Cleansing the Senses: Open Movement and the ecstatic dance

New York, 1979, Rose has just returned from being in Poland with Jerzy Grotowski's Laboratory Theatre. Sitting in a Polish restaurant with fellow "scene" performers on New York's Lower East Side, Rose reveals how deeply he was inspired by his training and experiences in Poland, "Cleansing the Senses…To live and create more fully, " he declares, "That's one of the goals."

As Rose gains confidence in sharing his understanding in a string of active verbs that describe a transformed state of being and dance, he suddenly finds himself deserted by his audience, his fellow actors. He is left alone with the Polish waitress to whom he performs the opening section of Invocacia, by Adam Mickiewiwcz, in Polish. Rose has become an exile in his own context. He is no longer in Poland at the Laboratory Theater that had become his artistic home. He is displaced from the cultural homeland invoked in the Polish poem and to which he feels linked through his own Lithuanian grandmother. In a more general sense, he is exiled by his own pursuit of ecstatic performance: who else will participate in this project?

photo: Dirk Michael Deckbar, © 2005

In the Polish restaurant on NY's Lower East Side, we experience Rose's struggle with cultural and artistic authenticity. His questioning evolves in a given sequence: The return from Poland to New York and from one artistic and cultural scene to another. The food might taste the same, and the waitress may be Polish. Still the expectation that the resonance of Open Movement that Rose carries within himself can be transplanted to his hometown is at least momentarily delayed. The audience of potential collaborators dwindles to one: the authentically Polish waitress. Rose has not yet arrived, nor has he yet captured this new stage that he desires. The Shakespearean sonnet with which he ends his performance, however, beautifully expresses his will to do so.

A seated Rose, speaking into his shoes, recites Sonnet #15. One can interpret this poem as an Ode to the Present Moment and to Time's Check on Youthful Vigor and Ascent. As the poem turns to the unknowable relation between the proliferation of worldly things and the celestial sphere - "That this huge stage presenteth naught / But shows whereon the stars in secret influence comment" - Rose addresses the words to his shoes' dark and hidden interior before slipping them on his feet. Is this a kind of cosmic joke: the sphere above slipped over one sole and then another before being pressed to the ground?

In Cleansing the Senses the ground of performance is charged. Rose is the lyrical Pan, prancing on the grass mound coaxing it with his at times half-crazed evocation and song to swell and crack, revealing or releasing the buried bones. He charges at these suggestive remains, shaping his relation to them and inviting the ephemeral identities to dance until they fall again to pieces and slip back into the crack.

The work ends as it has begun: with two lit candles: the gate or many gates through which we have flowed. …"And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time…When the tongues of flames are in-folded / Into the crowned knot of fire / And the fire and the rose are one."


Cecile Rossant, © 2006

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About the author:

Cecile Rossant is a writer and teacher. Author of a new collection of short fiction, About Face, (Red Hen Press 2004), Rossant's stories have also appeared in Salt Hill, EXBERLINER and the anthology of contemporary fiction, The Crucifix is Down (Red Hen Press 2005). Her new novel, Tokyo Bay Traffic, is forthcoming from the Red Hen Press.

For further information see her website: