- Please tell us about your journey into the spiritual and ethnic dance forms. How did you discover it?
MP: My love of dance started as a young child and has led me on a life long journey taking me throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. I have studied with master teachers from around the world and done intensives in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Israel-Palestine. For me movement and dance has always been my preferred language, and I have spent my entire life trying to learn new vocabularies of movement expression to be able to communicate with a wider population. Dance for me is my spiritual practice and a way that I can connect to the greatest mysteries in this lifetime.
Living both in the Middle East and the U.S. as well as traveling internationally, has offered me many rich opportunities for cultural collaboration and has given me great inspiration to build bridges of respect, love and unity among people of different backgrounds and spiritual traditions. I am the creator and director of the “Miriam’s Well Project”, an interfaith performance collaboration exploring sacred dance, music, and spirituality from the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions. Although this project was birthed many years ago, the inspiration continues on and has become a core for my spiritual practice as well as my dance practice.
2.Tell us more about Miriam's well
MP: “Miriam's Well” is an interfaith performance piece that draws from the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions. Interweaving dance, music, and sacred texts, “Miriam's Well” binds these three traditions to reveal their interconnectedness. This piece focuses on three representative female figures—Miriam, Maryam, and Mary. These three mothers share their experiences of receiving revelations at the well, a place of deep knowledge and faith. The work draws on the traditional expressive arts and rituals, contemporary theater and dance technique, emotionally engaging the audience in a rich image of a shared heritage. “Miriam's Well” features original choreographies and compositions by the collaborating artists.
The title “Miriam's Well” is inspired by a biblical myth (midrash) that describes a well that followed the ancient Israelites throughout their forty years of wandering in the desert. This abundant source of water was in Miriam's merit and is said to have dried up upon her passing. The legend says that the well is now located in the Lake Kinneret, of northern Israel/Palestine, and is said to be found in the middle of the lake only on the full moon. By drinking from it, one may be cured of physical or spiritual illness. Both in Jerusalem and Nazareth there are “Mary's Well's” held sacred to both Christians and Muslims. The well is symbolic of the depths of our souls, and just as all three women reach deep to find their truths it is revealed that they all connect to the one source.
Water is the source of life, a human necessity and it's abundance a blessing in every tradition. The scarcity of water in the Middle-East has become a serious crisis, potentially even more dangerous than the religious and territorial conflicts. The very basic need to share water binds the people of the Middle-East together since without peace the well will soon run dry.
During the decade that I lived in Israel/Palestine, I came to see the effect of the powerful distrust and animosities that were poisoning the well, the universal source from which all three of the religious traditions are drawn. The inspiration for this piece comes from a deep sorrow that has grown in my heart from witnessing the breakdown of relations amongst the people based on their religious differences. My hope is that this piece will illuminate the common ground of these three traditions, offering a pathway for healing. I hope to one day bring this piece back to the stage after many years, as well as find ways to offer workshops steeped in the themes of interfaith collaboration.
3.What inspired you to adapt to dance? What does dance mean to you personally? Tell us about a project ( a form of expressive dance) that is the closest to your heart. ( you can talk about how the dance is a form of meditation, personal healing, etc for you.)
MP: Dance speaks a universal language that expresses the infinite ways of the divine. It reaches beyond cultural and religious differences to express the deepest dimensions of our being, in a way no words or book could ever do.
My love of dance and movement has led me on a life-long journey through many different lands and cultures. These cultural exchanges have inspired me to search for ways that dance and the arts can help bridge cultural gaps and create respect, love and unity among people of different backgrounds.
Dance has been my means of communication with the world, my tool for unlocking the wisdom within my unconscious. My form is traditional yet contemporary, inspirational yet highly disciplined, and more than anything devotional.
I believe that dance is an important path for personal healing as it offers a uniquely powerful means of expressing deep emotion and spiritual yearning.
Within the Sacred Circle of Dance, we create community, connect our hearts, and send blessings and healing to one another and to the world.
My artistic inspiration is drawn from many sources including the beautifully expressive dances of the Silk Road (Central Asia); prayers, and rituals from around the world; the path of the whirling dervish; mystical Sufi & Kabbalistic teachings; flowing water, redwood groves, and silent desert terrain.
In the dance world I see two very important movement streams. One being the stream of cultural preservation, and the other being the stream of innovation and adaptation. Although I have spent over 20 years steeped in the study of traditional forms
as a teacher and performing artist I have used the wisdom and inspiration from these forms to create a more personalized approach to dance practice. My practice is rooted in intentional movement and ritual with the notion of dance being a transformational practice. A holistic integration of body, mind and spirit.
The two dance forms that I have created and codified are: Nava Dance and Integral Dance. Nava Dance is very much rooted in Central Asian aesthetics, and mystical practices. There is also a strong foundation of dance as a means of creating community and sisterhood. Integral Dance does not have a particular aesthetic however draws on contemporary dance, martial arts and various world dance forms. It focuses on the transformational qualities in movement practice. Specifically we work with seven core soul traits as anchors for our movement expressions. These core soul traits include: Gratitude, Humility, Compassion, Generosity, Patience, Discipline & Equinimity. Although these forms have slightly different approaches they are similar in their core value of embracing dance as a healing artform.
4.Tell us about the traditional ritual aspect of the dance. How can you relate it with a healthy mind, soul & body?
MP: I weave spirituality and devotion into every dance session, drawing on my personal practice as a dervish and background as a child of mystics. My classes are infused with group rituals that help my students find the deeper meaning and significance of the movements and dances. The rituals also nurture a sense of inclusivity and community, often creating deep connections amongst dancers. Regarded as a weekly ritual by my students, my classes offer a fully integrated experience and healing journey through the terrain of the body, heart, mind and spirit. My students often continue to study with me after many years, as I continue to find innovative ways to challenge them. But even more importantly my classes deeply nourish long-term connections amongst dancers, and I find that this is what keeps us together over the course of many years
- Can you tell us your favorite poets, artists, dervishes? ( anyone who has inspired you & your art)
MP: Some of my main dance mentors and inspirations are Sharlyn Sawyer (director of Ballet Afsaneh,) Wan-Chao Chang (Ethno-contemporary dance pioneer,) Ilana Cohen (X-director of Inbal Ethnic Dance Company,) Fanny Ara (Flamenco artist,) Carla de Sola (liturgical dance pioneer,) Akram Khan, Sifu Patti and the legendary Anna Halprin. As a dervish I have studied with and been in close mentorship with three main teachers: Hilal Sala (Mevlevi Order of America,) Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje (Chishty Sheikh,) and his son/successor, Issa Nessim (Chishty Sheikh.) Poetry is a great source of inspiration for me and some of my favorites include: Mevlana Jellaladin Rumi, Hafez, Ommar Khayyam, and Mary Oliver.