20220325__WAMBB_VirtualRealms_DigitalAd_970x902.gif
Reviews/Dance/Music/Perth Festival

On the outside, looking in

5 March 2018

Perth Festival review: Ensemble Al Nabolsy & the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus White Spirit ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 3 March ·
Review by Louisa Wales ·

It’s not every day that a well-heeled audience at Perth’s His Majesty’s Theatre gets itself into a clapping, rhythmic frenzy jamming with a bunch of Sufi musicians and whirling dervish dancers.

But when Perth Festival’s sold-out two night exclusive event White Spirit came to town last Friday and Saturday evenings, the rapture was catching.

The six musicians, three dancers (from Konya, Turkey) and Tunisian street artist Shoof created in their 80 minute set an utterly transporting and highly poetic portal into the mysterious and yearning world of the Sufi faith.  Combining songs of praise, Sufi poems and devotional invocations with the calligraphic live painting of Shoof and the vertigo-defying incessant spinning of the Whirling Dervishes, White Spirit was an exquisitely beautiful window onto a world both ancient and contemporary.

Hailing from Damascus in war-ravaged Syria, Ensemble Al Nabolsy – led by Noureddine Khourchid, the son of a Syrian Sufi sheik – evoked both a time and place, and a spiritual state, so far from that of the audience that at times it felt as though we were taking part in something quite voyeuristic.

The act of presenting Middle Eastern mysticism and spirituality as art and performance to viewers from the West led to some uncomfortable tensions in the experience.  Was the audience just “othering” the heck out of these people, exoticising their authentic religious beliefs and practices?  And why were the Sufi singers, dancers and artist presenting their practices and religious beliefs as a travelling show anyway?

Beneath the captivating, thrilling spectacle, it was all – in short – rather loaded.  And yet, by the end, White Spirit’s nominal exoticism and our consuming voyeurism were – albeit briefly – broken down as the audience summoned the artists back for a spontaneous encore, and then clapped themselves into an escalating frenzy of abandonment.

Then the lights went on and some in the audience looked a bit sheepish.  The realisation hit home that however sensually engaging this spectacle had just been – the mystical music, the trance-like dancing, the indecipherable exquisite white calligraphy painted by Shoof – we were still on the outside of the faith and mystical experience they were all evoking.

While acknowledging the indisputable beauty of both White Spirit’s components and its totality, the problematic nature of commodifying a spirituality and its devotion left this reviewer wondering if next year festival goers will be packing His Maj to the brim to hear Hillsong Church – and if we do, will we clap ourselves into a devotional frenzy then too?

Photo: Cyril Zannettacci

 

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
seesawmag

Past Articles

Read Next

  • MC_Freakley_For You, Danielle Freakley, detail: For You, 2019-2022. Volcanic rock, water clear polyurethane, ink. Dimensions variable. Danielle Freakley's 'For You' looks like a crashing wave made of glass. Danielle Freakley peels back the layers
    Reviews

    Danielle Freakley peels back the layers

    18 May 2022

    A local artist with an international reputation, Danielle Freakley seems driven by a desire to find out what we really want to say to each other. And ahead of her exhibition at Moore Contemporary, she tells Nina Levy what she really wants to say.

    Reading time • 10 minutesVisual Art
  • Reading time • 5 minutesMusic
  • Barney McAll WAAPA Jazz in the Theatre series. A bearded man at the piano looks toward fellow musicians who are playing a keyboard and harp. WAAPA serves up a slice of NYC jazz
    Reviews

    WAAPA serves up a slice of NYC jazz

    9 May 2022

    In a retrospective performance, jazz virtuoso Barney McAll draws on the traditions of his genre while pointing the way to the future, writes Garry Lee

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio