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Australia 2002
Directed by
Michelle Mahrer
60 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
4 stars

Dances Of Ecstasy

Synopsis: What is the altered state experience which people seek through dance? Filmmakers Michelle Mahrer and Nicole Ma have spent over seven years travelling around the world in an attempt to answer this question. Their journey has taken them from Turkey, to Nigeria, to the Kalahari, back to Australia, and many places in between exploring the way in which dancers use rhythm and movement to tap into the ecstatic state. In their dancing they express a longing that has circled the world, the deep desire to connect with a spiritual dimension. It is a quest the human race has been drawn to throughout history and to this day.

It is not often that a film comes along that offers its audience such a compelling insight into the role dance plays in the lives of so many diverse groups of people.

The message is clear; if dance can have such a powerful impact on the spiritual lives of so many across lands and time, there must be something to it. It would be a pity to view this film simply as an interesting anthropological piece. This is definitely not the filmmakers intention. There is a segment shot in the Kalahari where the women and girls clap their hands and chant while the two men fall in to trance. It is a potent reminder of how important the mind/body/spirit connection is for so many cultural groups.

If you do not have a cultural link with such a rich heritage, where do you find like-minded people? In New York City, for example, you would be lucky if you stumbled across Gabrielle Roth, an artist, philosopher and healer. In the film she leads an ecstatic dance workshop where a wide range of people learn to put aside their busy minds and experience what it is to be wholly in the body. Gabrielle’s experience of growing up will ring true for many Western viewers.

Here in Victoria thousands of people who attend the Rainbow Serpent festival dance all night under the stars. Even though drugs such as ecstasy are taken to enhance the experience, the conceptual focus of the event is spiritual. As one of the popular drugs amongst the rave culture, ecstasy has attracted its fair share of bad press but it is ironic that what is a recent fad can also be linked to the age-old quest for enlightenment.

A DVD of the film will be released during Oct/Nov. In the spirit of the notion that nothing beats first-hand experience, the DVD includes the complete Sufi chanting ceremony, a half-hour teaching video by ecstatic dance pioneer Gabrielle Roth and fourteen dance music tracks. Trip the light fantastic.




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