talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

the struggle of the magicians
when the curtain rises there are several pupils, both men and women, already on the stage and others are seen to enter from time to time. they are well-built, nice-looking young people with good and pleasing expressions on their faces. they are dressed in white tunics; those of the girls are long, those of the men, to the knee. on their feet are sandals. the girls have their hair dressed smoothly and bound with gold fillets; the men wear silver ones. all have scarves around their waists; those of the girls are yellow orange and red, those of the men are green, dark blue and light blue... the magician walks about the room, going to some of the pupils to examine their work and give suitable instruction. after some little time, he says something to all of the pupils and returns to his throne. immediately the pupils leave their work and place themselves in rows, and at a sign from the magician they go through various movements resembling dances. the magician's assistant walks up and down and corrects their postures and movements. these "sacred dances" are considered to be one of the principal subjects of study in all esoteric schools of the east. both in ancient times and at the present day. the movements of which these dances consist have a double purpose; they express and contain a certain knowledge and at the same time, they serve as a method of attaining a harmonious state of being. combinations of these movements express different sensations, produce varying degrees of concentration of thought, create necessary efforts in different functions and show the possible limits of individual force.
(from: act two of the struggle of the magicians)
the struggle of the magicians is mentioned by the two main biographers of the early era of gurdjieff's work, p. d. ouspensky and thomas de hartmann. they both assert that this ballet was the centre of gravity of gurdjieff's work during the time between 1919, when he moved to tiflis (now tbilisi), through constantinople (now istanbul), to berlin, where he settled in august 1921. in particular, ouspensky mentions that the ballet was to contain "dances, exercises, and the ceremonies of various dervishes as well as many little known eastern dances," and that gurdjieff was "bringing into it the dances of various dervishes and sufis, and recalling by memory the music he had listened to in asia many years before." It was only when gurdjieff arrived in france in 1922, settling at fontainebleau near avon, that he decided to present a demonstration that was not a production of his ballet. thus, it can be concluded that any work on music during the time before his arrival in france would be in connection with the ballet.

gurdjieff had been speaking of demonstrations of his ballet since 1914 and had already staged public demonstrations of his sacred dances in tiflis (1919) and constantinople (1920). because the ballet itself was never finished, and thus never performed, some of the music that had been composed for it was later used for the demonstrations in 1923, augmented by newer orchestrations that de hartmann wrote especially for the élysées performances.

in november, 1914, p. d. ouspensky's attention had been drawn by an announcement for this ballet in the voice of moscow. according to the notice in the newspaper, the action of the ballet was to take place in the east (from which ouspensky had just returned) and would give a complete picture of oriental magic, fakir miracles and sacred dances. when ouspensky first met gurdjieff in moscow in 1915, he soon discovered that "the hindu i. g. g."—the writer of the ballet that had attracted his interest in the previous winter—was in fact g. i. gurdjieff.

ouspensky wrote:
i once asked g. about the ballet which had been mentioned in the papers and referred to in the story "glimpses of truth" and whether this ballet would have the nature of a "mystery play."
"my ballet is not a 'mystery,'" said g. "the object i had in view was to produce an interesting and beautiful spectacle. of course there is a certain meaning hidden beneath the outward form, but i have not pursued the aim of exposing and emphasizing this meaning. an important place in the ballet is occupied by certain dances. i will explain this to you briefly. imagine that in the study of the movements of the heavenly bodies, let us say the planets of the solar system, a special mechanism is constructed to give a visual representation of the laws of these movements and to remind us of them. in this mechanism each planet, which is represented by a sphere of appropriate size, is placed at a certain distance from a central sphere representing the sun. the mechanism is set in motion and all the spheres begin to rotate and to move along prescribed paths, reproducing in a visual form the laws which govern the movements of the planets. this mechanism reminds you of all you know about the solar system. there is something like this in the rhythm of certain dances. in the strictly defined movements and combinations of the dancers, certain laws are visually reproduced which are intelligible to those who know them. such dances are called 'sacred dances.' in the course of my travels in the east i have many times witnessed such dances being performed during sacred services in various ancient temples. some of these dances are reproduced in 'the struggle of the magicians.' but if i produce the ballet on the ordinary stage the public will never understand these ideas."
i understood from what he said subsequently that this would not be a ballet i the strict meaning of the word, but a series of dramatic and mimic scenes held together by a common plot, accompanied by music and intermixed with songs and dances. the most appropriate name for these scenes would be "revue," but without any comic element. the "ballet" or "revue" was to be called "the struggle of the magicians." the important scenes represented the schools of a "black magician" and a "white magician," with exercises by pupils of both schools and a struggle between the two schools. the action was to take place against the back ground of the life of an eastern city, intermixed with sacred dances, dervish dances, and various national eastern dances, all this interwoven with a love story which itself would have an allegorical meaning.
i was particularly interested when g. said that the same performers would have to act and dance in the "white magician" scene and in the "black magician" scene; and that they themselves and their movements had to be attractive and beautiful in the first scene and ugly and discordant in the second. "You understand that in this way they will see and study all sides of themselves; consequently the ballet will be of immense importance for self-study," said g.
during the first half of 1919, gurdjieff had successfully worked on several of his movements with jeanne de salzmann's dalcroze pupils in tiflis. de hartmann writes about the work of this period:
work on the exercises began to go very intensively. a special women's class was formed of the most talented and inwardly devoted pupils. with them mr gurdjieff developed those women's dances that were later shown in the public demonstrations in paris.
impressed with the results, jeanne de salzmann offered gurdjieff a place on the programme with her own school in a demonstration of dances at the tiflis state opera theatre on 22 june 1919.
de hartmann continues:
[h]e [gurdjieff] began the first rehearsals for staging the struggle of the magicians, telling us that the state theatre would present it in the spring. He started with the scenes in which the same dancers make the beautiful movements of the pupils of the white magician as well as the ugly, deformed movements of the pupils of the black magician. there came a need to create music for the dances of the different peoples, and mr gurdjieff gave us the different modes of several nationalities, and not only the modes but also single details peculiar to the character of each nationality. these modes served, later on, for the creation of music for a variety of exercises, which he gave from time to time...
ever since early autumn
[1918] i had been quite anxious about starting intensive work on the struggle of the magicians. all my stage experience indicated that it was necessary to work much faster than we were working if the performance was to be given in the spring. mr gurdjieff had said: "write the music as you wish for the first act," and so, naturally, i did. returning one evening after supper, he finally, on my insistent request, began to whistle the music for the second act, which i tried feverishly to write in shorthand on music paper. of course, i knew from experience that when mr gurdjieff would actually stage the struggle of the magicians, all this would probably be changed or even not be used at all.
in january 1920, ouspensky moved to constantinople where he reconnected with gurdjieff in june. gurdjieff and de hartmann had already given a series of public demonstrations of the sacred dances in constantinople and its environs, accompanied by an orchestra that was conducted by de hartmann. ouspensky visited the mevlevi tekke with gurdjieff and saw the whirling dervishes; they also worked together on the translation of a persian dervish song for act one of the struggle of the magicians.

ouspensky writes about their collaboration:
g. gave to the ballet the central position of his work at that time. besides this he wanted to organize a continuation of his tiflis institute in constantinople, the principal place in which would be taken by dances and rhythmic exercises which would prepare people to take part in the ballet. according to his ideas the ballet should become a school. i worked out the scenario of the ballet for him and began to understand this idea better.
everything related to the performance of gurdjieff's ballet was a disguise for real work, where only the effort is necessary and the result serves no particular purpose for the pupil. although the scenario for the ballet had been conceived by gurdjieff and developed by ouspensky, stage designs had been painted by alexandre de salzmann some of the music had been composed and orchestrated by de hartmann, and props and costumes had been designed and made, the ballet itself was never finished.

the programme from the demonstration in tiflis on 22 june 1919 includes a fragment of a round dance from the third act of the struggle of the magicians, so apparently parts of it were tried out in public. but the ballet as a whole was never performed. "we were probably not at the time advanced enough for work with mr. gurdjieff to be our only aim; we still had to have an outer attraction, such as a public performance," concludes de hartmann in his book.

oriental suite