Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey

Mythology for the Age of Aquarius

Richard Move’s Mythology for the Age of Aquarius

It finally happened. The Show (Achilles Heels) has delivered the conscious mythology for the Age of Aquarius.

The foremost element is the androgynous being. Mircea Eliade, the renowned teacher of comparative religion, writes: “Divine bisexuality is an element found in a great many religions and–a point worth nothing–even the most supremely masculine or feminine divinities are androgynous. Under whatever form divinity manifests itself, he or she is the ultimate reality, absolute power, and this reality, this power, will not let itself be limited by any attributes whatsoever (good, evil, masculine, feminine or anything else).”

Mikhail Baryshnikov flew cross the stage and into the collective consciousness in the final decades of the 20th Century as if he had wings. In elevating this contemporary icon’s personal story into universal myth, Richard Move draws from his own rich history of transsexual underground performance to deliver the guiding symbol of the Age of Aquarius: the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage of opposites.

The Show (Achilles Heels) brings an iconoclastic new form of gender-bending storytelling to the avant-garde, integrating conscious/unconscious through the marriage of word, symbol, image and movement as it boldly crosses boundaries between theater, dance, rock concert and opera to deliver a contemporary version of the life/death/rebirth cycle of the mythical hero’s journey.

Creator, director and choreographer Richard Move conceived this evolutionary work as an allegorical tale of a dancer who couldn’t get off the stage.

collaborators Misha Baryshnikov (L) and Richard Move (R)

The Origin

The Show is one of the first works commissioned by the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation, whose founder danced the role of Achilles in last year’s New Jersey preview and European tour. With its New York premiere this spring, in the womblike atmosphere of The Kitchen, the collaborative MoveOpolis! enterprise took a new form with three show stoppers: Debbie Harry playing Athena and the international phenomenon Rasta Thomas (Movin’ Out) in the role of Achilles with Baryshnikov as his voice.

The non-linear narrative, with dancers spiraling between Greek chorus and game show entertainers, is perfectly suited to Move’s personal history of cross gendering performance. For example, men’s voices come from the mouths of the female chorus wearing Pilar Limosner’s gender neutered jumpsuits. Moreover, the populist route of game show hero transforms this contemporary Achilles into a Nietzsche superman existing beyond the opposites of good and evil–with the help of a golden female breast-plate and a pair of glittery heels.

The Divine Son

Achilles is identified with the divine son by the solar image on his scarf. In his superb blend of theatricality, body consciousness and technique required by the role, Thomas subverts the unprotected heel marking the hero’s vulnerability on the Trojan battlefield to the stiletto heel celebrating the transgender icon–the son/lover of the newly arisen goddess. (“Misha came into my life as a divine gift from God,” Martha Graham writes in her memoir, Blood Memory.)

Once the hero embraces his feminine nature, he embarks on an exquisite dance of alchemical transformation with his lover Petroclus (Miguel Anaya). This manifestation of the transsexual icon in harmonious flow takes place against Nicole Eisenman’s painted backdrop of naked men in physical combat.

Katherine Crockett’s Helen was draped in the laced drama of an Arabian belly dancer, but her angular masculine movements personify the androgynous female Graham was forced to embody as an agent of 20th Century modernism. This contrast in their ways of in movement between woman acting out her animus and men expressing their anima was Move’s brilliant Jungian instinct, marking an individual expression of the hieros gamos which bursts through as a flower in bloom as Eisenman’s backdrop turns to engaging feminine forms for the latter half of the performance.

Debbie Harry as Athena

Resurrecting the Kundalini

Move has infused the pro-active boundary smashing erotic power of the pre-patriarchal Venus into Debbie Harry, evoking all archetypes of the feminine through frequent wardrobe changes–from Athena’s jacketed game show host to Aphrodite’s slinky red gown to Artemis’ Pucci camouflage warrior and Hera’s dramatic mourning suit. The multiple images are fused by the passion the pop icon bestows on her Beloved, serenading Achilles with Beautiful Creature, created in collaboration for The Show, and bidding his mortality a fond farewell in Blondie’s Fade Away and Radiate at the end.

Catherine Cabeen

The Game Show Culture

With the erotically satiric pop goddess as host, It’s Greek to Me is a devastating depiction of how the entertainment industry packages the kundalini into innocuous packages–the women in quasi harem tops and men in a combo Kung Fu/hip-hop getup. The alluring Thomas utilizes the audience as his mirror while he playfully poses and postures his body into the form of classical Greek statues reminiscent of the very early work of Graham. This satire of reality TV is an accurate depiction of how the fusion of cosmology and icon potentially serve as mirrors to the collective consciousness–even as the corporate entertainment culture subverts this natural process through a fixation on the easily digestible. What was illusionist Blaine’s flotation in the aquarium spectacle about if not the death of the Piscean Age symbol of the fish?

Yet, the unpredictable element representing the transformation spiral of the kundalini from the heel to the crown of the head, where the sacred marriage takes place, is the androgynous sky goddess. The archetype appears in the form of the bare breasted Catherine Cabeen, wings represented by sleeves of white fringe. This is the embodied icon of an authentic feminine liberation.

The Myth of the Eternal Return

In his last game show appearance, Achilles is given a choice: to die as a mythical hero on the battlefield or to live. He is silent and the inevitable takes place amidst falling bodies. The reaction to his death is a lamentation like that for the consort/son Tammuz in Babylon. The female dancers appear solemn and naked under black veils, holding mechanical doves with flapping wings symbolizing resurrection.

Achilles has died but his spirit rises to give birth to a new age. In creating this universal myth for our time, Move has given tribute to the goddess of dance, Martha Graham who like her beloved Misha–couldn’t get off the stage, so intent was she on penetrating through the patriarchal grid to arrive at the ever-present origin of the Aquarian Age icon.

The hieros gamos appeared as an annual rite at the dawn of history on the very territory–Iraq–where the battle for the future is being fought today. This explains the Arabian appearance of Helen. Women today are also used as an excuse for war, but as we have learned, men don’t fight battles over women. How fortunate for all of us that artists do!

c.  Lisa Paul Streitfeld (published in NY Arts Magazine, spring 2005)

1 Comment »

  1. like very mush!

    Comment by marga | November 5, 2010 | Reply


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