The Crystal Cracked :: Age of Resistance

I’m a massive Dark Crystal fan, always have been and always will be. I first saw it when I was three and remember running away from the TV because I was terrified of the opening sequence and the decaying, raptor-like SkekSis. My Dad came after me, sat me on his knee and told me that if I didn’t watch the film all the way through to the end then I’d always be frightened of the SkekSis. So I did, and I wasn’t, which was quite the profound and lasting revelation.

In my twenties, after long nights of clubbing, The Dark Crystal was the film to soothe my head when sleep was an elusive improbability. I still watch it every blue moon and then and it makes me cry even now with its conceptual elegance, the sheer love that went into its hand-crafted, cinematic wizardry and the deeply relevant yet achingly ancient poetry that radiates from its heart.

It’s also no secret that the ‘Great Conjunction’ – as depicted by the UrRu in their sand drawings on the floor of the Mystics Valley – is tattooed on my back. To me it’s a symbol of unification; a cyclical model of time where past and present have always and will always merge in some pre-destined, long ago moment where all events, personal and transpersonal, end and simultaneously begin. The design itself was in fact the very talisman that led me to a certain esoterically minded tattooist in 2012, who would eventually become my husband. A cycle of my own, ended and began that very day.

Tattoo

 

Back in 1982 when The Dark Crystal first came out it was the darker, weirder older sibling of everyone’s favourite fantasy romp Labyrinth, whose popularity was in no small way boosted by a chameleonic, cod-piece wearing Goblin King played by David Bowie. Unlike Labyrinth, which is more playfully eccentric and acts as a mirror-world to our known reality, The Dark Crystal is unapologetically unsettling and at times violent and, most importantly, is purposefully out-of-time. The world of Thra as we now know it, exists in a proto-mythological landscape where humans are not even considered.

At the crescendo of the original film you discover that the two opposing forces; the gentle UrRu (representing ritual magic, ancestral gnosis, a connection to Nature, creativity and tradition) and the greedy, materialistic SkekSis (representing Ego, the harnessing of natural forces for secular purposes, consumerism and the domination / destruction of the environment) originate from the UrSkeks, beings of truth and balance who arrived during an earlier conjunction through a star portal and later, during another conjunction, cracked the crystal of truth in a moment of ignorance – unwittingly catalysing their fall into duality.

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You can see the Dark Crystal’s original mythology here as outlined by J.J.Llewellyn who wrote The World of the Dark Crystal book (released in tandem with the film). Incidentally, the website referenced pre-dates the Netflix’s series by a couple of decades and has been running competitions for writers to come up with a worthy prequel for as long as I can remember. I’m naturally kicking myself that I didn’t have the self-belief to submit my own prequel in my early twenties, but there’s always time.

To me, the ultimate message of the 1982 film / book combo was simple: Shadow needs light, and light needs shadow – they are part of the same creature and create a self-replenishing circuit or, as the UrSkeks so succinctly explain whilst resurrecting the dying heroine Kira; “Hold her to you Jen, for she is part of you, as we are all part of each other”. When we are ‘whole’, i.e. conscious and self-aware, we may know eternal life: if we are like the SkekSis, trying to cheat death or manipulate our way into a false immortality we sap the essence of everything around us and destroy the delicate harmony of Life itself.

To open this up even further, The Great Conjunction is a clear metaphor for spiritual alignment and enlightenment: it is when all knowing and every aspect of ourselves come together, transcending duality and embracing our demons and our highest selves in an impermanent yet everlasting moment in time. The whole wonder of The Dark Crystal is its metaphorical symmetry, the enacting of a quest to Know Oneself, truly, or allow our very essence be drained away and weaponised by a maleficent force.

But about The Age of Resistance

All year friends of mine have been excitedly posting trailers from Netflix’s new Dark Crystal : Age of Resistance series on my Facebook page, and I’ve been staying (as much as I can) purposefully neutral. There’s not been a good run of reboots of my childhood favourites, Conan the Barbarian being the deepest and most painful wound (I tried to watch it, twice, but couldn’t get past Ron Pearlman’s death scene….it was almost as painful as when they made Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned…and don’t get me started on my fears for The Crow or Big Trouble in Little China…). I did notice quite early on a glaring plot hole in what the trailer’s seemed to be setting up; that the Crystal of Truth (or Heart of Thra as it’s now known) is whole and intact in this prequel and yet the SkekSis exist, independently, from the UrRu.

How have the script writers muddled past this massive incongruity, when it was such an integral part of the film? I wondered, deciding to wait and see if they’d figured something cool out.

Last night it became clear that they have not. In fact they’ve conjured up a story blaming Aughra (originally a bad-ass, cosmically neutral astronomer and the only one willing to openly insult and stand up to the SkekSis) for giving the crystal away in exchange for an giant orrery that allows her to commune with the stars. They even used the phrase “The SkekSis bewitched Aughra” which, if you’ve seen the original film, seems pretty ridiculous because Aughra is the very definition of She-Who-Sees-All. Her name itself comes from the word “augury”, which is defined as “an omen, a sign of what will happen in the future” and so whilst it firstly makes no sense that the SkekSis even existed as an independent entity before the Heart of Thra was cracked / given over to Dark Forces, I find it highly unlikely that Aughra, the Witch, the renegade, the cosmic Witness and Seer, could not foretell the consequences of her actions (or even intuit the toxicity of the SkekSis).

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Intuition also seems to be completely lacking in the Gelfling in the Age of Resistance, as they have been demoted from a culturally rich and self-sufficient civilisation to defenders and supporters of the SkekSis. The Gelfling are obedient castle guards, clapping crowds of mindless sheep or book keepers and even get in an excitable flutter when SkekSis carriages ride past or they are invited to a ball (??). I get that the creators are parodying our relationship to our world leaders / celebrity culture, but anchoring it so firmly in our world-order really spoils things for me and stops the series from moving into a complete and alternative fantasy of its own.

In the original, Jen and Kira always seemed rooted by their intuition and their connectedness to the flora and fauna around them and that made their quest even more magically meaningful to me. Where has that gone? How can they have blinded themselves so enthusiastically against the corruption in front of them? I’m willing to admit that I’m being overly harsh, but my sneaky suspicion is that all this will not play out well, or get anywhere near the cosmic crescendo of the first film. My fears are only amplified by a really clumsy script that turn Rian and Deet’s romance into a stumbling, smaltzy cliché and the SkekSis’s vileness into triteness. “You want to be careful, because big things often run over little things” said a SkekSis to the Gelfing Princess last night.  No shit, really? I think I shouted at the TV, frustrated with having everything spoon fed to me. These kind of points were made much more skilfully and effectively in the film with barely little dialogue, and the cruelness of the SkekSis made plain as we watched them gorge on the creatures previously seen flourishing in the swamplands of Kira’s home. Most of the dialogue felt clunky and repetitive throughout, which was such a shame when the artists, set-designers and puppet makers have clearly gone above and beyond to stay true to the integrity of the original.

None of this even touches upon the complete omission of the UrRu in the first episode, whose lives / journey paralleled every action and movement of the SkekSis in the film (remember when the Emperor and the UrRu Elder both die at exactly the same time right at the very beginning of the story – that was a major clue!) Whilst I’m sure there’ll be some hero’s journey that take the new Gelfing protagonists to meet the UrRu and gain insight or some magical tools, completely omitting them from the offset loses some of the wonderful symmetry that underpins everything in the original narrative.

Everything in The Dark Crystal was designed according to a very specific and complimentary set of mathematical designs (triangles inside circles) and if you read The World of the Dark Crystal conceptual art book you’ll see everything; the sets, the creatures, the artwork, the back drops, the props, everything you can see fits within these geometric principles. That’s why the whole world looks and feels so conceptually whole and to their credit, the Henson / Froud led designers of the Age of Resistance have held true to.

But to leave out the UrRu and this sense of narrative symmetry as it unfolds really loses some of the potency as far as I’m concerned. I can’t help but think that the original Dark Crystal crew, writers and concept designers spear-headed by the amazing (and clearly magically minded) Brian and Wendy Froud were themselves a bunch of eccentric, creative witches and wizards who understood that the most complex and revelatory wisdom is best expressed through subtle and innocuous mediums: children’s fantasy. They certainly instilled a collective masterpiece with a sublimated magical current that elevated The Dark Crystal into something so much more than fairy tale yarn.

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This to me was the whole wonder and beauty of The Dark Crystal, the metaphorical symmetry of darkness and the light, the ultimate quest for each and every one of us to Know Ourselves truthfully, on a deep and fundamental level, guided by our intuition and played out through the SkekSis and UrRu.

I really, really want to like The Age of Resistance (especially now when what we need most is the impetus to rise up against our own very real essence draining overlords!!) but I’m not even sure if the beautiful effects and incredible puppetry will stop me from wincing (or shouting) every time the Gelfling’s say something dumb or the story moves further and further away from its original heart and soul. The film wasn’t faultless, I’m not totally blinded by nostalgia; Jen sounded like Michael Jackson and constantly whinged aaaall the way through, but it felt like a cosmic myth, instead of badly written allegory, and I’m really not sure if The Age of Resistance has skipped over the most essential and relevant point.

 

I guess there’s nothing to do but sit tight until the end and hope all my fears are unfounded.

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Glass Hearts

Glass Hearts

Stefanie Elrick

 

The woman at the counter cups a tiny heart of glass,

You swap it for the shards you found behind the underpass.

At last, what you’ve been searching for! Caress it with a gaze:

Admire its weight upon your fate as surroundings start to haze.

 

Phasing out of old perception, the ceiling drips down past the walls:

The windows start to peel away and thaw into the doors.

You’re shuddering now, in a brightening place: there’s a light to bleach your Soul.

You put your hand upon your chest; no brooding beat at all.

 

The floor begins to fracture and you struggle to stand still,

Just keep this little glass heart safe despite the overspill.

A heat begins to sear your skin: your eyes no longer see.

You’re just a little speck of might in a white hot fantasy.

 

Cling tight to this little hope, it’s all there’s left to feel;

A centre to the frenzy in a world of unending unreal.

Now hurtling faster all around are heavy chunks of brick,

They’ll crush your little glass heart if you flinch or don’t act quick.

 

Admit, the only way to keep it safe so nothing will collide:

Open wide your meagre, eager throat and let it slip inside.

Breeze

Breeze 

Stefanie Elrick

 

A wind

Blows you in

On the breath of a breeze,

It slips past my hips

Grips the back of my knees.

Each gust

Airy clutched

Wraps my hair in its grasp,

I could swear, you were here

But that thought never lasts).

So….

…….try clasp to these fragments,

These splinters of skin;

Slightly dulled by their substance

Merely memory and whim.

Night fell

Pulled me with it,

We scabbed our knees

And split our chins.

We should have watched where we were going

But our instincts pulled us in.

Sophia :: The Beginning and The End

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From as early as she could remember, Sophia knew the universe was inside her.

Unlike most, she never forgot.

As a girl, she discovered that if she pressed her eyes into the crook of her arm, exerting a controlled but constant pressure, that an optical explosion, or nebulous burst of rainbow sparks, would fill the space behind her eyes. This only lasted a few seconds, and couldn’t be repeated straight away afterwards, because eventually her head began to throb and her eyeballs ached from overstraining. When the pain came, the prickles of light would take on a hammer-dull pulse, then she’d blink or shift her focus, making the whole hypnotic whorl shrink back into black. But the headaches were nothing compared to the wonders she beheld, so the game became to see how long she could bear it, whilst observing the dance of the pin-prick prisms. Like any good scientist, or enthusiastic child, she repeated her experiments diligently, and from here she witnessed the deaths and births of galaxies: a thousand mini-big-bangs inside the deep space of her mind.

As she grew it seemed impossible to fathom a separation between herself and the cosmos.

When womanhood came, Sophia discovered new ways to summon these temporary phenomena by exploring the soft inner sanctums of her body. Alone in the dark, she learnt the language of friction and folds; of heat and sweat and ecstatic breath. Sophia became an expert conjurer of these sensual stellar currents as electricity leapt from her crotch and into her heart, firing lightening around her veins and her entire nervous system. She reasoned this must be the language of the universe, all pressure and motion expressed in synesthetic light. Without a teacher she found herself fluent, and was delighted that these marvels could be willingly and precisely enticed. So she rubbed, and she tugged, and she roughly invoked, until the energy ricocheted up and down her spine, forcing a pillar of brilliance out of the top of her head and from the tip of every pointed toe. The harder she worked, the brighter the colours and more complex their configurations and, once married with sensation, they detonated shockwaves; rippling light-tremors that blew her wide open to the void.

From this vista, she witnessed Eternity, no longer a girl-child but a thrust of purest energy: a bright sphere of matter, self-replenishing, and infused with the splendour of new-born stars.

Now, she didn’t just observe the rainbow clusters, she was their celestial rebirth.

Sophia discovered that with the right kind of friction and flexibility, the right physical gravity and compatibility, that the explosions might be amplified with, or even gifted to her, by others. This was a revelation, and with the zeal of an ardent pioneer she found new physical landscapes to conquer and explore. These, she’d meet in secret, and they’d rub their bodies vigorously together: all ravenous innocence and volatile lust. Afterwards, they’d bask in a glaze of giddy wonderment, amazed and in awe of fusion’s afterglow.

It wasn’t difficult to find others to experiment with, and Sophia was eager to test every variable at her disposal. New subjects flocked to her, all equally inquisitive, and drawn by her innate magnetic pull. These bodies, she bashed and crashed against, and her lovers were many, and frequent, and increasingly insignificant. The more she discovered, the more she craved, and after a time their cumulative gravity took its toll.

Now a woman, Sophia indulged her lust-frenzy freely, demanding ever more intense chemical stimuli as the subjects blurred into one. Now, Sophia was pure hungry body – no longer a careful scientist – addicted entirely to an all-consuming pursuit. The visions weren’t a gift she gave herself anymore, they were her access to oblivion and an itch to be scratched, an impulse she no longer controlled.

The balance shifted. Something was forgotten. Sophia’s core cooled into a tight, hard knot. Inside, a stiff kind of indifference was formed, like a lump of heavy iron. It happened so gradually that Sophia barely even noticed the weight, until a crack, a sudden rupture, caused unprecedented implosions.

Without warning her world turned colourless, all vitality bled dry through some unseen  black hole. Now, her couplings were exhausting, no longer quests for any inner holy light. No matter how hard she pushed, or pulled, or how ardently she worked, the visions wouldn’t be bidden. In desperation she sought more extreme and unfamiliar subjects and found only similar, sprawling voids. Sophia was lost, distraught and directionless – for surely her life’s work had been to exalt the mysteries of her own skin? There were no answers, no formulas for this hollowness. Try as she might she could not reason herself whole.

Time slowed, though all around her, seemed to pick up speed. She was alone. She floundered. Disconnected.

What could she do but let herself drift?

Sophia grieved for this terrible wounding, this gross injustice that had stolen her gift.

And in her compulsive, empty rituals, she moved ever closer to some inevitable yet unknown horizon.

Confusion chewed her,

consumed her and

broke her down,

until all she was, was

aching truth.

The body was no tool,

no vehicle to be thus abused;

it was a

temple;

the universe incarnate,

experiencing itself in

one

swift

blink

of

life.

                                                And if this shrine was a house of visceral divinity,

why seek the Light outside of herself?

Sophia surrendered. She let the abyss swallow her. It sucked her back into its cyclical womb. Here, it digested, re-energised and un-birthed her, until she was nothing but hydrogen and dust.

And in these final shudderings of sentience, as an indiscriminate stellar matter, Sophia beheld the reversed wonder of her body with an awe and a love like never before. The void embraced her, soothed her and dissolved all woes. She was swaddled in an aeon of black. The profusion of this chaos was unending. Her Universe inverted, then began its journey back.

 

Wonder Women Festival – Manchester

From the 2nd – 12th of March Manchester’s many theatres, galleries and clubs will be flooded with artists, activists and creators celebrating just what it means to be a woman. Documentary films about Rebel Dykes, all female techno nights and a huge range of performance and art are on the bill. Could you love Manchester any more?!

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This bold inspiring festival (which sounds to me like a direct challenge to own your own wondrousness) is a creative countdown to the 100yr anniversary of women winning the partial  vote in 1918. Manchester has always been full of forward-thinking fire-crackers, none so much as Emily Pankhurst who was of course, born and bred on the mean streets of Mosside.

The festival poses the question, just how far have we actually come in the past 100yrs and it’s an honour to be invited by Instigate Arts to explore the theme not once but twice throughout the festival.

At the festival’s free launch night ‘Making The Strange Familiar with Instigate Arts’ on Thurs 2nd March I will perform The Art of Reflection at Manchester Art Gallery, a piece first created for the Trans-State conference last year. I describe this piece as a dance-based mirror ritual exploring identity and it’s construction and have integrated a lot of my own magical practices into it. I’m also in the middle of writing my next short story, which is about a woman consumed by a hungry mirror, so there’s certainly a theme bubbling away in my work!

I believe the body is the most powerful tool of expression, for a woman to be dancing freely (outside the confines of some shady establishment) would have alone been dangerous in centuries past! The body also provides a perfect canvas for people’s expectations, which I personally delight in subverting. The Art of Reflection plays with ideas of self-invention and transformation and has a soundtrack that slaloms through the Sex Pistols, to Garbage to Bjork (allowing me to shake out all my crazy energy and channel it healthily!) This piece’s pretty risky climax can’t be practiced or rehearsed, so how it ends is just as much of a surprise to me as my audience. Come and see! The event is open to the public and begins at 5:30pm.

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IMAGE BY LAURA WILLIAMS

Then on the 3rd March at the Royal Exchange I will perform a pure movement piece called ’21st Century Witchcraft’ in the Dolly Mixtures showcase at The Royal Exchange theatre. This cabaret style event is a brilliant place to revive a performance I first created for A Queer Review in collaboration with the wonderful Greg Thorpe. The piece responds to a 7min monologue from Anohni (of Anthony and the Johnsons) in which transgressive bodies, witch craft and the feminisation of religious icons are discussed.

Last time I performed this piece I was told by my partner that I looked like a “sexy mental patient” – probably one of the most honest and accurate critiques I’ve ever been given. Other beautiful weirdos like Rosie Garland, Jane Bradey and Trish Dee are also on the bill that night, so there’s certainly no shortage of wild inspiring women! Tickets available here.

 

The Wonder Women festival has been made possible by the People’s History Museum and Creative Tourist. Read the full festival line-up here.