talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

mystic dances: perfumes that vary every hour
e. c. bowyer

fontainebleau, friday

late last night for the first time i saw gurdjieff. it was after midnight, and i found him in the "study house," where, to the sound of strange music, he was directing the rhythmic exercises being carried out by a score of his men and women students. i had gone first to the priory. here i found that the long day of toil prescribed by the regime was not yet ended, and members of the company were still hard at work carrying out necessary household duties. but it was to see the master i had come. the man who stepped forward to meet me as i entered the study-house is of medium height, well-proportioned and looking about 50. his features are unmistakably eastern, and their expression when in repose is mild and placable, while his eyes would be remarkable anywhere for their brilliance. he was wearing a black sheepskin cap, with ordinary western clothes.

he made me welcome with a grave politeness that triumphed over his slight knowledge of english—usually he speaks russian and employs an interpreter. after inviting me to watch the exercises which had stopped for the moment, he turned back towards the waiting students and the music recommenced. around the walls of the study house students reclined on the divans and watched their fellows—men and women—on the slightly raised stage at one end of the hall. the illuminated fountain threw up a head of glowing water which fell back with a pleasant murmur into the carved basin and filled the interior with a faint odour of attar of roses. it is impossible to describe intelligibly the movements of the dancers. they were entirely unlike any western physical exercises as far as i know them, and differ from what are usually accepted as characteristic of eastern dance movements in that they were extremely vigorous. i understand that each series of movements was designed by the master, and that to the initiate many of them express symbolically varying phases of thought and emotion.

the study house is not yet complete, gorgeous as is the interior. gurdjieff told me that he is having built a special organ, unique in europe, with the octaves in quarter tones. much also remains to be done to other parts of the house. soon the fountain will diffuse a different perfume for every hour, and other fountains are yet to be installed. by his elaborate combination of appeals to the senses gurdjieff believes he is providing so many aids to meditation. "the senses should be gently distracted," he said, "and then the mind itself untrammeled by the senses is free to work. only by such means can it be brought into the way of harmonious development together with the body and with the emotions. it is indispensable to develop new faculties which are not given to man in life and cannot be developed by him, in himself, by the usual methods."

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dances of old and far away revealed by gurdjieff pupils
edward moore

a rather extraordinary performance took place at orchestra hall last night. it was the first appearance in chicago of members of the gurdjieff institute of fontainebleau, france, presenting what was called a demonstration of ancient sacred art.

in detail it consisted of various sacred dances and ceremonials, ritual movements, and the gymnastics out of which they are developed from the temples and monasteries of the orient, of persia, afghanistan, turkestan, tibet and india. for this there was music, rated as being of high antiquity, some taken down by investigators in actual performances in the temples, others deciphered from inscriptions on monuments.

it was not in any respect a theatrical reproduction, in fact only a few were performed in costume. the rest were done in the white pajama-like working costume of the dancers. but they were uncommonly interesting, if only from the fact that their effect came only from bodily expression. and this expression ran all the way from the ventral unease of the old streets of cairo shows, through an ornate shimmy to some striking and lovely pictorial effects.

many were of extraordinary intricacy, the more so that it was an intricacy little known by the western world. some of the bodily movements were in opposition to the rhythm of the music; in others the hands followed the music while the feet opposed it; in still others the positions were reversed. there were some group ceremonials that would make the fortune of a modern stage manager if he knew how to work them, for the members of each half of the group were all performing different movements and yet the two halves were in exact, geometric symmetry. seldom does one see such perfection of rhythm. the effect was rather breathtaking. another performance will be given at the blackstone theater monday night.

chicago daily tribune, 22 mar. 1924