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Fantasy, Mythology, and Flair Fill the Stage in Ailuran

Written by Jessica Fishman
The Cabiri in Ailuran: The Bardo to Tewaz
Photo by David Rose


The Cabiri gave a night of ambitious performance with Ailuran: The Bardo to Tewaz, a show that told a tale of mythology and magic. Opening night at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center on Thursday August 8, 2013 was a strong and powerful burst of energy and storytelling. Artistic director John Murphy, along with movement director Marshall Garfield (who previously worked with Cirque du Soleil) and choreographer Kiplinn Sagmiller, put on a full scale production where costumes, props, shadow puppets, live musicians, dancers, acrobats, aerialists, and contortionists all came together to tell a tale of primitive and animalistic life and hardships. Murphy took on the role of storyteller in the elaborate production of Ailuran, a mythical story of human beginnings.

Overall, the production of Ailuran was a valiant effort by Murphy to take a tale, rife with dreamlike imagery, and put it into reality. Similar to the three witches of Macbeth or the muses at the beginning of The Odyssey, the show opened with three aerialists who foreshadowed the epic performance to come. Hanging from silky white cloths draped from the ceiling, the aerialists spun in a circle as they moved through impressive poses upon the ropes. The sound of humming and hissing could be heard in the background, instantly enthralling and mesmerizing the audience for what was to come.

The story focused on the character Ailuran, the goddess of the Leopard People. She began as a shaman for a tribe of early humans called the Hominids. However, after sacrificing a leopard, she assumed its form. The Leopard People were displaced from their homes only to find themselves amongst savage Hominids who wanted to kill them. Ailuran made it her duty to help the Leopard People defend themselves and eventually encouraged a war between the two tribes.


The Cabiri in Ailuran: The Bardo to Tewaz
Photo by John Cornicello
The program notes described the Hominids as “driven by an endless hunger.” They appeared on stage in rags, with bodies hunched and contorted like primitive creatures yearning for substance. As they walked, they often dragged their feet as if weak and in need of nourishment. Their movement throughout was low to the ground, slinking or crawling, bodies torqued and twisted, never fully reaching upright (except when acrobats would fly across the stage). The contortionists added perfectly to the decrepit and yet sultry movement of these characters.


At times the acrobatics seemed added for flair; however, without these qualities, the overall production would not have been as grandiose as was necessary for a story of such proportions. The acrobatics also helped embody the playfulness and strength of the leopards, capturing an exaggerated yet realistic movement quality of the animals.

Throughout the production, there were a few scenes enacted by shadow puppets behind a white screen assisted by recorded narrative. While the puppets were beautifully constructed and recounted scenes crucial to the overall plot, this whole element felt a bit like an afterthought used to fill in the holes. The overall performance may have felt more cohesive had the performers or musicians used movement or sounds to relay these details of the story. The choice to use puppetry could have also been more successful if the puppeteering been clearer: the shadows often fell below the line of sight, which distracted from the story being told.
The Cabiri in Ailuran: The Bardo to Tewaz
Photo by David Rose


Mixed sounds, chants, howls, and the clanking of bones served as the continuous aural backdrop to the story, adding to the tribal and primitive imagery. These aleatoric sounds helped set the mood of each scene and furthered the overall ambience of the performance. Musical director and instrumentalist Count Constantin, along with the accompaniment of Dean Moore, James Whetzel, and Vanessa Skantze, truly carried each scene with a stellar display of musicianship and composition.

Ultimately, director John Murphy created a magical world and invited the audience to become captivated by the powerful raw imagery and sounds that filled the theater. Ailuran: The Bardo to Tewaz was the prelude to the T.E.A. Trilogy coming in the spring of 2014. For more information visit The Cabiri’s website at