Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company
|Purpose||Musical theatre / Ritual theatre|
The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company was a poetic sacred folk theater group created, written and directed by poet Daniel Moore (presently Sufi-Muslim poet Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore), who in 1964 published a volume of poetry, Dawn Visions, with Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books of San Francisco. The opera company was based in North Berkeley, California, from around 1966 to sometime in 1969, and for three years presented two major musical ritual dramas, The Walls Are Running Blood, and Bliss Apocalypse. The cast, crew and orchestra members were primarily enthusiastic amateurs, many originally painters or artists in other mediums who were intrigued with the vision of The Floating Lotus and eager to participate in what was a celebration and expression of the tribal consciousness "in the air" in Berkeley, California at that very explosive and expressive time. Often, however, the orchestra in particular was graced with actual musicians of some stature, such as poet and musician Angus MacLise (formerly of the Velvet Underground), poet, musician and translator Louise Landes Levi, light-artist and musician Daniel Conrad, writer and musician Marc Allen and others. Internationally famous composer Terry Riley occasionally played his erhu with the orchestra and provided some musical direction, as did Ramon Sender, who spent some time coaching the players and dancers as well. One of the members of the chorus, dancer Kamala Cesar, went on to become the disciple of South Indian Dance Master, Balasaraswati, and subsequently opened her own dance studio in New York, Lotus Music & Dance, http://www.lotusmusicanddance.org/ very much present today (2007). Many others came and went, playing for a while in the orchestra or acting in the dramas, and many have continued to pursue spiritual paths (such as leading actor and directing collaborator, Zilla Haimowitz, now author and Shaykha Mariam Kabeer Faye,and others), artistic endeavors or other successful and adventurous routes unaccountable in this short recollection.
The impetus and inspiration for the theater company was manifold: Zen Buddhism, which Moore and others of the company were studying at the time, primarily with Zen Master Shrunryu Suzuki in San Francisco, the very vivid and public poetry of the time, by such luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, and its application to open-air ritual theater, as theorized by Antonin Artaud, the music and dance of folk theater, such as Balinese Gamelan rituals, Tibetan monastery rituals of evocation and exorcism, Kathakali of India, etc. and the general wild imagination of the era. Initial poetic "scripts" were written by Moore, with changes, inclusions or deletions, as the members of the Opera Company began rehearsing, trying different things in the kaleidoscope of states we were in at the time,though the final arbiter of changes (usually negotiable) was always left to Moore.
The intention underlying both of the productions was the transformation of evil and dark energies, such as were driving the Vietnam War, into positive and light energies, through a cathartic initiation, which the central hero had to undergo in both operas. Each performance began with the company coming out in front of the set and sitting in a large circle to meditate and chant OM, the intonation of peace, for some minutes before commencing the opera. The operas themselves were highly choreographed and dramatically intense, with gongs and drums and horns underlying the chanted poetry from the players, ending in a thunderous climax, that then transformed into peaceful meditation. At each performance the audience sat in silence with the company at the end in meditation, sometimes for over twenty minutes, then food was passed out (free), and the audience invited down from the amphitheater seats to dance in jubilation.
Each performance of their major works was performed at night, in an amphitheater in North Berkeley, Hinkel Park, by torchlight, with Coleman Lanterns set in reflecting bases for footlights, with sets of painted backdrops on large canvas shapes, using "folk" elements such as neon painted cardboard flames and silvery wings, silken cloth rippled in the torchlight to approximate a river of light—basically simple elements with highly charged visual effects, but without modern technology of any kind. No electric lights, no microphones, nor did the company charge money for the performances, but a hat was passed around afterward, with enough "take" to carry on until the next week, from an audience that usually comprised about 200 or so people.
Other smaller occasional pieces were also developed over the three-year period as the situation required, The Floating Lotus being a kind of peoples' ritual for centering and ecstatic release. They also performed either these pieces or sometimes the major operas at Grace Cathedral, Chet Helms' The Family Dog, the Esalen Institute and Fillmore West Ballroom.
For the full text of Bliss Apocalypse, with stage business and photographs, and photographs from The Walls Are Running Blood, visit the Theater category at Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore's website