When Rumi wrote, “We rarely hear the inward music, but we’re all dancing to it nevertheless,” he penned perhaps the perfect concert promo for a recurring event that hits the heart of Santa Fe audiences.
It's that inward music of both Rumi's poetry and of life itself that come to the forefront in this year's iteration of the Rumi Concert, which takes place at the Lensic on Saturday, Nov. 14. Only you'll also get some outward music and lots more.
"It's not just poetry, not just music, not just dancing. It's a kind of tapestry that we are weaving together to create an atmosphere of feeling," says Zuleikha, the performer who co-founded the event, titled "Open Secret." "It can be very funny, and it can be very soulful and instructive. Rumi is like the Shakespeare of the East, so it's very colorful, descriptive and engaging."
This particular tapestry features the collaborative talents of poet and translator Coleman Barks, Zuleikha, who calls herself a "storydancer," and the musical stylings of vocalist-instrumentalist Jai Uttal and Grammy Award-winning percussionist Glen Velez—all inspired by the words of Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th-century Sufi poet and mystic who is renowned for expressing the seemingly paradoxical dualities of life in verse. His poems, which have become available to the Western world largely through Barks' translations, reflect the depth of the human condition in a way that performers hope is accessible and relatable to audiences, regardless of their respective cultural background or tradition.
"There's a lot of emphasis on the heart of the matter and the way that the heart and the soul are felt in everyday life," Zuleikha tells SFR, adding later, "One of the things that makes it so palpable for audiences is that it expresses the feelings that we feel all the time but we might not talk about."
The affair is orchestrated with all of the artists sharing the stage at the same time. As Barks reads the poetry in a syrupy Southern drawl, Uttal and Velez channel the words into their vocalizations and instrumentations, which echo and respond to the rise and fall of Barks' speech. Zuleikha interprets both the poetry and the music through movements that reflect and build on the emotive qualities of each and convey the essence of the particular piece to the audience.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the performance is the phenomenon that even though there are several artforms being represented, the distinction between them becomes virtually unidentifiable, as poetry becomes music, music becomes dance, and dance becomes poetry.
"Coleman is a wonderful reader, and one of the aspects of the way he reads is that it's very musical. He gets the music of the words in the way that he approaches how he intones the poems," Velez says. "There's a lot of interplay in the way that he pauses and uses silence, uses rhythm, and so all of the elements of music are there. There's no wall between movement, music and poetry. All the walls are artificial, and when you experience this way of bridging the gap between these different artistic endeavors, I think it's a really special thing."
Although the artists rehearse the program in advance and have a specific setlist in mind prior to the performance, due to the nature of the art and the emphasis on feeling, the audience finds an element of improvisation in the spirit of the moment. This creates a unique performance, or what Zuleikha calls "a gem that reworks itself every time."
Expect to see and hear in the evening's tapestry an artistic and emotional spectrum that transcends previous experience and maybe even offers an insightful reflection of what it means to be human.