August 30th, 2008


Whirling Dervishes

We have just returned from a performance of Sufi music and Whirling Dervishes at our local theatrical establishment. It was....interesting.

The first half was straight musical perfomance (reed, dulcimer, some stringed instrument and some hand-held drum), with five-part male choir and a couple of spoken pieces. Hypnotic and restful; the forty-five minutes felt like twenty - but I had had two thirds of a bottle of red, and some nice food, immediately beforehand.

With the second part came the dervishes. And this was quite strange. Lots of bowing and walking around slowly, then they'd spin out into circles, twirling, then they'd return to standing. Repeat, several times. I had several distinct feelings during this.
  1. This wasn't a performance, but a service. I really felt like I was intruding, in a patronising "I say, look at the strange chappies" kind of way. This was most emphasised by the closing, where all fifteen-odd participants paraded off slowly, bowing, in complete silence. Then they came back on, in the same way, and we all clapped. They all bowed at once, in a line, to louder clapping, and then paraded off again, in the slow manner, bowing once more, to more, somewhat tired, clapping. Compare that to the rapid-on, several-bows, rapid-off movements of performers.
  2. Weirdly, it reminded me of watching courtship rites of the animal kingdom: they're only doing one thing again and again, but they've all refined it to such an art. But it still looks like a bunch of them are trying to attract a mate.
  3. As they move from standing to spinning, one by one, it's a very strange sensation, like finding everyone else in the room is in a musical you don't know about. There's a Lewis Carroll feel to the whole thing.
Note that points 2 and 3 seem to conflict somewhat with point 1. Sorry about that. It's still damn impressive, though - the first set of whirling was for about ten minutes, continuously, with just under one spin per second. Immediately afterwards, they stood still and didn't wobble at all.