Sunday, February 04, 2007

The dervish, she whirls

She turns and she turns and she turns. She stays mostly in one spot but at the same time goes oh so far away. Where she goes is known only to her and perhaps the others that turn next to her or not next to her. I suspect I will never know the place where she goes. It is not mine to know. A lot of faith and meditation and singlemindedness may allow for such a journey but it would only be the beginning. I am not sure that I even want to go there: I am only sure that I know she is happier no place else. That is the draw.

I am speaking of Mira Burke, a modern day dervish that some have called avant garde in her approach to the ancient practice. Her turning evokes all that she feels as she cyclically prays, because not only does she turn and turn and turn: her body wrenches with perpetual moments of true feeling as she does so, thereby changing an onlooker's response from the expected hypnotic transcendence to one of shared knowledge, shared understanding, shared feeling, albeit fleeting. So so fleeting.

The transcendence is only intensified by the accompaniment of Sufi-inspired electronic sampling provided by the Turkish-Canadian composer Mercan Dede. He and his Secret Tribe lull both the dervish and the onlookers into an altered state of consciousness by pairing electronic beats with the more traditional sounds of the drum, the clarinet, the kanun, and the ney. Dede rivals the dervish in his ability to captivate the audience [whether he is clanging his tiny cymbals or manipulating his mixing board or simply just moving to the music], but he is also in complete harmony with her. He has also been called a modern day dervish, so perhaps he goes to the same place as she does when he turns the music on his table. Perhaps they go together, leaving only their bodies behind. The closing of one's eyes renders their physicality inconsequential, leaving only the music, the haunting, beating, infiltrating music. But then the whirling would go unseen. The visual and the aural must go hand in hand.

All of this begins to fade as soon as one ventures from the dimly lit warmth of Trinity St. Paul's Church, into the biting cold of the unforgiving midwinter night. It fades a little further as you run to catch the streetcar to avoid waiting untold lengths of time for the next one to come screeching through the night. There are no dervishes on board, and if there were, they would be regarded with much disdain, because any overt sign of spiritual devotion is generally frowned upon in the public transit system. Of course, it is possible to go to a different place, that is to say, it is possible to transcend the here and the now by simply staring straight ahead into oblivion, or better yet, at a wall. No whirling necessary.

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