I was watching a dance performance in 1987 by a newly formed group in Madison when my mind switched into an archetypal mode of perception.  I saw an archetypal dimension in every movement and in the developing theme of the performance.  It was like watching an abstract archetypal story manifest in front of me.  I remembered almost every aspect of the dance, and went home and wrote this article. Quite a different perspective on one dance was presented by Paul Gerrard in a review in Isthmus, Madison's weekly alternative newspaper. "Melrose in Archetypal Motion" was never published so I'm including it on my web site as a description of archetypal motifs in dance.

Melrose in Archetypal Motion

Dances, Archetypes and the I Ching

Dennis L. Merritt, Ph.D.


            The first full-scale performance by the Melrose Motion Company last Friday night was a bit of a happening for the city of Madison.  Those of us fortunate to be there saw the emergence of a professional company at every level--dancers, themes, music, choreography.  Our local dance group reflected to us what we turn to artists to see--a deep look at ourselves, our society, our archetypal roots.

            Claudia Melrose and company flashed a full spectrum of human experience before our eyes.  The interwoven play of images, like dream images incarnated by human dancers, left me feeling as I do after waking from a big dream. I would now have to reflect upon the immediate and shared experience of watching the dances, talk about and re-feel it in an attempt to raise to consciousness what I intuitively felt and grasped at a deep level.

            One corner of the spectrum was anchored by the piece "The Canaries Wouldn't Sing."  Long sheets of white paper were ingeniously used by the dancers to develop a theme of loneliness and alienation.   Paper thin barriers separate one person from another, but these barriers can be as isolating as steel cocoons.  Into this desperate psychic landscape moved an oasis of escapism--a cluster of champagne drinkers and coke snorters.  "Living is easy with eyes closed" said John Lennon, but what bird can sing after the high evaporates back into a paper world reality?

            The other extreme flowed out in two dances--"Oh, Coffee Never Tasted So Good" and the improvisation "Speed Changes and Elbows."  Bach's "Coffee" cantata music provided the dancers with a formal backdrop for gesturing in the "Coffee" piece.  Their precise movements and the choreography were hilarious.  Comical performances provide immediate feedback and interplay between audience and cast via laughter--no waiting until the end of the performance to recognize audience appreciation.  Laughter, as immediate feedback, generates synergy between cast and audience, and it does feed the cast.  A dancer told me how much the dancers felt the electricity with the audience --how we were right with them. 

            The improvisation was masterfully done.  Improvisation allows an audience to be privy to the most sacred act in nature and the psyche--the creative act. The act of creation and the product of creation are one with improvisation.  Within these parameter pieces came other equally enjoyable dances by Claudia:  "Tirade in Blue Notes," "White Chrysanthemum," and "Sanctuary," plus a wonderful dance by artist-in-residence Judith Moss entitled "Thread-Clay-Glass." 

            The dance that intrigued me the most was "Spinnet" performed by Claudia Melrose and the gifted Clyde Morgan.  As a Jungian analyst I look for symbols and archetypes in dreams and life experiences.  "Spinnet" seems to have been born and developed in the archetypal realm.  Its theme was the most fundamental of processes--the interplay and union of opposites.  This process underlies and generates all other processes.  What follows is an exercise in seeing  the world in another way, of sensing what lies behind and within the given world. 

            The opening scene had two spheres radiating 7-foot-long white sticks.  The sticks began to rotate against a deep blue background: I was immediately drawn in.  I felt as I do when I remember a big, archetypal dream or I am working with an analysand on such a dream;  one enters a timeless, eternal realm, beyond space-time.  It’s the realm of myth and "once upon a time"--now and forever sacred space.  Within the matrix of the deep blue spiritual domain was radiating a duality, symbolic of all dualities--time/space, body/mind, dark/light, male/female, spirit/matter.  For something to become conscious, it must first become a duality so we can differentiate it from something else. Two figures are often seen in dreams when a content is about to cross the threshold from the unconscious into consciousness. The Chinese use broken and solid lines to depict the opposites of Yin and Yang.  Yin and yang are the first visible manifestations of the Tao--the unknown and unknowable, yet intuitively felt and experienced in moments of divine inspiration and insight.

            The dual spinnets symbolize opposites in the most archetypically abstract forms.  Archetypes?  These are the basic patterns that underlie all human experience.  They shape our basic behaviors, responses and the perceptions of our inner and outer worlds.  They're most clearly seen in the themes and motifs of religions, rituals, myths, fairytales and classic (timeless) works of art in whatever form--dance, music, ideas, images.  They're also seen in dreams by the trained eye and the symbolically oriented person (few in modern society outside the artistic community).

            The purest form of the archetypes--abstract form, number, color symbolism--is far from human consciousness.  It feels inhuman, spiritual--of the spirit realm.  To enter consciousness it must incarnate, take on form, become grounded/embodied.  Looked at biologically and in terms of human development, it's the personal experience of the basic human condition encoded in our genes and typical patterns of development.  We each must experience our mother, our father and our great love to incarnate the archetypes of the Great Mother, the Father Spirit, and the Soul Image of the ideal man or woman in our lives.

            The spinnets can be imagined as energy radiating out from a source.  Sun figures symbolically portray God as light and the source of all. Emergence begins in "Spinnet" (a dance of life) when a form arises behind each sun ball.  It's an amorphous form, symbolic of all forms, i.e. no specific form.  Soon we see the particular form will be human as the dancers show their faces after raising the lower part of their bodies first.  The particular duality we will see is human male and female, the opposites we are closest and most intimately life-bound to.  In the Chinese book of wisdom and philosophy, the I Ching, the masculine is associated in purest form with Hexagram 1--the Creative.  This 6-line structure (hexa-gram) is composed of all solid (yang) lines, associated with one half of existence--the realm of strength, assertiveness, light, spirit.  The feminine is associated with Hexagram 2--the Receptive; 6 broken (yin) lines forming the other half of existence--softness, receptivity, darkness, and matter.  The two hexagrams/life forces complement each other.  The interplay of these two forces, also called heaven and earth, generate all existence.  Their interaction and relatedness is essential and one dominating the other produces the ills familiar to us in our distorted patriarchal Western world.

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    Hexagram 1--The Creative         Hexagram 2--The Receptive

            Male and female dancers then remove two sticks from their respective light sources.  In alchemical imagery these sources would have been depicted as sun and moon for the respective male and female figures.  Jung recognized the alchemists, which included some of the most brilliant men in the Western world (Isaac Newton for example), as unconsciously being the first modern depth psychologists.  Alchemy for them was a spiritual process attempting to heal the split in the Western psyche created by Christian consciousness.  Christianity's rejected body, sexuality, and feminine elements have to be re-incorporated into our collective consciousness before we can heal our cultural, and thereby personal, split.  The synthesis of opposites with conscious awareness is the goal of every meditative and religious system whether the goal is described as union with God, enlightenment, or creation of the philosopher's stone (alchemy).  The basic symbolic elements of the process are the same.

            The dancers take on this energy, embody the abstract, give it form when they remove the sticks/rays and began to move them.  The energy moves through them and they move the sticks/abstract--the opposites are incarnate.  The dancers then rock back and forth with sticks extended. This created a strange sense of space warp as the sticks crossed behind the rays of the spinnet.

            The dancers now fast step around their respective spinnets, turning them as they go.  In the opening scene the spinnets moved of their own accord (so it appeared), symbolic of the collective unconscious, the abstract archetypal, with its own energy and dynamism.  As we live it out it seems we are the energy, that we move the world rather than the world moving through us. It is actually both, which is the paradox, the full sense of which is the religious experience.

            The dancers then squat behind the spinnets.  The sticks are moved from the angle of the rays to a vertical position as intensity is increased.  This is the last action before the dancers leave the spinnets, move toward each other, and interact.  Their respective archetypal energies are now incorporated, are individual and distinct, and can begin to interact.  It is akin to a child developing a sense of self, ego-hood and sexual identity before interacting with the opposite sex.  In alchemy, the opposites must be separated before a real conjunction can occur.

            The seven foot poles held outward created the distinct appearance of insect antennae.  As such they symbolize a considerable extension into the world of the individual's feelings and sensitivities.  "Reach out with your feelings," Ben Obi-wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker.  We talk about "keeping our antennae out"--being alert and aware.  Insect antennae are packed with taste, touch, smell and even sound receptors.

            The first conjunction of opposites now occurs as the dancers join back to back and move forward and backward, up and down while dramatically moving their sticks in circles or figure eights.  The sticks serve here as amplifiers of the arm movements.  Male and female are joined in a ritualized mating dance.

            A spiritual epiphany has been depicted--a conscious return to a sense of wholeness and oneness.  The physical and sexual union at this stage of the dance is like one's first love –it is idealized and concretized and evaporates after the projections onto the opposite sex are destroyed or the honeymoon ends.  But it is the first sense of a conjunction/union and a person’s first experience of a possible wholeness and reunion with the One.  Memories of one's first love can linger throughout life.  We see the initial conjunction in the fairy tale Rapunzel, for example, when the prince and long-haired Rapunzel have made love in the tower. The witch discovers them and drives Rapunzel into mournful exile while the prince is blinded after being cast into thornbushes.  The second and complete union comes at the end of the tale after the prince searches for years before finding Rapunzel and her twins and has his sight restored.

            The dancers then do a slow crossing pattern, one behind the other, moving their sticks from vertical to horizontal.  This is followed by energetic floor tapping, then with increasing speed whipping the sticks about in the air.  The moves symbolize the opposites staying in ritual relationship to each other and the mutually energizing effect.  The dancers then move around the balls, reconnecting with their source energies.  The personal continually returns to its archetypal roots:  religio means to link back.  The time/space bound needs a sense of the eternal and the archetypal/eternal needs time/space to manifest.  The woman dancer then lies on the floor and turns like the spinnet.  Then she is turned by the man.  The abstract archetypal is now personally embodied by a woman, then responds to the yang masculine moving force (the animus in Jungian terminology--a woman's inner "masculine" energies and ideal male).   The man then pulls the woman dancer up.  They move along diagonal lines, then return to the spinnet to take out 4 more sticks.  Each dancer now has 3 sticks in each hand. 

            It created a powerful effect to see them hold the sticks extended like 3 giant fingers on each hand, like lines that could extend into infinity.  I was jolted by the echoes of this image with two dreams I've had.  One occurred years ago in which I was in my high school auditorium.  Power lines extended outward into infinity from each of my fingers.  It was an incredible experience to stand in the middle of the auditorium moving my fingers.  The second dream I had a few weeks ago.  I was in a lab with other people.  Again it seemed that invisible lines of energy extended out from my fingers.  By moving my fingers I could actually stir water in a beaker from a distance with these energy lines.  My favorite scene from the movie Steppenwolf was Mozart standing at an open window waving his hands towards the heavens.  Lightening zapped from his extended fingers.

            Fingers are symbolic of creativity.  The Greek word for finger, dactyl, is related to the mythical dactyls that helped Rhea give birth to Zeus.  The phallic form of the fingers symbolizes yang energy and the creative spark.  With our hands we create, form, manipulate.  To be creative is to be in touch with the divine, to be divinely inspired.

            These extended invisible power lines intuitively feel like they are related to the ley lines seen by certain mystics.  Holy places like the pyramids and Stonehenge are believed to be constructed over special power points on the earth, something like planetary acupuncture points.  Ley lines are described as the straight lines or paths of energy connecting these power points. In Yaqui sorcery as presented by Carlos Castaneda, it is believed that the world is composed of lines that one can come to know directly with the proper exercises.

            Each dancer had 6 sticks, 3 in each hand.  Again I sensed a connection with hexagrams of the I Ching with the upper and lower 3 lines representing 2 different aspects of the whole hexagram.  The lower 3 lines (lower trigram) represent the more unconscious, inner nature, darkness and the unknown.  The upper 3 lines (upper trigram) represent the more conscious, outer, light, spirit and freedom.  The Chinese believed they could illustrate all basic cosmic processes with 64 hexagrams.  [There are 64 different ways one can combine 6 solid and broken lines (yang and yin)].  The hexagrams symbolically represent 64 phases of energy cycles, each expressing a different pattern of the natural movement of energy.  Each of the 6 lines of a hexagram express a particular state of energy.  Each line presents its own situation as an aspect within the hexagram qualified by its hierarchical position, relationships to other lines, and the inner dynamics of the hexagram.

            One hexagram is either preceded or followed by its opposite in the sequential arrangement of the 64 hexagrams.  Hexagram 11--Peace, for example, has 3 yang lines below 3 yin lines while Hexagram 12--Standstill, has 3 yang lines above 3 yin lines.  Opposites are always in relationship to each other.  This relationship of opposites at the most abstract archetypal level was dramatically portrayed by the male and female dancers with the 6 power lines radiating from their fingers.

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Hexagram 11--Peace            Hexagram 12--Standstill

            The dancers then generated various patterns of relationship to each other.  One pattern included touching the ends of the sticks on the floor and pushing them into the partners sticks to form an interwoven pattern of 12 sticks.  This union of opposites generates the number 12, one of the most powerful conjunction numbers [a union of 3 and 4 (3 x 4)].  The archetypal wholeness of this number finds expression in the 12 months of the year, the 12 apostles, 12 signs of the zodiac, etc.

            This symbolic dance of union preceded the second conjunction for the dancers where they once again came together with the female atop the male, creating a magnificent butterfly image with the sticks extended like the veins of a butterfly wing.  I thought of the Greek word psyche which means butterfly.  The dancers then strut across the stage like peacocks, holding the sticks behind them like a tail.  The peacock with its colorful tail is one of the images for the completed alchemical work when the alchemical vessel is opened and one's transformed energies can radiate into the world.  The dancers then swing the sticks about and let them go and dance a figure 8 path about the two spinnets.  This symbolic act creates a perfect conjunction number/figure. The number 8 is seen as an infinity symbol since it is formed without lifting pen from paper.  It is two circles combined, flowing from one to the other in the process of creating or re-tracing the number 8.  It is two 4s combined, 4 being a number of wholeness.  The initial abstract duality presented at the beginning of the dance has now been incarnated and combined, signifying the end point of the alchemical process, the union with God, the interrelationship between conscious and the unconscious.  The symbolic dance of life has been danced before our eyes.  A masterful piece by Melrose.

            A fitting quote for a dance of this magnitude comes from the I Ching in Hexagram 16--Enthusiasm.  It is composed of the trigram the Arousing, thunder, over the Receptive, earth.  In Wilhelm's I Ching we read:

            When at the beginning of summer, thunder--electrical energy--comes rushing forth from the earth again, and the first thunderstorm refreshes nature, a prolonged state of tension is resolved.  Joy and relief make themselves felt.  So too, music has power to ease tension within the heart and to loosen the grip of obscure emotions.  The enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of song, in dance and rhythmic movement of the body.  From immemorial times the inspiring effect of the invisible sound that moves all hearts, and draws them together, has mystified mankind. (p. 68)

            Let me close with 2 parts of a 3-part dream I had almost 2 years ago.  It is a further development of a series of dreams going back many years to the beginning of my analysis:

            Four people are standing on a broad ledge half way down a mountain.  The people are myself, an unknown male to my left, a male artist about my age standing directly across from me, and an unknown woman to his right [in Jungian terms, the ego, the shadow (dark side of the ego), the Self as creator (God image) and the anima (ideal feminine/soul image)]. We are gathered around a beautiful painting by the artist.  It is a painting of concentric ovoid shapes of iridescent hue like the inside of a clam shell.  I am taken by the beauty of the painting when I'm suddenly overwhelmed when I realize how the painting was made.  The artist has taken pieces of cloud and arranged them in such a way to reflect light so that is looks like a painting.  Change of scene.  I'm in a city and I don't know which city.  The sense of creativity carries over from the first part of the dream.  A voice says "Madison."  End of dream. 

            Last Friday night I experienced that creativity in Madison in dance form.  Bravo Claudia!

P.S.  Paul Gerrard's Isthmus review of "Spinnet" (Isthmus, February 27, 1987, p. 29) presented quite the opposite impression of the performance. Under the title "Melrose in a Muddle," Gerrard wrote:

"Spinnet," a duet danced and choreographed by Melrose and Clyde Morgan, was less a dance than an exploration of the theatrical possibilities of two people manipulating several long poles.  The concept sounds fertile:  You can imagine witty and elegant geometric variations.  But "Spinnet" had neither wit nor elegance.  There were some imaginative stage pictures, but the apparent aim was nothing less than an allegory for the creation of life, with the poles used to suggest primordial sea urchins, insects with whipping antennae, strutting peacocks and finally geometric patterns (the birth of the rational mind?)  Add Michele Musser's ponderous post-Tangerine Dream electronic score, and you have a work of ridiculous pomposity.

In some ways our two perspectives agree.  Gerrard saw in the piece "an allegory for the creation of life"--and its evolution.  Jung thought that phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny--the development of the individual recapitulates the evolution of the species, physiologically and psychologically. 


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