In the "submerged cross ritual," a woman standing on a pedestal in semidarkness sweeps her palms over her face, revealing a mouth gaping wide as if in horror. In voiceover, she explains that she has ruined her life by scattering herself into too many disparate parts, each part straining to meet other people's expectations. Writhing on his back in that same semidarkness, a man calls himself an "insidious, irrepressible reptilian stalker."
"My ego has been a con artist for years," the woman intones, "but her cover has just been blown." Seizing at the air with repeated spastic motions, she whimpers. She yips. It's frightening. But so, avows Antero Alli, whose film CRUX includes these scenes, is the human mind. Since the 1970s, Berkeley-based director/author/ritualist Alli has been honing his own form of soul-searching, a "ritual technology for self-initiation" that he calls paratheatre. Drawing upon the principles and techniques of experimental theater, dance, martial arts, and Zen meditation, paratheatre is meant to be experienced by its participants in private — albeit in groups — rather than seen. In its rituals, participants access and express long-submerged crises.
"Without an audience," Alli explains, "the focus shifts away from the external 'pressure to perform' and toward more self-created pressures of performing actions with enough commitment to transform and refine the instrument: the self."
Paratheatre practitioners learn to breathe, stretch, flex their spines, make sounds, and stand still in total silence, practicing the state known as No-Form, which Alli calls "a concept-free zone" that reveals "the degree of comfort you can feel for being nothing, for being nobody ... for just being."
Neither an actual theater company nor a congregation, "we are more like a rotating skeleton crew of highly committed and skilled individuals who come and go according to our own needs to work together and part ways until the next ritual lab, theatre, or film project magnetizes its unique group animal," explains Finnish-born Alli, whose books include AngelTech, Astrologik, and Towards an Archeology of the Soul. "Most of our ongoing work occurs behind locked doors of dance and yoga studios with occasional sojourns to wilderness settings."
Although paratheatre is not intended for audiences, every few years Alli and his crew "consolidate our processes into a public performance vehicle." CRUX, which documents one of these rare performances, will be screened at the Humanist Hall (390 27th St., Oakland) on Wednesday, September 16.
Its premise, as Alli explains in the film, is that "everyone is crucified somewhere." Each participant, including the yipping woman and writhing man, sets out to discover via paratheatrical means exactly to which psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual crux he or she is nailed.
Alli has been thinking about his own cruxes. Last year, he explains, "I reached a personal 'crisis of context.' ... This change of course quietly began 23 years earlier in 1985 after an initiatic encounter with Australian Aborigine elder Guboo Ted Thomas that impacted my past, present, and future relations with dreams, the dreambody, and the dreamtime. I now know the Earth and the so-called Dreamtime as one and the same." 7:30 p.m., $5. Paratheatrical.com
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