from "Orphans of Delirium" (Lab/Performance/video; San Francisco 2004)
The phrase “paratheatrical research” came to me in 1977 from the visionary work of the late Polish theatre director, Jerzy Grotowski, whose approaches I deeply respect but am neither emulating nor attempting to replicate. After reading Grotowski’s book Towards a Poor Theatre and viewing the film document of his Polish Lab’s performance of Akropolis, I was compelled to continue researching how rituals might work without dogma and how these processes might culminate in a new paratheatrical medium.
One of the ongoing objectives of this medium would be finding methods to discover individual movements, actions, and group rituals triggering miraculous interactions. They would be miraculous whenever they could invoke (by sound & word) or evoke (by feeling & motion) strong spiritual and visceral resonances erupting in spontaneous gestures, patterns of motion, vocal creations, characterizations, and maybe stories that could be shared with others through resonance, rather than as linear narratives. Achieving this idea of transmission through resonance would require an act of total commitment on behalf of the performer, or ritualist or dancer, to their own spiritual and visceral resonances, resonances that would ripple outwards, like the resonating vibrations of music, to touch others.
Experiencing the miraculous requires a kind of double vision capable of holding vertical and horizontal planes together as vertical and horizontal dimensions of existence. The invisible sources of energy and information coming down from above through the crown (top of the head) and the invisible sources of energy and information rising up from below through the soles of the feet and the base of the spine, form a vertical column of energy aligned with the spine. The horizontal plane of energies and information can be experienced as the visible manifestations of our interactions with others, society, political realities, family, and the out-there world at large. Vertical is up, down and within; horizontal, out there, around, and across. This is no dogma or belief but an attempt at framing this double vision. When individuals choose to interact amongst themselves from a higher commitment to their vertical integrity, conditions are primed for witnessing and engaging the miraculous. When this occurs, a new kind of group unity can develop that doesn’t negate the individual but allows for a kind of miraculous interaction of self-governing bodies...
from "A Turbulence of Muses" (Lab/performance; Portland OR; 2016)
To cultivate resonance with vertical sources is not easy. This kind of inner work persists as an uphill struggle against the grain of decades of horizontal, socially-conditioned, externally-directed habit patterns. Accessing our verticality can act as an irritant to anyone identified exclusively with the horizontal plane of existence. The shock of authentic vertical contact, no matter how fleeting, can shatter unchecked assumptions about the world around us and who we think we are. Any real intimacy with Void can stir deep questioning about identity and the nature of reality.
Some vertically-oriented experiences can act as wake-up calls, alerting us to widespread socio-political oppression in our lives. We may be bolted into outright renunciation and rebellion against all social dogmas, religions, and externally imposed belief systems severely compromising our autonomy. However any revolt, no matter how sincere or energized, can prove futile if our very resistance binds us further to the source of our oppression; we become what we resist. While breaking out of self-imposed oppressions and our more socially-conditioned habits and reflexes, we must also be willing and able to replace them with a greater force of commitment to our own truths. It’s not what you fight against that matters as much as knowing what is worth fighting for.
When we lose touch with our vertical sources, we lose perspective. Our lives become trivialized in a tangle of meaningless pursuits. We do things without knowing why. We lose track of what is essential to our nature, what matters and what doesn’t. All symptoms of power loss. In an attempt to regain lost ground, we may try and assert control by imposing rigid rules and structures over the spontaneous fluidity of life -- our own life or the lives of others -- resulting in a vain and vicious cycle. Loss of vertical context can also result from over-identification with ideas and images lacking vital connection with the realities those concepts supposedly represent; we eat the menu instead of the meal. On the other extreme, when we lose our horizontal connection we can suffer loss of community, or common-unity, with our peers. Alienated and isolated, the ego grows brittle, the will to live can wither and we suffer a slow death on the inside or go mad from sheer isolation.
This paratheatrical work is a highly disciplined approach to developing rituals for restoring vertical stability from a fierce stance of personal integrity and autonomy. The degree of commitment required for this approach to work is enormous, commitment to your own direct experience. To work towards this end is challenging; to live your life this way is almost impossible. It can be miraculous.
Instigating a vertical value into any group dynamic often runs against the grain of social expectations. Social gatherings are defined by socially-accepted (horizontal) promises of entertainment, intellectual stimulus, emotional support, ego status, courtship potential and a sense of belonging; all social incentives. When these social motives are replaced by more austere asocial intentions (such as No-Form), they collapse; there’s nowhere for them to go.
"Fallen Monsters"rehearsal (April 2018, Portland OR)
THE ASOCIAL INTENT
It must be said that this paratheatrical medium works most effectively in an asocial climate. Asocial, not to be confused with antisocial, refers to a creative climate where interaction is not based on meeting social needs. Initiating an asocial intent for meeting in a group starts with realizing a certain non-responsibility to others in the workspace when each individual vows to be responsible for their own safety and for their own creative states. This pledge minimizes socially ingrained obligations, such as seeking or giving assurance, approval or providing unnecessary parental protection or acting out courtship behaviors. This vow of self-responsibility frustrates the parent/child fixations compelling us to expect others to make us safe and/or to make others feel safe. Taking this vow defines the group as self-accountable adults committed to a creative process, rather than a social one. Anyone unwilling &/or unable to hold themselves to this self-accountability are discouraged to do this work until they are ready to do so.
Becoming responsible for your own safety means tending to your own fears, needs and personal limitations as they emerge. By overlooking these issues it is easy to silently expect others to make you safe, i.e., to be your dad or mum. Making yourself safe prepares the ground for creativity; when a child feels safe, the child can play. Creative states flourish in a state of trust, i.e., feeling safe enough to take risks. The objectives presented in this work depend on your own processes of fulfillment. By finding your own way to realize these goals, you earn more autonomy and integrity.
At first, this adjustment can act as a kind of anxiety-producing social shock or elicit social guilt for indulging in self-centered behavior in groups until assured of their long-term social value. Working in an asocial climate can support new ways of interacting with others from higher levels of individual integrity and autonomy. The goal here is not to develop individuality for its own sake, which merely dead ends in narcissism. Our aim in this paratheatrical work is to discover ways of interacting with others from a deepening sense of personal sovereignty.
Once a paratheatrical group understands from the very start that it is working to cultivate an asocial climate for ritual purposes, a kind of rare area can substantiate itself with the second asocial task of getting your attention off of yourself and onto the space itself. This literally means relating to the space — the workspace — rather than the things and/or people in that space. How does this occur ? By discovering your own way of relating with the space by how you physically move through that space. This task can take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes.
No-Form Circle from "Dreaming Ritual" Lab/Video (2012, Berkeley CA)
NO-FORM: Intimacy with Void
The void can be pointless to talk, think or write about. Its very nature is not subject to categorization by ideas, images or anything conceptual mind is capable of creating. There are no security, status, symbolic or social rewards given out for being nothing. Nobody wants to be a nobody. However, as all self-governing bodies eventually realize, real power (not control), real freedom (not ego-independence) and real creativity (not entertainment) stem from any ongoing personal rapport with the formless, invisible sources behind all palpable, visible and manifest effects. To continue interacting with void, we must find ways to refer to it and invite its presence. This state of potential energy is referred to in this medium as No-Form.
THE CONTACT POINT: Direct Intuitive Engagement
From the state of No-Form any quality or force can be accessed through an existing contact point. The contact point is wherever direct, intuitive absorption of a particular energetic state is already happening; one has only to locate it. It already exists in the body as a source of energy. This is an important point to grasp, as the qualities and energies explored in this medium are not always of the imagination. Our biology emanates a complexity of energy dynamics most of which, like the organs themselves, cannot be seen yet each remain vital to the organism as a whole. In fact, these sources of energy are expressions of higher emanations of which our physical organs are also manifestations. The physical body embodies the so-called Subconscious mind.
The contact point can also be discovered “non-locally” in the auric field enveloping the physical body and in the space beyond the body’s aura, in any area of the setting designated to a particular source. Another way to refer to the contact point is your initial connection with the existing conditions of any quality or source that exists autonomously in its own power and as such, does not have to be imagined or created.
"Escape from Chapel Perilous" performance (Dec 2018, Portland OR)
We are complex psychological creatures of contradiction with opposing forces and contraries interacting within our psyches. In this work, we explore the opposing forces of our nature as expressions of a larger changing whole. These inner oppositions are not split but expressions of a great complexity than we may be aware of at the time. Take the polarity of Masculine/Feminine, for example. Masculine energy already exists; we do not need to make it up. From the receptive state of No-Form, we allow its energy to expand from its initial contact point throughout the rest of our body, moving us this way and that, allowing it to infuse our experience with its quality, color and intensity. The energy itself guides the direction rather than our personal will. Follow the energy, don’t push or direct it.
Polarity work asks us to relax the desire to control or direct the energy. When the force of energy is strong enough to move your body, you follow its direction. By creating space for its expression, you are moved by its force. Like clay in the hands of a sculptor, we are shaped before we start shaping. This takes practice and is nurtured by the authenticity of your No-Form state; the deeper the No-Form, the deeper we can be impressed and moved by a given source through the contact point.
Like the archeologist’s pick-axe, this ritual work can be a tool for penetrating the surface crust of social conditioning and mining the veins of our common humanity. To embark on this archeology of the soul, we look to our own personal experiences. This starts with drawing up a polarity list of personally charged polarities made up of strong resistances and/or excitements, of negatively and positively charged personal polarities.
The overall objective of polarity work is to render the emotional ego more flexible. By repeated exposure to opposing sides of one's nature, it becomes more difficult to fixate on any one side over the other. A more malleable ego results, one that can permit more reality. Rendering the ego more flexible completes the physical and emotional cycles of ritual preparation. The body acts as a kind of alchemical alembic, or vessel, containing, mixing, transforming, distilling, and refining the union of opposites produced by ongoing polarity work. What comes after polarity work depends on the directions suggested by the facilitator or, if the group decides collectively, the mutually agreed upon archetype or theme to explore and the ritual format to best engage those processes.
from STATE OF EMERGENCE: Experiments in Group Ritual Dynamics
by Antero Alli (The Original Falcon Press; 2021)
The "heat" cycle of the 5-phase Warm-up (click image for info)
ritual technology of this medium
by Antero and other authors