Artistic Director MOSES PENDLETON answers questions on the inspirations behind ALCHEMY, as well as his thoughts and ideas on the show.
Interview by Quinn Pendleton.
1. How did you decide to focus on the theme of Alchemy?
I’ve always used alchemical metaphors to describe the creative process of Momix. We work very collaboratively with simple props and ideas to create images which we can then put in the retort (the alchemist’s glass vessel), spin it and distill it, meanwhile believing that we can create something that will have the power to change base matter into gold, at least symbolically. I am fascinated by the ideas of metamorphosis; I see nature and the natural world as a scene of continual transformation, and seeing the human form connected to the non-human (i.e. plants, animals, minerals), continues to be an interest. I came to realize that alchemy is the great metaphor for the dream of transformation, including transforming the inner self. So, like so many others before me, I plunged myself into alchemical studies. Then the studio itself became a kind of laboratory.
2. Are you frequently inspired by other art forms? Are there any specific works that you looked to for inspiration on ALCHEMY?
Painting, music, literature, and even science… I absorb them all as I go about making a new work. I like to observe nature, and collaborate with it as a kind of gardener. As far as specific works of literature, Artaud’s Essay on Alchemical Theater and Yeats’ Rosa Alchemica both made a great impression on me. Eliade’s book on alchemy (The Forge and the Crucible) is very exciting. I read everything from Manly Hall’s thick, well-illustrated volume The Secret Teachings of All Ages to The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which almost fits in your pocket and contains recipes for…gold, of course. Karl Jung’s Alchemical Studies also proved very inspiring, for I always strive to tap into the unconscious. However, one piece that has proven itself of great value was The Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy!
3. What would you like audiences to take away or experience when watching this show?
I’ve always said that with Momix you should expect the unexpected. Sit back, enjoy the magic, and take in the optical confusions. Maybe you might sense a kind of alchemical transformation in the way you see the world, maybe another gravity. I hope that audiences can experience a crack in the “door of perception”, and get their feet wet in the "stream of un-conscious". If they can draw something from that, we encourage them to use their own personal unconscious to make contact with the stream that we have provided. The show doesn’t really tell a story, but it evokes through imagery a theater of light and physical bodies to create this field that could be stimulating.
4. ALCHEMY is definitely darker than your previous works; do you have a reason for this change of mood?
I would not say that the overall mood of the piece is dark; on the contrary, it’s a search for enlightenment. Alchemy, both chemically and spiritually, is a passage through darkness to light. The mixture is transformed by fire. Ancient alchemists spoke of the ‘torment of the metals’. Change, like birth, is not an easy process.
5. Though it is an ancient art, do you see Alchemy in the World today?
Most definitely! In the ancient times (circa 1600), Alchemy came around in order to discover the “Elixir Vitae” or the Essence of Life. Everyone was afraid of getting old and dying, and loosing their life force. In my studies of all this, it doesn’t seem irrelevant of what’s going on right now. These ancients were on to something, and we continue today to search for this life elixir. The modern alchemists are Google, and pharmacists, who are continually changing our lives in ways we are not even aware of. Although Alchemy comes from chemistry, we are ultimately a product of our chemical reactions.
6. Can you give a loose outline of the show? Is there a storyline?
The alchemist does not work alone. He invokes the ‘elementals’, the spirits that exist in each of the four classical elements. I use that idea freely throughout the piece, which begins under water; dancers create fire; they feel the pull of the earth and struggle against it; they rise up into the air and finally they visually make a connection with the Heaven and the Earth what is above to that which is below.