O-T-O Opens Its 15th Season With A Masterwork Of
Aerial Dance Based On The 13th-Century Writings Of A Sufi Poet And
By Mari Wadsworth
THIS WEEKEND, O-T-O opens its four-concert season with a masterwork
by long-time collaborator Robert Davidson, entitled Rapture: Rumi.
Created for his own company, this Tucson debut marks the first time Rumi
has been performed in several years, and the first time ever by
another company. A graceful and athletic work, performed almost
entirely in the air by the eight O-T-O dancers, it's assuredly a
dramatic opening for one of Tucson's most dynamic modern dance
Davidson, a respected modern dancer, aerialist and educator, last
presented a full-evening work for O-T-O with 1997's Airborne:
Meister Eckhart (coincidentally, also based on the works of a
13th-century spiritualist). He quips, "Maybe my next one will
be Dante, who was also [writing] at that time in Italy."
His 75-minute work is a "meditation" on the life of the
Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi and his mentor, a wandering holy man
known as Shams. Rapture: Rumi has 11 sections, loosely
structured around the meeting, spiritual merging and forced
separation of the two men. Each corresponds to a short poem from the
book Unseen Rain. Through music (an imaginative score by
composer Steven Flynn), movement and spoken word, this poetic
dramatization embodies Rumi's fundamental images of "the
magnificent perfection and mystery of circles, the drunkenness and
ecstasy of divine love, and the complex, dynamic tension between
Lover and Beloved." The program will be performed without an
Twenty-nine-year-old Charles Thompson plays the part of the
60-year-old Shams (formerly played by Davidson himself). UA
undergrad Matthew Henley is Rumi, who at age 24 (in 1231) succeeded
his father as the head of a long line of mystics and theologians;
Rumi was 37 at the beginning of his three-year relationship with
Shams. One of the most stunning segments in Rapture is the
11-minute duet "Shams and Rumi," in which the dancers
circle above the stage on a single trapeze in a combination that
includes suspending their prone bodies for several minutes above one
another, gliding through the air with deceptive ease in a fluid,
The strenuous duet leads seamlessly into "Perfection 1:
Spinning," in which the O-T-O women -- who appear throughout as
"manifestations of light, perfection, death and ecstasy"
-- return to four of the five trapezes. Eyes closed, Rumi
"imagines" the first dance of the Whirling Dervish,
revealed to us by trapezes spinning to an entrancing melody of wind
instruments. The circle of light slowly expands to reveal the other
dancers, and Davidson recites to them: "...my head here in my
hands/with something circling inside. I have no name for what
This rehearsal, less than a week before opening night, is only the
second (and last) they'll have with Davidson (who's flown in from
Denver for an intensive weekend of fine-tuning). The O-T-O dancers
learned most of the work from a video tape, and have been rehearsing
seven- to 12-hour days for the past month. Davidson seems pleased.
sway: The trapeze transforms movement into mysticism in
O-T-O' "Rapture Rumi."
"You can't believe what this does to your abs," he says
as one of the dancers raises his chin to his knees while spinning
upside down. In another minute, his arched neck will leave his chin
a mere inch or two from the ground as the trapeze unwinds with
Company dancer Mimi Chen similarly expounds Rapture's
physical demands, like the unavoidable nausea from repeatedly
spinning, upside down, the blood rushing to their heads. She has a
petite, balletic body, and she speaks almost with awe about the
upper-body strength the trapeze requires, especially of the men.
Under the guidance of Davidson, the dancers are so adept at their
illusions that their discomfort and even danger are eclipsed by
performances marked by a fluid ease of movement. Deliberate,
elongated movements mesmerize with their defiance of gravity, their
speed and fearlessness (a 12-foot gap between still trapezes shrinks
to inches during many of the combinations).
The beauty, suffering and ecstasy encountered in the quest for
enlightenment find a moving metaphor in Rapture: Rumi.
Throughout, we taste the spiritual subject matter as the dancers
struggle to float above their own mental and physical limitations.
It's a process captured by the poetic words of mentor Davidson, who
calls out directions like, "Before you die, you [must] rise
high and melt."
O-T-O performs Rapture: Rumi on October 15, 16 and
17, at the PCC Center for the Arts Proscenium Theater, 2202
W. Anklam Road. Show time is 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m
Sunday. Advance tickets are $8 and $10, available at Bentley's,
Antigone Books, Silverbell Trading, the CFA box office (206-6986)
or by e-mail at tickets@O-T-O.org.
For information, call 624-3799.