Acute Melancholia – that there is also a strange sense of joy in Christina’s life, interwoven with all the horrific pain events.
“Often what is unspeakable is not Christina s suffering but her joy. Her ineffable song”. She poses the critical question: “Are we no longer capable of telling stories in which the unspeakable is the site of jubilation rather than lamentation, of beautiful voiceless song rather than inarticulate screams, of a body spinning with delight rather than one twisted in agony? (Amy Hollywood, Acute Melancholia)
I was inspired to experience this joy, felt by Christina and known to dancers who really engage in the transcendent sensation of becoming dance itself. Christina’s ecstatic rapture often translates to her moving in inexplicable ways, as she is taken up into a heavenly choreography.
When she wanted to pray, she shad to flee to treetops or towers or any lofty spot so that, remote from everyone, she might find rest for her spirit. And again when she prayed and the divine grace of contemplation descended upon her, all her limbs were gathered together into a ball as if they were hot wax, and all that could be perceived of her was a round mass. (Cristina 16, p. 137)
Christiana’s divinized dancing body was the source of inspiration for this particular choreography. I imagined her being weightless. I pictured the saint on the rooftop of the Church, defying gravity while being moved by the divine spirit. As a dancer I desire the same weightlessness and envy the saint’s privileged experience of this graceful unification with Dance itself. Through my choreography I tried to at least catch a glimpse of Christina’s experience. I believe this opportunity could not be taken by an academic reading of the text, simply because the body is not involved in this process of academic reading.
Now she was very familiar with the nuns of St Catherine’s outside the town of Sint-Truiden. Sometimes while she was sitting with them, she would speak of Christ and suddenly and unexpectedly she would be ravished in the spirit and her body would whirl around like a hoop in a children’s game. She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. When she had whirled around for a long time in this manner, it seemed as if she became weakened by the violence of the rolling and all her limbs grew quit. (35, p. 145)
On the dance floor, one experiences when the body is moved. When the body opens up its register and starts speaking, one is moved. I used this feeling of being moved and combined it with flowing movements, feeling the air/the spirit moving through my veins, like a soft breeze leading the way. The body awakens and is carried through the first phrase of dance, until the wind leaves the body and the dancer is left on the floor, lifeless until his body resurrects again – although this time more careful, conscience of the pains of the world. Sometimes the cross is evoked in the body of the dancer to refer to Christ, who – to Christina – is the source of life. Phrases of ecstatic joy and vulnerable intimacy coexist, intertwined in their unique pas de deux, until they fade out and the dance finds its disclosure in a position of prayer.