Performing Arts

Hypnogogia, Community and the Night: The Cabiri’s Ezid

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When I last saw The Cabiri, they had just finished a gorgeous reimagination of their show Carpathian Dawn in a partnership with the Radost Folk Ensemble. Their year had opened with Tewaz, the first part of their epic TEA trilogy, and had cruised through autumn. That season had brought forth a reprise of their 13 Witches show, for their Ghost Game Halloween series. It had been easily their busiest year since their beginning.

That winter the Cabiri’s artistic director John Murphy hopped on a plane to Iraqi Kurdistan to recharge his batteries. Working side by side with the Yezidi people of Sinjar rekindled his connection to ancient myth not as something written down and argued about by academics, but as life lived.

Myth as life lived–I wrote something similar when I reviewed Tewaz last year. The latest entry in the TEA trilogy, Ezid, brings this home in a much different way.

[media-credit name=”Bogdan Darev” align=”alignleft” width=”255″]11713912_10153802678784879_1845509625585473404_o[/media-credit]Picking up from the end of Tewaz, Ezid treats the birth of giants, the corruption of living souls by demons, and the battle of light against darkness. What was implied at the end of Tewaz becomes explicit. The union of humans and angels has bred giants. At first these giants are raised to be human but something goes very wrong and Gabriel’s prophecy that the offspring of angels and humans would lead to doom begins to manifest. A demonic spirit overtakes the human leaders and the giants. The possessed begin to war against humankind–although it’s not much of a war, because the humans don’t stand a chance. Even the Archangel Gabriel himself is defeated and imprisoned. From Hell itself, Tewaz returns to bestow upon humanity a divine rod of light that is the only thing able to defeat the demon and then…

Tewaz was all about beginnings. The origin of angels. The origin of giants. The origin of knowledge, and of the world itself. Appropriately, everything about it was primal. The full power of the circus and its ability to turn spectacle into ritual came out to play. The percussive music, the animalian costumes, the stark primary colored lights, the overall conception of the dancing as forceful combat–everything about that production grabbed one by the throat and forced one either to feel it as deeply as a heartbeat or reject it out of fear.

Ezid, on the other hand, does not enter into one’s consciousness through force but by finesse. Where Tewaz was brash, Ezid is subtle. It does not so much grab one by the throat as it does gradually submerge the audience into a hypnogogic state, mood by mood. The entire piece is like awakening to find that one is not only in a dream but is also aware of one’s dreaming. Like most second parts of a trilogy it does not triumph. It moves soberly, steadily, inexorably. If Tewaz represents the dawn–the dawn of humanity and knowledge–Ezid represents the eve. All throughout the piece explores archetypal images of the night–not only the literal night, but also the dark night of the soul and the coming of demons.

Abstractly, the night is represented by the figure of the watcher Tewaz dangling by chains in Gehenna, but more concrete manifestations of the night recur throughout. There are shadow puppets whose entire existence relies upon darkness. Video projections of contemporary Iraq beam over a dark stage. After the destruction of the village, a single bluish light evokes a lunar image in the middle of the stage while the rest of the stage is nearly black. A single musician dances slowly, very slowly, in a circle around the light, but never in it; the darkness conceals him as he pounds away a hypnotic rhythm on his frame drum. Demons and giants loom destructively, unseen in the darkness. Beholding this, I immediately recalled Goya’s etching, El sueño de la razón produce monstruos.

I’ve heard that people found Tewaz difficult to follow. I was not one of those people, but I assume that this perception stems from the work’s plenitude. There is so much going on in it that it may seem to some a surfeit rather than a feast. Overall that work was a series of physical and emotional shocks, hitting peak after peak after peak at full bore. Too, it is the first piece of the trilogy. Those who found that mystery difficult to take cannot claim the same of Ezid. Rather than being a series of physical and emotional shocks–or all-out assaults if one resists–its technique is spiritual seduction. Simple lines, simple sounds, simple dramas come slowly together, bit by bit, until every piece harmonizes, reaching an effusive transcendence something like listening to Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium, or like turning a Mani wheel ten thousand times until one feels part of the divine spirit itself.

[media-credit name=”Bogdan Darev” align=”alignright” width=”200″]11692547_10153802680089879_2540604920391759931_n[/media-credit]Between the two installments of the TEA trilogy, something indefinable but notable has happened to the group. The Cabiri have become not just a producing group but rather a kind of community. The past three years they have struggled to keep the same people together and in some ways this has prevented them from being their most effective. That slight fuzziness of purpose was something I noticed all throughout Ailuran, the bardo to the TEA trilogy, and it weakened that production seriously. That fuzziness has turned now to focus. In the process they’ve lost some people whose work I truly admire. I miss seeing Lauren Kettner, April McMorris, Danny Boulet, and Kirra Steinbrueck, who are off pursuing other projects. Yet seeing the group on stage now, one cannot doubt that there is a truthful, communal sense of purpose and a subtle kind of coherence that has not always been there in the past. And as surely as they’ve lost performers I admire, they have gained and regained others. I love seeing the divine Erica Sherman and Jody Poth back in the ensemble, and among the new faces Chloe Goolsby has been an absolute revelation who gets stronger with each turn she does in Cabiria.

I await the final installment of the trilogy with excitement. If the Cabiri can keep their focus and their renewed commitment all the way throughout, I have no doubt that they will, upon finishing, have created one of the finest epic works in Seattle’s history. Having given us the relentless day and the oppressive night, the third part will, I suspect, move from hypnogogia to hypnopompia in which the work aims to move its audience not from wakefulness to sleep, but from sleep to wakefulness and full consciousness.

Bring on the night.


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