The Gurdjieff Movements: A Communication of Ancient Wisdom

by WIM VAN DULLEMEN
Chino Valley, Calif.: Hohm Press, 2018. 286 pp., paper, $24.95.

Since his death in 1949, the life and work of the influential and enigmatic Greco-Armenian spiritual teacher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff has been the subject of many books, but few have focused on his extraordinary contribution to sacred dance, known to Gurdjieff students as the Movements. In his new book, Wim van Dullemen, a longtime student of the Gurdjieff teaching (known as the Gurdjieff Work), emphasizes the importance of the Movements to Gurdjieff’s spiritual legacy.

The book is divided in two parts. The first summarizes Gurdjieff’s background and his adventurous life, touching on his vision of an awakened consciousness in human beings. The precise date of his birth is unknown, but it was sometime between 1866 and 1877. He was born in Alexandropol, now Gyumri, Armenia, then part of the Russian Empire. From a young age, he sought to understand the mystery of human existence, traveling throughout Asia and perhaps to Tibet to find answers.

Gurdjieff’s teaching is embodied in what he called the Fourth Way, which stresses the urgency of overcoming the “sleep” or the deadening hypnosis of ordinary life. Dullemen summarizes Gurdjieff’s written work, as well as his relationships with noted students like P.D. Ouspensky, A.R. Orage, and J.G. Bennett. He highlights the various transmissions of Gurdjieff’s teaching after his death by leading students.

The second half of the book concentrates on Gurdjieff’s spiritual legacy through his music and especially the Movements, shedding new light on their history and early choreography. Although the Movements are considered a form of sacred dance, they do not fit into any traditional category of dance. Relying on his extensive travels through Central Asia and his study of its sacred dances, including dervish dancing, Gurdjieff created something original, unlike anything previously seen in the West. How they became known as Movements rather than a collection of sacred dances is unknown, but Gurdjieff introduced them to his students in the early 1920s, perhaps as early as 1919.

In short, the Movements are a repertoire of hundreds of rhythmic dances, poses, and exercises. When performed, they are accompanied by Gurdjieff’s unconventional and stirring piano music, composed in collaboration with Gurdjieff’s student, Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann. They became known to the general public in 1979, when British director Peter Brook included them in his film Meetings with Remarkable Men, based on Gurdjieff’s book of the same title. As Dullemen points out, the Movements shown in the film were chosen by Gurdjieff’s foremost student and Movements teacher, Jeanne de Salzmann.          

Broadly speaking, the aim of the Movements is to free certain energies in the body in order to experience unity and harmony within. This encounter with a greater level of awareness can even connect the dancer to the cosmos itself. Thus the Movements are said to embody a hidden language which transcends the spoken or written word. This idea is amplified by the subtitle of Dullemen’s book, A Communication of Ancient Wisdom, and he suggests that the Movements are a bridge to a higher state of consciousness, if only temporarily.

Dullemen is at his best when he explores how the practice of the Movements can integrate the body, the emotions, and the mind into a silent, unified whole, capable of receiving a more subtle energy. He elegantly describes what can happen when performing the Movements with sustained inner attention: “A silence occurs in the dancer’s inner self. . . . Each moment is lent a certain timelessness, and even the walls of the hall in which the work is taking place appear to dissolve into a space without boundaries—a space in which the past and future no longer exclude each other.” He doesn’t claim that this is a common occurrence, only that it is possible under the right conditions.

For those who are interested in a historical survey of the Movements, their mathematical underpinnings, and their ongoing importance to the Gurdjieff Work, this book is valuable and worthwhile. Dullemen is adept at presenting what the Movements can evoke in the human body, and he is unequivocal in his view that they are the living expression of an ancient wisdom that can lead to self-transformation.

Cynthia Overweg

Cynthia Overweg is an educator, writer, and retreat leader. She is a frequent contributor to Quest. Her website is www.cynthiaoverweg.com.


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