Dance Review: ‘Convocation of Isis and Osiris’ at Isis Oasis in Geyserville (****)

(Martin A. David)

(Rating: ****)

(This performance of ‘Convocation of Isis and Osiris’ was a one-off. However, the Isis Oasis Retreat Center presents similar performances annually and occasionally at various times. Visit their website  to be informed of performances open to the public.)

There was a time when all dance was sacred dance and, to a certain extent, that is still true. The question can be asked, should something sacred be reviewed for publication and should it be held to the same kind of standards as out and out theatrical dance?

There’s no one answer to that question, but the convocational, ceremonial work performed in the temple/theatre at Isis Oasis inhabited both worlds comfortably. It was the yearly ritual pageant in honor of the Egyptian god-pair Isis and Osiris and it was also a fully professional level presentation that could stand on its own outside of the sacred context.

Loreon Vigne, founder of Isis Oasis and Priestess of Isis. Photo credit: Isis Oasis.
Loreon Vigne, founder of Isis Oasis and Priestess of Isis. Photo credit: Isis Oasis.

The Isis Oasis Retreat Center, Temple, and Animal Sanctuary in Geyserville, California was founded in 1978 by Loreon Vigne, as part of the worldwide organization known as the Fellowship of Isis. The fellowship is one of the driving energies behind the revival of spiritual interest in the ancient religions of Egypt. Lady Loreon, as she is called by those who are part of the movement, refers to the beautiful 10 acre center as a living art project. The property, with its brightly painted temples and shrines, thriving gardens,  an amazing array of caged rare birds and other animals, is indeed a work of art. The property was once a gathering place for the coastal Pomo Indians and later a learning center of the Bahai’ faith.

This reviewer’s invitation to the unique event came through one of the dancers, but the event was open to local Geyserville residents and to the public at large.

Waves of incense smoke greeted the audience as the doors to the performance space were opened. Each audience member received a dab of perfumed oil on the forehead and the blessing, “In the name of the eternal Isis and the everlasting Osiris.”  There are many ways to set theatrical moods and this one was pretty direct. We became not only observers of the ceremony, but also anointed participants.

As the audience was seated, two figures—male and female—in garb designed, as were most of the evening’s costumes, after Egyptian wall paintings, stood in the space and performed repeated hand and arm gestures. Slides of ancient Egyptian religious and architectural motifs, ankhs and temple details, filled the rear wall of the performance area. The performers’ movements morphed from simple ritual to clearly choreographed dance.

Lee'ma Kathleen Graham.
Le’ema Kathleen Graham.

Choreographer/Producer Le’ema Kathleen Graham is both an ordained priestess in the Temple of Isis and a highly trained dance and theatre professional. Her skill in creating the ritual performance, her 17th such participation, made use of both aspects of her background.

The ceremony had its clearly delineated sections, but they flowed together seamlessly. A figure called Star Goddess captured the light in center stage in a shimmering cape that gave the appearance of a giant, golden moth. When she turned to face the audience, she began a sequence that joined traditional Egyptian raq al sharqi movement with the flow of modern dance. This combining of elements — ancient, middle-Eastern, and modern — was a repeated strong point of the entire evening.

Another repeated element was the use of soft but precise unisons. White robed dancers, again in costumes that resembled figures from the temple walls of ancient Egypt, entered in a procession, and then used a large silken cloth to define and capture the space. The clarity of their movements and the intensity of their performance added both joy and solemnity to the performing area. The unison steps added volume and made the four procession dancers seem like at least twice that number.

The rich visual landscape of the piece included two priestesses bearing live snakes. Their choreographic duties were minimal, but their presence was definitely felt.

The high points of the evening were two duets. The first, a depiction of the coronation of Isis and Osiris featuring the evening’s overall choreographer Le’ema Kathleen Graham and her partner Eric Bobrow, began with a traditional Egyptian cane dance. This section, with additional choreography by Hannah Romanowsky, is often done by a female dancer as part of the so-called belly dance scene in Egyptian tourist night clubs. The male version, as performed with light-hearted humor by Bobrow, drew its structure from much more traditional sources.

The playful cane dance morphed into a serious portrayal as the two gods adorned and crowned each other.

The second duet gave us Ruby Moon and Donyel Antony as Divine Lovers, and filled the theatre with crackling eroticism. The pair, in sheer, gold lamé costumes, moved from slow sensuousness to a flirty, modern movement without losing focus.

Pure ritual can look so intensely into itself that the observer is ignored. The Isis Oasis convocation ceremony never ignored us. It added a touch of theatricality that was satisfying without compromising its spiritual integrity.

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“Convocation of Isis and Osiris” choreographed by Le’ema Kathleen Graham, produced by Isis Oasis. Technical director: Eric Bobrow. Choreographic assistance: Hannah Romanowsky. Costumes: Dhyanis.

High Priestess: Rain Graves. High Priest: Dragonfly Adularia. Star Goddess: Mash Loukianenko. Wandering Dervish: Debra Nunes. Nile River Priestesses: Mash Loukianenko, Jenna Cohen, Reilly Cohen, Spiraleena. Snake Priestesses: Jennifer Mantle and Athene Mantle. Osiris and Isis: Eric Brobrow and Le’ema Kathleen Graham. Divine Lovers as Double Wadjet: Ruby Moon, Donyel Antony.

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