I squirm in my seat, convinced I know exactly what to expect: the show starts with a man blowing folk-tunes on a leaf. In her pink, sequinned costume she could have lost heart in this troupe forced on tourists. Not so. I’m forced to sit up in my seat at once by the awareness she projects to the ends of her human body. Not a cell seems to sleep, and when she orbits away from my gaze I still feel the concentration of her face staring at me in her hands, in her feet, in the effortless torsion of her spine:
Watch me if you can thoroughly, she dares. Match me this aliveness with your own!
Even the dismal clapping of the crowd cannot drown her dancing from my nerves.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, an inspiring book for anyone who finds most of their happiness in living comes from trying every day just to make something a little bit beautiful. Her emphasis on discipline and the importance of making art for love rather than money are two aspects that certainly struck a true chord with me . . .
She ends the book with a section entitled “Divinity”, comprising a single anecdote about the sacred temple dances of Bali. The following paragraphs helped me make sense of the incident described in Dancer at Sanya”, in which profane and sacred collide disconcertingly:
They decided that they would make up some new dances that were not sacred, and they would perform only these certified “divinity-free” dances for the tourists at the resorts. The sacred dances would be returned to the temples and would be reserved for religious ceremonies only.
And that is exactly what they did. They did it easily, too, with no drama and no trauma. Adapting gestures and steps from the old sacred dances, they devised what were essentially gibberish dances, and commenced performing these nonsense gyrations at the tourist resorts for money . . .
The thing is, over the next few years, those silly new meaningless dances became increasingly refined. The young boys and girls grew into them, and, working with a new sense of freedom and innovation, they gradually transformed the performances into something quite magnificent. In fact, the dances were becoming rather transcendent. In another example of an inadvertent séance, it appeared that those Balinese dancers — despite all their best efforts to be unspiritual — were unwittingly calling down Big Magic from the heavens, anyhow. Right there by the swimming pool.
There’s actually quite a good deal of material on-line about Balinese dancing. If you’re curious, you can take a look here. And here’s some Gilbert on Big Magic.
Perhaps it’s just that the human mind is incapable of imagining anything that doesn’t begin.
— Diana Athill, “Whistling in the Dark”
He says, “Latch the old door well before we both catch cold, son. . . .” Seated in a square of light spitting image of the frost we watch together through a warped timber window-frame Moon muse in a museum of stars and dark artefacts:
Something beginning with . . .
Somewhere foxes do their rounds regardless, marking with telltale brown turds highlights of the chill territory and hares lope nose down over scent-trails, doubling back where the smell ties itself in knots — no, a hare is never tangled by such tricks. After the moon has gone, the house cracks loudly of its own accord — it doesn’t split our connection with concentration, but it’s hard not to get lost in imaginary after-shocks courtesy of the head’s echo-chamber. I hear him ask me in a hoarse whisper, as he nudges me with a boot, “Hey, you still all there?” The way I say nothing through the air gives him just as good as the answer he expects:
The river shivers in its concrete canal, ludicrously rain-drenched. The surging current swollen by drains is offset by single stock-still birds. Their statue is prayer their hunger prays to the Gods of Wildlife and Fisheries. I know I wish I knew how to stand like that: out of my depth for an unknown good, intent on the flow of concentration, and with only the eyes in the back of my head living.
Photograph: 香港沙田萬佛寺 Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple, Sha Tin, Hong Kong (2017)
But there he was, kissing the footpath with his knees, precisely motionless against the stop-start traffic’s kick-the-curb impatience beside the heart-lifting red and blue, and green of the patterned Chinese memorial gateway — Earth’s short arch to Heaven — near Russell Street. Steeply bent over a basin half-filled with kitchen water, as predictably chill Melbourne rain began to spit through storey-tall gaps in the sky-line, his intensity tingled the low-key atmosphere, but it wasn’t the touch of the rain he needed: the coins submerged in his liquid offering spelt a different, more drastic prayer, here drowning far out the white-hot-shortness of debt.
Whatever the Doctor orders, is there any cure for crying out loud? Where the po social face wonders under control, the force of her features lives with a distinct livelihood of its own, owning up to everything feeling, and not toning down for shame what captures her imagitation. A ray of hope or a stingray of doubt — these never take second place to cool schooled composure, and when — again for crying out loud — she is bigger than World Protocol, tears streaming down her cheeks and embarrassment singe-ing her singing nerves, she remains single in that vivid affirmation, sparkle-arkle-arkling at us all.
Things admitted to weather beauty without glare. The red rust of old house-roofs rests sorely animate eyes. Posts unpainted by the elements refine texture in the same way as driftwood — sight is nothing but soothed by childhood’s grain-patterning in timber. Lichen is the flower born to no notice: its muted green coral maps bare stone oceans of rock. What is inconspicuous invites us indefinitely to look the other way — less in easy love with glamour,