Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whirling Dervishes of Turkey - Istanbul Music and Sema Group - 29 August Edinburgh Festival Theatre

This was an interesting evening which suffered from an identity crisis. It was billed as part of the Edinburgh Festival's dance programme, which was a bit tenuous as the first half consisted solely of music: some instrumental, some sung. The musicians were all very good, though after a while the music became a little monotonous: I enjoyed the performance but wouldn't want a recording of it.

The second half wasn't strictly dance either, being the religious ceremony of the Mevlevi order, in which they rotate so as to become closer to God. In the same way that T'ai Chi is a kind of moving meditation, so the whirling of the dervishes is a method for attuning themselves to a different reality. Anyway, it isn't dance, and I suspect there may have been people who were nonplussed or disappointed by it.

Visually it was entrancing. The turning dervishes wore long white robes with weights in the hem of the skirt which caused them to billow out in a characteristic way (the skirts must have been cleverly shaped, as they spun out into a wave shape rather than a simple cone). Sometimes they were illuminated with coloured lights.

The overall effect was a little like watching a staged version of a Catholic Mass - a little weird but very interesting and aesthetically very pleasing. I can't help wondering how it feels for the dervishes, performing their religious rituals night after night in front of paying audiences I'm sure while they're performing they don't feel odd (they will be, after all, in a trance-like state) but they must feel odd before and after the ritual.


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