Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

Rumi understood the power of dance as a catalyst for transformation. Last year we celebrated Rumi’s 800th birthday and Yalla celebrated 10 years of bringing their love of Middle Eastern music and dance to Australia. Yalla has another incarnation which is called The Sanctuary Ensemble. It was formed in 2003 to celebrate the Spirit of Rumi, playing traditional and inspired Sufi music, reading his words and to dance. Yalla’s focus has been to bring upbeat Middle Eastern music and dance to its audiences, The Sanctuary Ensemble is a way that we can express the deeper connection and to embody the contemplative transcendental side of this music and dance that resonates so deeply in our hearts.

The traditional aspect of what we play in Sanctuary is called a “Zirk” which means remembrance of Allah. It is the music of submission and surrender that bonds humans to God and transcends all religious boundaries. The whirling which is a part of the Zirk is the dance of turning like the earth spinning on its axis. There is also the Zaar which is a dance of release done by rhythmically swaying side to side and then releasing the head, the neck and allowing it to roll vigorously round and round until the dancer falls to the ground. This is one aspect of Sanctuary. The other aspect is the improvisational pieces that accompany the poetry and some original compositions all interpreted through dance.

I have always been drawn to expressing the unity of poetry and music. When the three become one the dancer is no longer the soloist, she becomes the element that weaves the music and the words. The dancer is not a distraction, she is the embodiment – you can still hear the word and the music as the dancer weaves them together.

I asked Harb Gill one of our readers why Sanctuary is important for her; she said “it takes me straight to the heart, because, like any meaningful art, that is where it comes from. The mesmerising music, moving ancient songs, Rumi’s words and wave upon wave of whirling dance all combine to open the heart and still the mind. I come out of it refreshed, harmonious and invigorated.”

This is true for all of us, this is why we chose to embrace the art and spiritual practice from another culture that is essentially a Muslim practice when none of us are Muslim.

The most important instrument in this Sufi practice is the Ney. The Ney is a flute, made from a reed cut from a river bed that is hollowed out in the middle. It has nine holes that are said to represent the nine orifices of the body. The Ney makes hauntingly beautiful sounds and it is said to represent the yearning the lament the wanting to return to source. As the Soul also yearns to be united and to return to the source. When I dance the sound of the Ney moves through my spine and as the notes move so does my spine travelling through me carrying the words. Each time the same poem is read the words take on a deeper meaning that in turn deepens my dance.

The Chants called Illahi’s are also accompanied by percussion. The chants are played in various Macams which are like musical scales, each with a different meaning stirring a different emotions, used for different reasons, and at different times of the days and on different occasions. We are all involved in singing Illahi’s. I asked Ngame Grzisik our principal vocalist and composer what the dance meant to her in Sanctuary, she said, ” In this Sufi music, the dance expresses the flow of thought, feeling and spirit. The dancer responds deeply and intuitively to the poetry the music and sounds and whole experience of the group.”

While the sound of the Ney flute symbolises the lamenting and longing for the Beloved, the constant rhythmic beat of the Daf is the heart beat the driving pulse. The Daf is a frame drum of which the circle symbolises the circle of love and each of the rings inside it is each one of us.

Mik our percussionist said that performing in The  yalla shoot  Sanctuary Ensemble is a unique experience. He said, “drumming, entrancing, witnessing connection between word, music and dance. Learning about self and the nature of all things. Realising this connection also has taught me a lot about what prayer actually is. The wisdom of the text of Rumi is universal and not of one religion. That each religion fundamentally is universal. That each method of prayer to his/her own is equal in outcome. The expression of the dancer is from the heart – their prayer”.

The Sanctuary Ensemble celebrates the connection to this music and dance that has helped to bridge the cultural gap between Australian and Middle Eastern cultural and religions beliefs. Art, Music and Dance can transcend these boundaries.

As an artist I have the privilege to share the beauty of another culture with the community at large.

“As waves upon my head the circling curl,
So in the sacred dance weave ye and whirl.
Dance then, O heart, a whirling circle be.
Burn in this flame – is not the candle He? ”

Rumi Translations by Colman Barks

Maria Sangiorgi, is a Teacher, Dancer, Dance Movement Therapist and Healer.

She works internationally and is based in Australia and Italy


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