Category Archives: Bacchic Things
A Litany for Healing (Heathen)
That our health care practitioners may remain healthy,
We pray to You, Eir, best of Surgeons.
That the families of those suffering be given the strength to endure,
We pray to You, Thor, Protector of Mankind.
That those afraid or grieving may be comforted,
We pray to You, Sigyn, Lady of Enduring Grace.
That those most at risk be granted vitality and kept from harm’s way,
We pray to Idunna, Who bears the sacred apples of restoration.
That those suffering financially due to this crisis be sustained,
We pray to Andvari, Who governs the flow of resources.
That we may remain kind to each other despite our fear,
We pray to Nanna, Goddess of compassion.
That each household may have what it needs,
We pray to Frigga, Sustainer of Asgard.
That those confined to their homes find ways to flourish,
We pray to Freya, Goddess of abundance and power.
That we be shown mercy,
We pray to Jorð, Goddess of the good, green earth.
Bless and protect us, Holy Ones,
and keep Your people from harm,
inasmuch as wyrd allows.
To You, Great Gods, we pray.
A Litany for Healing (cultus deorum)
That this plague may be driven back,
we pray to Apollo, Who brings protection and healing.
That our healthcare workers may be sustained,
We pray to Asklepius, best of Physicians.
That those most at risk, remain safe and healthy,
We pray to Hygeia, Goddess of Health and Healing.
That those of us sheltering-in-place remain healthy and resilient,
We pray to Panacea, Goddess of preventive medicine.
That those grieving or afraid may be comforted,
We pray to Dionysos, Who brings relief.
That households may have what they need during this crisis,
We pray to the Goddess Salus, Whose hands bring salvation.
That we be shown mercy,
We pray to Ceres, Goddess of the land.
Look with favor upon us, Oh Gods,
Bless and protect us and preserve us from trouble,
this we pray, ever in Your service.
One of my readers contacted me a couple of days ago suggesting that a bunch of us commit to doing a seven day “novena” for Apollo, praying for protection and health in the face of Covid 19. I think this is an excellent idea (and we’re calling it a novena, even though it’s only seven days, seven being a number sacred to Apollo). Here is the email I received:
“During my nightly prayers, an idea came to me. What if a bunch of us polytheists started a sort of Novena to Apollo to combat this virus? Well, maybe Novena isn’t the right word but I was thinking light a candle and using the prayers from your ‘Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheist Household.’
Thought I’d pass the idea on to you and maybe your household and others would like the idea.
Obviously, we’d keep doing the common-sense stuff, no hoarding TP, wash hands, etc. What do you think?
I think it’s an excellent idea. As JR notes, it doesn’t take the place of common-sense measures like hand washing and social distancing – our Gods created medicine and gave us common sense after all!—but it is a spiritual measure that we can take in tandem with these things. Since JR suggested the prayers from my book ‘Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheist Household,’ I’m including the Apollo prayers here.
I plan to begin this cycle tonight and I invite any of you, my readers, who are interested to join me. Thank you, JR, for a wonderful suggestion!
(image by Lynn Perkins)
Seven Day Cycle for Apollo
Day 1 – for Apollo, Whose Arrows Never Miss Their Mark
It is to You Whom I turn when the night is darkest.
It is to You, Whom I cry when I am beset and surrounded,
by enemies as thick in number as an unkindness of ravens.
When I call, Oh my Lord, Your arrows gleam so viciously bright in the shadows.
I know I have nothing to fear.
You, Far-Shooter stalk those Who would harm the Gods’ servants,
Your arrows rattling in their quiver, their rhythm making the Moon smile.
You protect what is Your own. You keep pure Your sanctuaries.
You dance across the field of battle before the opponent
even realizes their last dawn has come, splendid in Your wardance.
You, Mighty One, avert all evil, all miasma, all pollution, all harm.
The glorious swan cries a paean to herald Your coming.
Great shooter from afar, Your arrows always find Their mark.
You restore, Lord of the ash, Lord of the bow, Lord of restoration.
May You always be praised. May I always praise You,
and know my place before You in service.
For Apollo – Day 2: Who Protects His People from Evil
You are terrible in Your wrath, Son of Leto,
when You stride into battle, gleaming arrows
rattling in their golden quiver.
Rage is too small a word, for the fury
that radiates from You,
more fiery than the sun,
deadlier than any blade.
You protect Your people,
raining plague upon those
who trample upon Your servants.
You strike down the impious,
and stop the evil-doer in his wake.
With Your raging war-cry,
You shatter pollution,
scattering to the winds,
all who would oppose You.
When You let fly Your arrows,
Your aim is ever true
and You destroy them.
None may escape You.
Howling Ares in His battle frenzy
may indeed match Your war-dance,
but You are cold precision, ice to His fire.
You never miss Your mark and when You take
the field of battle, Your heart is empty of mercy.
Agrios, best of hunters,
let Your fury fall upon all
that would seek to challenge divine order.
Set loose Your ravens, turn lose Your wolves,
that they may rend and tear Your enemies,
until You stand unopposed and triumphant.
Be our shield against evil, Bright Son of Zeus.
Hail to You, Apollo.
We will reverence You always,
not out of fear – for we will be ever pious—
but in love, and awe at the terrifying beauty
of Your majesty.
Hear our prayer, we pray.
Day 3 – for Apollo: Who makes Whole that which has been Broken
Hallowed One and hallowing,
You make whole that which is broken.
Your gentle hands bring healing,
tenderly encouraging growth and restoration.
Medicus, by Your grace and generative power,
You gifted Asklepius to the world,
and from His children, Mighty Sons and Daughters,
struck a blow against miasma and hurt.
Your temples are sanctuaries and so powerful Your blessings
that even the Christians hailed You, calling You angelic,
and best defender of the heavens.*
On this, they were not entirely wrong.
Yours is a purifying healing force against which
no possible pollution, illness, or malefic spirit may stand.
Your face is glory. Your touch a beautiful solace.
Your very presence is undiluted joy, ecstasy of mind, heart
and most of all, spirit. You move our tongues to praise,
our hearts to reverence, our bodies to celebration.
Enfold us, oh God, sweet and noble Lord, in Your light.
Restore us, Brightest Lord, we pray.
Renew us in all ways, that we may praise You more fully,
and every day with greater joy.
Preserve us, Holy Lord, from all the dank, impious places
we must walk in this world.
Fill us with Your light until no pollution remains
nor the possibility for it to fester and grow.
With this prayer, let us be aligned with our Gods,
with You, mighty Healer, as our advocate.
Hail to You, Apollo, may the warmth of Your blessings flow.
Day 4 – For Apollo, Who Bestows Prophetic Power
Frenzied speech You give, the oracle-woman bowed back
with the force of Your Presence in her head,
with the force of Your words erupting like a volcano
from her heart and mind, dancing and blazing on her tongue,
every synapse burning bright, as though she had fallen into the sun.
Frenzied speech and prophetic power You bestow, Great Lord,
weaving like a serpent through the brain, opening doorways
through which Gods and spirits might howl triumphant.
This is a high art, and You train Your women to wield it
swift and sure, mercilessly and sometimes cruelly,
like a surgeon’s blade, deployed keenly and without hesitation.
It is this Power, like the blistering force of a thousand suns,
that shines the wisdom of the Gods into mortal lives.
Those who heed it uphold the will of Zeus,
the immortal hierarchy of the heavens, the glory of the cosmos.
Those who ignore these whispering women glory-sent,
wreak their own destruction and order is again preserved.
It is the pristine ratio dancing, ever turning, ever re-harmonizing in Your hands.
You maintain the radiance of its song, the cosmic majesty of its dancing sequences
through which worlds are born, pass away, and are born again.
Preserver, Savior, Eternal God, Your songs soar in the hearts of those who love You,
and through the cosmos too, restoring order to all things touched by the sourness
of spiritual decay.
May we too join in this dance. May our hearts be patterned for Your song
that like wood in the blazing fire, we may be transformed, into light and heat
and conduits of Your goodness to our sad and broken world, every day of our lives.
Hail to You, Apollo.
Day 5 – for Apollo, Whose Love is Fierce
Your love is a terrifying thing to bear,
Sweet and searing, You penetrate to the core.
It is like walking off a precipice,
and whether we fly or fall is all the same
when the ending is You
and the conflagration of Your affections.
Oh Sweet God, burn away all that keeps us from taking that leap.
Let us not be like Kassandra, inconstant, aching,
so hungry for You and yet so afraid. She was a slave to Her fear.
Let our fear never win. Let it instead be the spice
that flavors the feast of the senses You proffer.
Free us from the chains of our terror.
Let us rise proudly into Your embrace
counting as small the consequences of such devotion.
There are always consequences to devotion.
Let us pay the requisite price gladly;
and then let us throw ourselves madly
into the heat of Your Presence.
Hail to You, Apollo, most-longed for God.
Hail to You, and all Your hungers
that fuel the fires of our veneration.
Day 6 – Apollo, Who Ever Purifies
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl
away from every evil thing.
Bright Apollo, far shooting God
of healers and prophets,
I offer this prayer to You today.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl
away from every evil thing.
Most Holy Apollo,
Klarios, Oulios, Alexikakus,
Who averts all harm,
protect me, oh my God.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl
away from every evil thing.
In Your Presence, oh my God,
nothing impure may stand.
In Your Presence, oh my God,
nothing impious may find purchase.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl
away from every evil thing.
keep my boundaries strong,
that no pollution may affect my mind,
my heart, my soul, my work.
Boedromios, preserve me,
as I wade into this filth.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl
away from every evil thing.
I lay my petition before You, Shining God,
that I may stand in the light of Your protection.
To You, Lord Apollo,
Day 7 – For Apollo, Glory of Olympus
You, Kyrios, are the glory of the Sun,
washing the world clean with Your light
every moment Your horses thunder across its heavens.
Your very presence restores, as light drives out darkness.
Your very song reorders, as its resonance shatters stagnation.
In Your hands lies the balance, the ratio of all the spheres,
A scaffolding of perfection, a purity of sound,
Divine harmony resolving into beauty, through Your music,
You keep those holy chords whole and add to their substance,
filling the world with Your whispered descant,
the potential for regeneration. So, it is with You, oh Medicus.
Your hands bring healing and restoration to us too,
Restoring the harmonies of our flesh, our bones, our rattled synapses.
You hear our most desperate cries, driven by pain and fear, lost in illness,
You hear and the moment Your attention is caught, pain begins its retreat.
The sound of Your attention, the gentle and firm touch of Your power,
Begins again, a dance in which illness has no place save its flight,
Alexikakos, from Your power.
You are the glory of Olympos,
And Your blessings fill the world with beauty.
Hail to You, Apollo Medicus, Father of Healers,
Whose charmed arrows never fail to hit their mark.
(All prayers here written by Galina Krasskova, published in “Hymns and Prayers of a Polytheist household” copyright 2020).
A reader asked me late last week if I had any prayers, both to the Norse and the Greco-Roman Gods, for healing in a time of plague. This is what I have to share. Stay safe folks, mentally as well as physically. Don’t hoard toilet paper. Be kind. Wash your hands. If you’re bored out of your skull, here are some online field trips, and here a list of courses you can take for free. Many museums are also providing fabulous virtual tours. I wish you all good health and healing in this time of crisis.
Prayer to Eir
Goddess of Healing, please hear my prayer.
Keep our doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers safe.
Bless their minds, hearts, and hands.
Grant them vitality and fortitude,
that they may do their jobs well.
See that they have what they need.
Bless them with health in this time of sickness.
Preserve them I pray,
and may this plague quickly pass.
I hail You, Eir, Best of Healers.
Prayer to Apollo
Apollo Smintheus, please hear my prayer.
Stay Your arrows and bestow Your blessings instead.
Bearer of Victory, Preserve us.
Alexikakos, Ward off this evil.
Turn our luck to glory,
that we and our communities may emerge unscathed
from this sickness devastating the land.
You are the essence of light and fire
and fire purifies. It cleanses. It heals.
Bestow that healing upon us,
and vitality, and well-being.
You are life, Apollo.
You are life,
The bright victory of the sun,
the mysteries of the cosmos,
You the light that illuminates.
Preserve us all, I pray.
Spring always seems to sneak up on me. Maybe it’s because I always mourn the passing of mild winters (it’s been mild in my area and I do love winter), or maybe it’s because the spring semester is always rather frenetic. I just know that the holy tides always seem to sneak up on me. This year March seems particular full since I’m toggling between my husband’s Bacchic calendar, and my own Heathen.
We have the Heathen Ostara coming up, which falls on the spring equinox. I usually honor Mani and Sunna, as well as Eostre/Ostara at that time. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do this year yet (I know, I need to get on it) and sometime this month I like to honor the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Hreðe. I suspect strongly that She had a feast-day around this time, but if so, that day has been lost to memory. Still, She gets Her share of offerings from us in March.
March 9 is for Olvir of Egg and company, martyrs. He and several other farmers were murdered by King Olaf for not abandoning their faith in the Gods. It’s a good time to pour out an offering to them and to remember their sacrifices and most of all their steadfastness. The lesson I take from them? It’s simple: Never back down from honoring the Gods. Never apologize for devotion to the Holy Ones. Never hide your polytheism to make someone else comforable. Their discomfort is theirs to bear. We have ancestors and martyrs, fierce men and women who were tortured and who died for their polytheism. The least we can do is speak up and be present. That’s my rule of thumb and it’s sometimes very hard, but it’s a challenge I lay to myself and every other polytheist out there: never, ever yield. I look to men and women like Olvir and those who died with him as an inspiration when I encounter situations where it might be very had to be openly polytheist. I meditate on their stories and pray that in doing so, I will shape my own character to be as fiercely committed and fiercely subversive. This month is an opportunity to honor them all anew.
Finally, my household has started giving the first night of the lunar month (which is not necessarily the first night of the month) to Mani and we hold a small ritual where we praise Him, bringing offerings and making prayers. This month, the first day of the lunar month falls on the 25th, so pretty close to the equinox. It’s definitely going to be a Mani-centric month! I think that is pretty awesome. Mani can never have enough devotional attention.
It’s late so I’m going to wrap this up. I’d love to know what everyone has going for the equinox. Feel free to post in the comments.
Lately I’ve seen some egregiously bad advice percolating around tumblr (no surprise). The most recent is the idea, articulated as though it was historical fact, that to refer to the Gods as ‘my God’ or ‘my Goddess’ is hubris.(1) I’m not sure where this nonsense is coming from but it’s just that: utter, misguided bullshit.(2)
Each devotional relationship with a Deity is unique. To indicate ownership of that relationship by using the possessive acknowledges that reality. It articulates responsibility for one’s role in that relationship. It acknowledges that someone else may have a very different relationship with the same Deity, that the Gods are independent Beings, capable of relating to Their devotees as individuals, unrestricted by the narrow confines of anything written about Them.
To say “my God …” also articulates an essential difference between one’s own tradition and that of whatever interlocutor with whom one might be speaking. It expresses uniqueness, as each Deity is unique and each devotional relationship is unique, while at the same time giving voice to the tremendous power of such relationships. It is indeed possible to engage with the Gods in significant ways. One’s own engagement does not impinge upon someone else also having an equally significant devotional reality. Language is often problematic when it comes to discussing spiritual reality, the Gods, or indeed anything Holy but I do not believe that this is a situation that falls under that particular rubric.
If we rule out such intimate language than we are tacitly agreeing with the idea, promulgated so frequently in academic circles, that polytheists in the ancient world had no personal devotional relationships with their Gods. This is, of course, also nonsense. Use of the possessive acknowledges the unique nature of each devotional relationship and the rich complexity such relationships bring to one’s devotional and religious life. The only hubris lies in not acknowledging that.
- Not only is it anything but hubris, in many indigenous religions, particularly certain ATR, it is common parlance to refer to “my [insert Deity name here]” precisely as a matter of respect, and a reference to certain initiatory realities. If using such language is “hubris” in one tradition, then the implication is that it is “hubris” in every tradition, which I’m sure was not the intent of the original tumblr post. Still, language is a precise instrument, a tool to foster clarity of expression and sentiments like this matter. Now the main focus of the tumblr in question is a rather narrow type of progressive politics, and I cannot help but wonder if the idea of articulating distinctions in one’s devotional and religious worlds bothers the poster because it is creating a border, distinguishing clearly between your tradition and mine, your Gods and mine, your praxis and mine. I don’t think such distinctions are bad things. I think, for the integrity of traditions, they’re necessary. It also brings clarity to any conversation about these topics; after all, one is not by such possessive usage speaking for the Gods, which would indeed be ethically problematic.
- So is the same poster’s advice on miasma. Katharmos (cleansing) is NOT just for murder/killing. There are many, many reasons that some type of cleansing might be required. I would suggest R. Parker’s classic text “Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion” or “Inner Purity and Pollution in Greek Religion” by A. Petrovic and I. Petrovic. My Gods, I wish people would read and critically consider what they read. Also, maybe go beyond Homer, ffs.
I’m not a devotee of Hades but I felt I had to write this prayer to Him after one of my classes today. We were discussing salvation and the afterlife and the teacher insisted that the less educated classes in the ancient world didn’t believe in anything but darkness and death, that they had no reverence for Hades and the ancestors. He acknowledged that more educated folks had a soteriology and sense of immortality of the soul but not the regular folk. Obviously, I disagree and while, just like today, there were people who believed in nothing after death, your average person was more pious than the average person today simply by virtue of living in a society in which acknowledgement of the Gods was the norm. It hurt to see Hades and His realm misrepresented and this is what I can do by way of remit.
I must pray to Hades,
Beloved of Persephone
Master of the land of the dead,
Master of the haven where souls go
for healing and restoration.
You are just and merciful, oh Lord.
It is not out of cruelty
that You ignore the pleas of the living
when they pray for their dead
to be returned to them.
Far from it. Rather You know
the balance of things, that death
is necessary, and that the dead need the gift
of Your healing sanctuary.
All things change and are renewed
and the worlds are ever sustained.
Your mysteries are writ into our flesh.
You call to us from the moment we are born
and You are patient.
You can bear the weight of our grief.
As Herakles died, so must we
and this tells us it is not a horror
but sweet release and reward.
Pluto, there is a wealth of treasure
in the land of the dead,
in their songs and their stories,
and these too, You secure, for eternity.
Hail to You, Lord of the Dead,
Silent Protector of our ancestors.
Hail to You, Hades.
(image of Hades and Persephone by Jodie Muir Art).
“Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
He is beautiful. All Gods when They come to stand before the eyes of the soul are beautiful. Hermes granted me that and it saved me. He came in a dream and I could not breathe. He came in a dream and it was just for a moment that I saw Him and it nourished me though a week that would otherwise have brought me to my knees. Such encounters, no matter how fleeting, change the shape of the soul. They bring our hearts into alignment with the holy just a little bit more. They not only sustain but they transform. I don’t know what I carry now as a result of that encounter but I am so grateful.
It is the work of our souls to fall in love with our Gods, to seek Them out fervently, fiercely, unceasingly. To love a God is a fire that turns our worlds inside out. It brings us back to the moment of creation, the moment the Gods breathed or burned, willed or wove the cosmos into being, the moment divine architecture was created. To love a God means we are woven into being again and again always renewing and renewed. Our souls become intimately bound up in the constant reiteration of divine order. We take part in a song that binds everything in our world to our Gods. We take part in nourishing the Tree that nourishes us in return.
(“Hermes” by Pierre et Gilles)
One of the projects dear to me is in re-building a devotional practice to our Gods. Devotions are the very backbone of religious praxis and experience. There was a meme circulating a while ago stating: “What they won’t teach you about the founders of western science, math, medicine and philosophy is that they believed in the ancient Gods.” This is sadly in most cases very true.
I’ve decided to start a new project, pulling authentic quotes and prayers to share across social media as a reminder that these great minds were Polytheists, that they themselves would have engaged in devotional practices. They weren’t afraid of theophany, direct experience with the Gods. They recognized it for the blessing it is. If you care to contribute your own favorite quotes feel free to share them in the comments below. These graphics are meant to be shared, so please do share them.
The images will be housed and updated over in a photo album on my official Facebook author page. This album will be added to as time and opportunity permits.
The first couple are below.
Αἰσχύλο (also known as Aiskhylos, or Aeschylus) was born circa 525/524, and passed away circa 456/455 BC. He was an ancient Greek playwright, sometimes colloquially called the father of tragedies. Only a few of his estimated 70 plus plays have survived, among them is his trilogy of plays in The Oresteia (comprised of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides) represents the only complete trilogy of Greek plays by any playwright still extant, and it has been theorized that he was the first playwright to create stories told in trilogies. He also seems to have introduced to the theater more complex character interactions and more characters into his works then what had been standard before then. His plays won him first prize in the coveted Great Dionysia (a great festival dedicated to Dionysos) on more than one occasion.
In this direct quote from Aiskhylos, we see an understanding in why we engage in devotional practices and veneration to the Gods.
If any of you are in the NY area, and interested in things Bacchic, or if you just have an interest in good theatre, for the love of the Gods go and see The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s current production of “The Bacchae.” It’s phenomenal. We just got back from seeing the production. Here is the letter that I wrote to the theatre company.
“My husband and I attended last night’s performance of the Bacchae and I wanted to reach out to you. It was absolutely fantastic. There is no other way to describe it. I’ve taught the play, read it in the original Greek, written about it, and tried my own hand at translating it (serious kudos to the translator of your version, btw). More to the point, both my husband and I are devotees of Dionysos (He has His worshippers in the modern day), so for us, this is a mystery play, a ritual experience and oh, it was. It really, really was.
Neither of us had ever had the opportunity to see it in person, only on youtube clips. We were excited but approached the performance with some trepidation. It is such a sacred thing for us, what if y’all messed it up? what if you missed the core of the story? What if you portrayed Dionysos wrongly? What if….but almost from the beginning, we knew we were in for something special. By the time the chorus began singing “Go Bacchus, Go Bacchus, Go. Bring Back Dionysos” I was crying.
I”ve known for years that theatre was sacred to Dionysos. It never hit me how and why (and I was a ballet dancer professionally until my early twenties. It *should* have been ingrained in me). I”d just never seen this particular play done, the whole thing a glorious invocation to Him, and oh it makes so much sense now. He was so present throughout. That theatre became a temple.
Mr. Brown did a truly phenomenal job. I was particularly moved by the interactions between him and Mr. Foster…the moments after the latter dons female garb and shows such fragility ‘Can you make me beautiful?’ and Dionysos embraces him and says ‘you are beautiful’ and presses his forehead to that of Pentheus…and there’s such compassion for this broken man, and a chance there for Pentheus to heal and embrace who he truly is, for a different story and yet Pentheus turns away from it and back to hard headed and cruel impiety. It was so clear that when he spoke of wanting to tear the women apart, it was that fragile, fey part of himself that he wanted to truly destroy. It was heart-breaking but so few productions (of the snippets I”ve seen online) capture that.
The militancy of the Bacchantes was really well done and the music…the songs to Dione, to Eirene (“Queen of Heaven”) were beautiful hymns of praise. I really love the way the chorus was handled throughout — and usually I’m dubious about modernizing things, but this worked beautifully (and I especially liked the references to the Hudson and East Rivers instead of the Dirce and Ismene Rivers). it made it strikingly relevant. Opening it by an announcement honoring the Lenape people, the ancestors of those originally indigenous to the land where the theatre stands, slipping in an ‘Ashe’ during one of Dionysos’ monologues were particular touchstones for us. At the end, where Agave raves that she needs no Gods…it was so ugly, so impious, so stubbornly resistant to seeing her own part in all that had unfolded…she had learned nothing and it became obvious where Pentheus and his cousin Actaeon had acquired their foolishness. It really showed how we’re all just one step, one decision away from the road she chose to walk.
Oh thank you for such a powerful performance. That is all I wanted to say. I made a donation when I was there, but my household donates to various places quarterly and now you will be one of those places. It is a fitting offering to Dionysos.
The production runs through July 28. Bring water. Bring bug spray. And bring tissues.
Now that my thesis is mostly done (and my defense date scheduled), I decided to take the weekend off. A couple of really awesome opportunities arose that I just couldn’t pass up: Royal Danish Ballet dancers doing a Bournonville retrospective at the Joyce theatre, and Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Bacchae (the latter is free, which is lovely). I saw the ballet last night with a couple of friends and it was utterly delightful.
I’ve always loved the Bournonville style. It emphasizes ballon (the ability of dancers to jump with such ease that it almost seems as though they’re floating in the air), and quick footwork. It is elegant, precise, and this particular style never advocates contorting the body to achieve a higher extension. The emphasis is on artistry not acrobatics and it was a breath of fresh air to see a company that hadn’t given itself over to the colorless, broad blandness that so characterizes so much of modern ballet. It really fed the soul.
The performance opened with an excerpt from La Sylphide. The original version of this ballet was created for Marie Taglioni, a 19thcentury ballerina who pretty much ushered in the era of Romantic ballet ( culminating in ballets like Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty). Bournonville had danced with Taglioni in his youth and wanted to stage the ballet in Denmark. Apparently, he faced so many challenges from the Paris Opera Ballet (where the original had been performed) in doing so that he decided to choreograph his own version and it is this version that survives. It tells the story of James, a man who is engaged to a young woman of his village but who becomes enamored (and obsessed) with a sylph, an otherworldly creature of air and magic. Unfortunately for James, he pissed off the local witch by showing a regrettable lack of hospitality during his engagement party and his obsession with the sylph provides the opportunity for his undoing. He tries to capture this creature, which is rather obscene in and of itself: he’s taking this amazing wild thing and trying to tether it to mundane humanity, and the witch tricks him by providing him with a magic scarf. She tells him that if he wraps it around the sylph’s neck and arms it will enable her to remain with him. What it does is kill her and James is left with nothing, all the more so since his fiancée has long tired of his bullshit and gone off to marry his best friend. Last night’s performance showcased the section of the ballet where James kills the sylph. It is classic Bournonville, but was actually not my favorite part of the evening’s performance.
I much preferred the second half of the show which highlighted excerpts from the ballet Napoli, and other lesser known ballets. It was just delightful and the technique and artistry of the dancers, across the board, was high. It was a satisfying performance, and I particularly loved the rapport between the dancers. This review is correct: they were performing as much for each other, and delightfully, as for the audience. I was particularly impressed with the technique of principal dancer Jon Axel Fransson and soloist Stephanie Chen Gundorph. I have never seen such clean, effortless jumps as Mr. Fransson’s and Gundorph’s footwork was a thing of razor precision and beauty. I could have happily watched them for hours. Truly though, every dancer there was just amazing, including a performer that I can’t believe is in the corps: Tobias Praetorius. He had such a gift for comedy in his performance as a street singer that I found myself laughing out-loud. I also wish they’d done an encore of the Jockeydance, which was a hilarious variation depicting two jockeys competing to show off their skills. Seriously, all the dancers were quite lovely and if I could, I’d go to every remaining performance.
As a former ballet dancer, I was surprised to note that Bournonville style has preparations for turns in a small second position, not fourth. One of the more surprising elements of the choreography also involved a woman on pointe doing a series of bourrees or similar steps while the man holds onto her shoulder promenading in arabesque or attitude…usually it’s the woman doing that! The female dancers also darn the tips of their pointe shoes. I used to do this, though it’s not that common in American companies. It helps the shoe keep its shape and adds stability to the box. I was happy to see it being done (some of the shoes were signed and on sale so I got a good look at them).
I firmly believe art elevates the soul. It also represents the best that our human cultures have to offer. It crosses all boundaries and unifies like nothing else. We need more of it!
Tonight, it’s off to see the Bacchae, which for me is a deeply religious experience. I cannot wait to see what the Classical Theatre of Harlem is going to do with the play. It looks amazing. There is a review here.
(ballet photo couretsy of this site, where you can see more images of the dancers participating in The Bournonville Legacy show at the Joyce).