Preview: TEWAZ at Cornish Playhouse

Photo by Omar Willey.Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Photo by Omar Willey.
Licensed CC-BY-SA.

All Hallow’s Eve of 2012. I am sitting with the Cabiri’s artistic director John Murphy as we discuss the end of the Mayan long calendar and the end of the world with it. He is noticeably excited.

“I’ve been looking at all our Cabiri shows,” he tells me. “And I realize we’ve been exploring a whole story out of order. I think I’ve finally found the beginning. You saw it, didn’t you?”

I am curious. What I remember seeing a couple days earlier during the Ghost Game VII: Beneath a Wing-Darkened Sky felt like an end and a beginning, though I had no idea of what. The final piece, with 7 Macaw bringing the rebirth of the world had a moment of utter, enveloping darkness. The entire house went completely black, then over everything came a massive projection of the Nebula in Orion.

Then it dawns on me. He’s talking about angels.

In Aramaic, the word for the constellation of Orion is “nephila,” from which the word Nephilim comes (at least according to some versions). This was his oblique–extremely oblique–clue to the audience about what’s coming next.

I can hardly wait to hear this one.

“So you’ve spent seven years doing these myth-based shows and now you’re going to tell the story of the Nephilim?”

“Exactly!” His eyes light up. “I want to explore the question of how to do a myth-based story when there’s no myth.”

I just look at him and smile.

***

Photo by Omar Willey.Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Photo by Omar Willey.
Licensed CC-BY-SA.

It’s 2013 now. I’m talking to Mr. Murphy just as he leaves the hospital.

It’s been a difficult road for The Cabiri since last October. They’ve lost their two primary choreographers, and multiple dancers, some for lack of time, some for “personal reasons,” and still others through injury.

Mr. Murphy himself is nursing an injury that has waylaid him for almost four months. His mood is more dour than it was at Halloween. Yet the project keeps him going.

“I don’t know,” he says, “the support in the community seems to be at an all-time low. I don’t know if we can make this happen. But we have to. This won’t wait.”

I can understand his frustration. To be ambitious is to know frustration constantly. How much truer that is in the arts when other people’s bodies and time and dedication is a requirement. I clear my voice before I quote the immortal words of Super Chicken.

“You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred.”

For the first time in a month, I hear him laugh. I take that as a good sign.

***

Photo by Omar Willey.Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Photo by Omar Willey.
Licensed CC-BY-SA.

I’m reading the review of Ailuran: The Bardo to Tewaz from Seattle Dances and become aware of The Cabiri’s problem, not as artists but rather as buskers. Circus people, even the nouveau cirque people that they have taught themselves, have a difficult time with the depth of material and wonder why there isn’t more spectacle. Fans of dance, meanwhile, cannot grasp their work’s penchant to revive ancient forms and unities and in typical fashion wonder why there isn’t more modern dance technique.

Further proof that you can’t please everybody.

What circus and dance people have in common, however, is that both seem ill-equipped to handle the mythological dimension of The Cabiri’s work. They do not understand that it is not simply for style or spectacle, but rather their entire reason to exist. Looking around at the rise of television shows based on legends and fairy tales like Once Upon a Time, Grimm and even the CW’s lineup of pretty-boy vampires and witches, I find this amusing. People obviously crave myth and legend, yet they are somehow overwhelmed by it in its purer forms.

Cabiri shows are far from purely cerebral. If anything they tend to be visceral before they are intellectual. And yet…why do people balk at the mythic basis of their work?

I think about the Egregore, the Nephilim, the angels, the Book of Genesis. Everyone knows these stories, yet they’ve absorbed a sanitary version as the gospel. If I know Cabiria, and I think I do, I am sure Tewaz will be anything but sanitary.

I can hardly wait to read the reviews this time.

***

Photo by Omar Willey.Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Photo by Omar Willey.
Licensed CC-BY-SA.

It’s the next to last tech rehearsal. The atmosphere fills alternately with hunger, indecision, impatience and exhaustion–like every other tech rehearsal I’ve been in. This time, though, I’m lying low with my camera, calling no attention to myself, and simply letting things happen.

I strike up conversations with various people along the way, as each of them sits down and relaxes whenever they are not in a scene. I sit and chat for awhile with Julie Istvan, who has barely been in the show a week, after having to fill in for another dancer. “I used to get really agitated and worried during tech,” she tells me. “Now…naw. It’s not worth it. Everything will come together. It always does. So why worry? Just go do your best and pay attention.”

Sage advice. The younger dancers are a bit more nervous than the others. One would expect that, and so it is. Performance coach Marshall Garfield has returned from his international travels and his guest appearance at the Aerial Acrobatic Arts Festival to come and put the final gloss on the production. Technical matters: space, height, timing–all these are his focus. His directions are precise and professional–just as one would expect from a former head coach of the renowned Cirque du Soleil.

Through all the fatigue, I can still feel electricity in the air. Everyone wants this show to be perfect. They are willing to put in 16-20 hours a day all week to make it happen. And people think that artists don’t do any real work.

I am getting the first glimpses of the sets, the costumes, the masks, the puppets, the drums–all the guts of Tewaz.

I’m excited to see it all come together on Friday night. This will certainly be the most ambitious piece I’ve ever seen in the Cornish Playhouse, and I have seen a lot of shows here. I want to share my excitement with the world, but all I have are photographs.

Filed under Performing Arts

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net