Murray Spalding’s Mandalas
Weckesser Studio, College of Santa Fe, NM
Saturday, May 23–24, 2008
Reviewed by Janet Eigner
When a company performs a knock-out concert, do you leave the theater zinging, every nerve a-twitch? Instead, the disciplined, erect dignity of Murray Spalding’s seven modern dancers, their bare feet quietly swishing the ground, spun precise meditative patterns on the College of Santa Fe’s studio floor, leaving the audience refreshed and calm.
In a dozen years, Spalding has created 12 mandala designs. Her choreographic power resides in the delicacy, restraint, and elegance of each position. A short pause and dimmed lighting signal a mandala’s conclusion, before the radiant dancers unwind and reposition themselves to initiate the next design. Resident composer Evren Celimli’s restrained, synthesized music carpets the mandala’s tempos.
Each of the seven performed mandalas created a new focus and exploration, as the dancers unfolded crisp patterns and sudden earth-grounded shifts. To capture each other’s position from the widest perspective, dancers cast their eyes a bit down, better able to see, hear, and adjust to the others’ moves.
Often, seven heads gently tipped, like Sufis listening for cosmic direction. Arms made various angular wings, one arm bent behind the back. The dancers spun, their spines like straight stems incised by nature’s geometry—the magnetic pole, the orbit. Their feet and arms traced diagonals, formed triangles, waves.
The Spaulding company’s third appearance in Santa Fe since 2001 began with XII, a world premiere. XII’s more open, linear design signaled a departure from Spalding’s rigorous and repetitive circular patterns, draining the coherent, refreshing effect the other 11 mandalas offer.
Mandala X, informed by indigenous celebration, said Spalding, relaxed and bent the spines, an overall freer and circular shape, arms more softly curved and outreaching, foot stamps louder. X’s complex rhythms sent arms and legs swiftly changing directions. The movement’s rigor demonstrated a paradox: joining of the mandala’s spiritual origins with dance induced a peaceful effect, yet the dancers sometimes looked like fencers jousting without swords, and soldiers marching to a different drummer.