Session #2

Rituals, Thresholds,

© Boricatánc – elöl a „kuka” faálarcban (Pürkerec, v. Brassó m., 1963)
© Boricatánc – elöl a „kuka” faálarcban (Pürkerec, v. Brassó m., 1963)

01.10.21 — 10:00

CN D Pantin

10:00 — 2h.
Revelations of moving bodies: global ethnographic studies on dances in rituals

by Ann R. David (United Kingdom), Sinibaldo De Rosa (United Kingdom), Wayland Quintero (Hawaii, USA), Chi-Fang Chao (United Kingdom), Csilla Könczei (Romania)

These anthropological and ethnochoreological movement-based papers all address the use of dance in ritualised form to modify perceptions and to speak to that which remains unseen and unspoken, that belongs to nonverbal and interiorized dimensions of space, time, energy and emotions in the depth of consciousness. The panel will discuss global case studies from Romania, Bhutan, the Philippines, Turkey and Taiwan based on empirical data from the field.

The visible and the invisible: Tibetan Cham dance in Bhutan and its elaborate ritual performance

by Ann R. David (United Kingdom)

This paper addresses two key aspects of Tibetan Buddhist Cham dance in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan: the public facing display - colourful, noisy, long, intense and dramatic, and the hidden, secret, preparatory, meditative ritual practice that takes place in advance unseen by the public. Performed mainly by monks, and some lay practitioners, the dances are primarily ritual rather than entertainment. Not only do the dancers represent displays of power but they also symbolise various deities and for this, an awareness and focus on the deity rather a state of possession is necessary. The prior preparation enables that concentration to be total and powerful. I examine these two aspects of ritual efficacy, asking what unseen worlds are being summoned in these practices and what is the effect on both practitioners and the appreciative audiences.

Standing in the dâr: shrinking the body towards the verti- cal axis in Alevi rituals

by Sinibaldo De Rosa (United Kingdom)

Often during the ayn-i cem rituals, Alevi devotees narrow their kinesphere to enact specific postures called dâr. As forms of bodily ‘sealing’ (mühürleme), these postures con- cretize a sense of withdrawal from the world and willingness to surrender to the Alevi path. Normally derived from the Persian word for ‘wood’, the term is used as a synec- doche to mean ‘gallows’, thus highlighting the unjust per- secution and exemplary sacrifice of revered figures in Islam. The term is also used to indicate the ritual space’s central axis, echoing in the bodies a search for verticality which leads up to coordinated group whirling (semahs). In this proposition, I detail these postures and reflect on how the narrowing of the kinesphere and a search for verticality may foster the embodiment of specific ‘ritual’ qualities. I thus discuss their recent adaptation on stage while thinking of a few modern dance classics which were also inspired by body movements performed within the rituals of marginalized religious groups.

Do the ancestors smell blood too? Surely the spirits are invited to dance

by Wayland Quintero (USA)

My work is derived from multiple visits to the Northern Philippine highland community of Sagada. Ballangbang is the performative highlight within a week of rites tied to the rice cultivation cycle. Dancing with the striking of handheld flat gongs by men and women feature traditionalized motifs, bound movement, and counter-clockwise group circumabulation. Balllangbang follows processions by male members of the community, prayers, chants, and sacrifices of pigs, chickens, and a dog as offerings to the unseen realm. Olfactory stimuli of burning firewood, smoking cigarettes, charred feathers, and blood flowing from sacrificial animals are part of a multisensorial experience that threads through the performative actions of elder ritualists. It is believed that sensorial stimuli attract spirits of ancestors. The spirits are invited to dance in communal union with descendants who strike gongs and dance together moving as one body.

Vying over the body: the Christian spiritual healing among the dancers in contemporary Taiwan

by Chi-Fang Chao (United Kingdom)

Focusing on professionally trained contemporary dancers, my paper discusses categorization and interaction of body, spirit and mind as manifested in Christian healing rituals in urban Taiwan. How do contemporary dancers equipped with spe- cialised kinesthesis after long professional training perceive of embodied spiritual practices off the stage? In the last decades, the practice of Christian spiritual healing has brought in different approaches that require dancers to rede- fine their ‘moving body’ with techniques. Ritual healings provide vivid individual and social processes that transform the believers’ self-identification and cultural recognition of invisible spirits, only perceptible via the embodied practices from the ‘moved body’. My presentation explores this dynamic process where spirits vie over the body. The discussion starts with Csordas’ paradigm (1990) on embodiment, continuing with updated ethnographical studies on globalization of Pentecostalism in the current Eastern Asian context.

Inducing trance and ecstasy in the “borica” ritual from Transylvania, Romania

by Csilla Könczei (Romania)

My study centres on a traditional ritual called ‘borica’, which has been performed in the ‘Three villages’ in Transylvania, going back probably until the Middle Ages. What is intriguing is the essential difference between the movement strategies of the two main groupings of the ritual, that of the young men, and that of the masked figures called ‘kuka’. While the former ones execute a rigorous choreography, consisting of precise, coordinated steps and of sophisticated spacial shapes, the ‘kukas’ perform in an opposite way that is acknowledged by local people as an ‘anti-dance’. My hypothesis is that these two types of strategies lead to two different modalities of altered consciousness, which we could call trance-like and ecstasy-like moods. After a whole day of repeating the ritual in winter, the youngsters reach an “automatization” of their acting. Conversely, the ‘kukas’, who behave without spacial and temporal restrictions ‘go up to the fairy heaven’.

12:00 — 30 min.
Egúngún “Ghost dance”: a spiritual use of bodies and senses through artistic and religious performance

by Roxane Favier de Coulomb (France)

In Lomé (Togo), and in neighboring communities in Ghana and Benin, religious groups who worship spirits commonly known as “Ghosts” frequently put together public perform- ances whose aim is to provide a space where the (non- ancestralized) “evil departed” and deceased colleagues can tell their prophecies and entertain the population. These performances can only happen if a certain sacrificial ritual is performed beforehand in a secret “convent” (emic), and they feature full-body masks and costumes which are considered as the personification of the Ghosts. The latter are vindictive spirits craving sensory communication with the living, and we’ll see how their dance and their “theatre” (etic), as well as the tambourine players and other human vessels hired to convey their words, allow this communication with the public to happen, and how the public is involved in producing the performance itself, via the senses.

12:30 — 30 min.
Of flamenco dance and rituals: experiencing and thinking about emotional trance

by Anne-Sophie Riegler (France)

This paper means to shed light on the meaning(s) of a frequent comparison between flamenco dance and ritual, even though this dance isn’t technically an element of any form of an actual ritual, nor is it a ritual in itself. Rather than delving into the festive practices involved in flamenco, we’ll concentrate on the way that type of dance is staged, and the stage practices for which this comparison might seem irrelevant at first glance. Our aim will be to show that this comparison can make sense if it is connected to a phenomenon called duende, which we usually consider as intangible and indefinable, and which evades intellectualization or physical embodiment. We contend that in this case, the ritual allows to “convey the unsaid” and “flesh out the invisible”, and is therefore endowed with an epistemic, but also practical dimension, allowing both to think about the emotional trance in flamenco dance and to experience it.

of the International
Symposium Dances and Rituals