Dark Goddess: Remembrance of Deities Past

Local Arts Reviews

Dark Goddess: Remembrance of Deities Past

The Vortex,

through March 5

The VORTEX Repertory Company's Dark Goddess isn't just a theatrical performance; it's a spellbinding ritual bringing together goddesses from the far reaches of the world -- embodied as much in the volcano's eruption and the hurricane as the newborn child and the virgin forest.

As you entrer the space, a woman with an almost maternal expression, dressed in hints of purple and flowing black skirts, says, "May you enter in perfect love, may you enter in perfect trust." Then another woman, clad in fiery wisps of red, lights your ticket, a candle. Introducing Hekate and Pele. They are, respectively, watcher over the crossroads, queen of witchcraft, enchantment, and renewal, and the last surviving Titan aside from Zeus; and the Polynesian goddess of the fire in the volcano, the personification of the female power of destruction.

During the performance -- best described as the preparation for and casting of a spell -- the audience is acquainted with a few of the dark goddesses who have "always been with us." With so many cultures and ancient religions in the world, one evening could not include every dark goddess -- even Hekate admits, "Many don't appear" -- still, the piece, conceived by VORTEX artistic director Bonnie Cullum, is an acknowledgment of and honor to all of them, from the Scandinavian demigoddesses of destiny (the Norns, dressed in white bridesmaid gowns tinged with decay) to the namesake for Sarah McLachlan's XX-chromosomed musical tour (Lilith, whose legend stems mostly from Jewish folklore, but who also appears in Greek, Arab, Iranian, Babylonian, Mexican, English, German, Oriental, and Native American stories).

Throughout the ritual, Morgana, a principal figure in Celtic legend and Arthurian romance, gathers specific items from each goddess in preparation for the spell. The sparse dialogue is reserved for incantations and scraps of information offered from the goddesses about who they are, what they represent. Itzpaplotl -- a Central American obsidian butterfly with jaguar claws -- dances to frog-like chirps while asking, "Do you remember me?" At the finale, a spell is cast to reclaim the goddesses, so that the audience and other participants can "take them into (their hearts) and remember them."

Each of the dozen pieces has its own flavor, complementing the individual goddess. Kali -- a destructive mother goddess, all-pervasive, absolute, and omnipotent -- possesses her uplifting, devotional chanting and dancing, while Inanna -- a goddess of love, fertility, and war in ancient Sumeria -- and Lilith -- represented with wings and initially bound in a cage of sticks, twigs, and nesting materials -- each sing.

The music is provided by David McDaniel, a small child, and most of the goddesses, who take turns when not onstage. The accompaniment fits particularly well for Oya -- the Yoruban warrior goddess of the wind and spirit of the marketplace -- and Pele. The choreography is executed with a grace that makes it seem easy to duplicate, seem being the operative word.

The set -- a mixture of multicolored screens and veils -- is a character itself, a portrait of the synergistic energy focused onstage. Candlelight and multi-positioned lighting units, including a strobe light, give the night a rich texture.

Splendidly directed by Cullum, Dark Goddess is a striking piece of theatre as well as an undulating ceremony honoring a pantheon of goddesses, reflecting the cultural metaphors of their own places and times in all aspects: maiden, mother, crone; life-giver, life-sustainer, and life-destroyer. The show -- whose program warns that it contains "Sage, Nudity, Strobe Effect, and Deep Magic" -- seems a model for women's re-empowerment, ranging from their right to command and to challenge authority to the validity of their anguish. Dark Goddess faces death, destruction, and fear, accepting the darkness as part of life, as much as joy and light.

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