Dancing with the Shadow

Eleanor Alberga's composition, Dancing with the Shadow, was commissioned by Lontano, a British performing ensemble specializing in twentieth century music. It is a 30-minute dance work in five sections. The Suite is adapted from sections I, IV, and V and can be heard on LORELt CD LNT103: British Women Composers, volume 2, and on Oxford University Press CD OUP 001: Twentieth Century Chamber Sampler. The work depicts a conscious embrace of the darker side of the human psyche to create transformation and unity. The following program notes were written by Victoria Beatty for Springkeeper's USA première of the Suite on June 4, 1994, at the Austin Mostly Music Marathon (benefiting AIDS Services of Austin).

Paradox and the Shadow

When we consciously approach the shadow, we open Pandora's box, discovering hidden contents of our personality which we have shunned and rejected. Yet here we enter the realm of paradox, because, like Pandora, who also discovered Hope among her demons, we discover that the shadow contains much that is beautiful and creative, buried like hidden treasure in the most unlikely places.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke has said that our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure. "Find out what a person fears most," said Jung, "and that is where he will develop next.". The alchemist Morienus taught that "The gateway to peace is exceedingly narrow, and no one may enter except through the agony of his own soul." In The Cocktail Party, T.S. Eliot describes this dark night of the soul:

[This way] is unknown, and so requires faith —
The kind of faith that issues from despair
The destination cannot be described:
You will know very little until you get there
You will journey blind. But the way leads toward possession
Of what you have sought for in the wrong place.

During the Renaissance, the physician and alchemist Paracelsus wrote:

Decay is the beginning of all birth....Decay is the midwife of very great things! It brings about the birth and rebirth of forms a thousand times improved. And this is the highest and greatest mysterium of God, the deepest mystery that He has revealed to mortal man.

T.S. Eliot addressed this idea again in the : "The fire and the rose are one." The purifying fire of transformation and the flower of rebirth are one and the same. Paradox appears to be one of the defining precepts of existence, described by mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians in all ages and in every part of the world.

In the apocryphal Acts pf John, the ritual for a sacred dance is described. The Acts tells how Jesus, anticipating arrest, gathered his followers into a circle, holding hands, to dance, while he himself stood in the center, chanting. The chant inviteds the dancers to recognize that Christ's suffering is actually the suffering of all humanity. John relates that after the dance, Jesus' followers fled. During the crucifiction, John sat in a cave grieving, and Christ suddenly appeared to him in a vision and explained the paradox of human existence — that while the mortal being suffers, the divine being within simultaneously transcends suffering:

And my Lord stood in the middle of the cave and gave light to it and said, "John, for the people below in Jerusalem I am being given gall and vinegar to drink. But to you I am speaking, and listen to what I speak....You hear that I suffered, yet I suffered not; and that I suffered not, yet I did suffer; and that I was pierced, yet I was not wounded; that I was hanged, yet I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, yet it did not flow.

In the ritual of the dance, Jesus chants:

I am a mirror to you
who know me. Amen.
I am a way to you,
the traveler. Amen.
To the universe
belongs the dancer. Amen.
Whoever does not dance
does not know what happens. Amen.

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