The Concept-Free Zone

Nothingness bears fruit in Antero Alli's "paratheatre."

In the “submerged cross ritual,” a woman standing on a pedestal in
semidarkness sweeps her palms over her face, revealing a mouth gaping
wide as if in horror. In voiceover, she explains that she has ruined
her life by scattering herself into too many disparate parts, each part
straining to meet other people’s expectations. Writhing on his back in
that same semidarkness, a man calls himself an “insidious,
irrepressible reptilian stalker.”

“My ego has been a con artist for years,” the woman intones, “but
her cover has just been blown.” Seizing at the air with repeated
spastic motions, she whimpers. She yips. It’s frightening. But so,
avows Antero Alli, whose film CRUX includes these scenes, is the
human mind. Since the 1970s, Berkeley-based director/author/ritualist
Alli has been honing his own form of soul-searching, a “ritual
technology for self-initiation” that he calls paratheatre. Drawing upon
the principles and techniques of experimental theater, dance, martial
arts, and Zen meditation, paratheatre is meant to be experienced by its
participants in private — albeit in groups — rather
than seen. In its rituals, participants access and express
long-submerged crises.

“Without an audience,” Alli explains, “the focus shifts away from
the external ‘pressure to perform’ and toward more self-created
pressures of performing actions with enough commitment to transform and
refine the instrument: the self.”

Paratheatre practitioners learn to breathe, stretch, flex their
spines, make sounds, and stand still in total silence, practicing the
state known as No-Form, which Alli calls “a concept-free zone” that
reveals “the degree of comfort you can feel for being nothing, for
being nobody … for just being.”

Neither an actual theater company nor a congregation, “we are more
like a rotating skeleton crew of highly committed and skilled
individuals who come and go according to our own needs to work together
and part ways until the next ritual lab, theatre, or film project
magnetizes its unique group animal,” explains Finnish-born Alli, whose
books include AngelTech, Astrologik, and Towards an
Archeology of the Soul
. “Most of our ongoing work occurs behind
locked doors of dance and yoga studios with occasional sojourns to
wilderness settings.”

Although paratheatre is not intended for audiences, every few years
Alli and his crew “consolidate our processes into a public performance
vehicle.” CRUX, which documents one of these rare performances,
will be screened at the Humanist Hall (390 27th St., Oakland) on
Wednesday, September 16.

Its premise, as Alli explains in the film, is that “everyone is
crucified somewhere.” Each participant, including the yipping woman and
writhing man, sets out to discover via paratheatrical means exactly to
which psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual crux he or she is
nailed.

Alli has been thinking about his own cruxes. Last year, he explains,
“I reached a personal ‘crisis of context.’ … This change of course
quietly began 23 years earlier in 1985 after an initiatic encounter
with Australian Aborigine elder Guboo Ted Thomas that impacted my past,
present, and future relations with dreams, the dreambody, and the
dreamtime. I now know the Earth and the so-called Dreamtime as one and
the same.” 7:30 p.m., $5. Paratheatrical.com

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