A magazine photograph of a renovated cave room in Basilicata, Italy, intrigued me. Every cell of my being knew I had to be there. All obstacles dissolved and in no time at all, I was transported from my home in the Hudson Valley of New York to the southern Italian town of Matera.
I have followed that call for over 15 years, making pilgrimages to Matera to retreat into what I call earth wombs, caves that were once sea beds, with shells and fossilized sponges embedded in the curved limestone walls. This locale has cradled me in the breath, sound and movement explorations of Continuum – a biological awareness practice based on the fluid nature of all life.
Matera has nourished my soul in transrational, inexplicable ways. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being a troglodyte settlement in harmonious relationship with the environment, as well as the 2019 European Capital of Culture, Matera has been continuously inhabited since Neanderthal times with a history of providing refuge for spiritual seekers.
I wanted to transmit my experience of being there – of wandering the shepherd’s paths on the steep, thyme-scented hillsides, of sheltering in ancient, frescoed cave churches known as rupestri with my fingertips touching the furrows of long ago pilgrims’ carved crosses in the cave walls. The vastness of the Murgia plateau under the strong Mediterranean sun, the fields of asphodels in springtime flower, the falcons swooping and diving in the ever-present wind currents – all of this and more I had absorbed and wanted to share with others.
As a dancer, my own sensed experience was my place of beginning. Like other artists, investigators and shamans, I know things by becoming them. A creative collaborator once wrote that in another time and place, I would be a temple dancer. The limestone caves and landscape of Matera – sacred places of refuge, discovery and sustenance – resonated for me as the temple for this dancer. An American by birth, with grandparents of southern Italian heritage, I embarked on conveying to others the healing this locale offered me, the inspiration for communitas I found there, and the deep sense of home I discovered in Matera – all of which grew into Materadancescapes.
In this endeavor, I have been assisted by many along the way. Watermark Arts Creative Director and heartfelt collaborator Prue Jeffries traveled with me to Matera, along with her trusty drone “Stella” and video equipment. With an intrepid sense of adventure, she has filmed and documented my journey, along with her own perceptive and artful eye for nature in this compelling landscape. Spending days with footage, the Materadancescapes film collection has come into form under her loving attention.
A number of people native to Matera have served as loving guides to this land of cave churches. Damiano Scalcione was the first person to generously welcome me to Matera, and has continued to do so with every visit. Claudia DiPerna, along with her husband Michele Cenzone, opened my eyes to many of the cultural features of Matera. Michele Cappiello and Maria Teresa Barbaro graciously and kindly offered their vast knowledge of the local nature, history and culture. Paolo Montagna, Director CEA, made arrangements for us to film in Parco Murgia where Chiaroscuro was created at the San Falcione location. Francesco Catucci hosted us for the filming of In the Heart of the Cave. Since my first visit to Matera, Antonio Panetta of Locanda di San Martino, along with the devoted staff, has provided me with a gorgeous location for visits and workshops and made me feel at home. Each of these individuals has gone way beyond themselves to support me while I am in Matera. I treasure them as friends of my heart, fellow pilgrims in the journey of life.
Elaine Colandrea, February 2020
The Elemental Nature of the Body: Somatic Movement Summit V
July 19th to 24th, 2020, Omega Institute
Choosing a path of opening in the face of global crisis and personal adversity begins a journey inward to connect with the most primordial movements of nature and with the elemental self to reveal our inherent biological capacity for innovation.
Through the somatic awareness practice of Continuum, this restorative retreat investigates the vital chemistry of all life. Embodying the qualities of earth, air, fire, and water awakens the body’s fluid capacity for healing, insight, and creative engagement.
Register here: eomega.org/workshops/somatic-movement-summit-v
Conceived and produced by Elaine Colandrea, Artistic Director, Watermark Arts
Filmed and edited by Prue Jeffries, Creative Director, Watermark Arts
Performed by Claudia Catani, Elaine Colandrea & Naomi Walker
Music: Stella Maris by Moby courtesy of mobygratis.com
Filmed with permission in San Falcione, Parco Murgia Timone, Matera, Italia
Special thanks to Maria Teresa Barbaro & Paolo Montagna, Director CEA Matera
Rock churches excavated in the 9th and 10th centuries generally conformed to a Byzantine model, having a rectangular or square chamber with plain walls and behind these two arched presbyteries supported by a central pillar. The rock church of San Canione, better known as San Falcione, is no exception. Attributed to the earliest Italo-Greek monastic communities which settled in the area around the 9th century, it’s one of Matera’s oldest rock churches. Located in a small ravine, it’s easily recognised thanks to the perimeter wall built in the 19th century by the noble Gattini family, who used the cave complex as an enclosure for sheep and goats. Inside the church, where the floor is now lower than its original level, there’s a fresco of Saint Nicholas on the central pillar and one of a bishop saint on the right-hand wall. Still on the right, in the altar recess, there was once an extraordinary fresco of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple: Joseph, Mary and the Child were clearly visible, along with Saint Simeon and the prophetess Anna who blessed Jesus with one hand while the other held a missive with words ‘This Child created heaven and earth’ in Greek. Many small cavities excavated around the church are the remains of a medieval apiary.
Elaine Colandrea of Watermark Arts describes and demonstrates the Water Blessing Dance.
Filmed and edited by Hannah Tobias (7 min.)
To download the text for the personal practice version of Water Blessing visit watermarkarts.org/water-blessing-project/.
Inaugural Water Blessing dance at the Omega Institute, Rhinebeck NY, July 4, 2019. ( 4 min.)
Conceived by Elaine Colandrea, original music by Morena Boschetto, filmed and edited by Prue Jeffries.
Performed by Bea Ehrsam, Nicole Faustini, Melanie Gambino, Lauren Grady, Lila Greene, Meredith Johnson, Elisabeth Osgood-Campbell, Rori Smith & Kori Tolbert.
Watermark Arts dedicates 2020 to the Water Blessing Project.
Contact Elaine at email@example.com to learn how to participate.
Water Blessing Instructional Video: vimeo.com/369923148
Written Continuum Water Blessing Instructions: watermarkarts.org/water-blessing-project/
Continuum & The Creativity of Health interview with Amber Elizabeth Gray (video transcript):
Continuum supports me in my work as a human rights psychotherapist and a dance movement therapist working in human rights contexts. Dance therapy nourishes me in so many ways but also there was a certain demand. So where those demands were Continuum was the nourishment. Over the years, they’ve come slowly together. There was a point where I remember I [said], I’m going to just start sneaking a little Continuum into dance therapy.
I remember particularly it was with one client who is a survivor from Iraq who had lived in the same town as Saddam Hussein and had lived her whole life with the fear that anybody in your family could disappear, because that’s what happened. And therapy and dance therapy and lots of good really solid attempts to work with her – she really wanted to find her body again, she’d developed a lot of weight – and I just really tried something different. I just had this feeling, and she said, “sure, try anything, I’m tired of suffering,” and we did some lunar breaths.
I brought in a yoga mat in for that session and we did some lunar breaths. She just opened up her eyes and looked at me, and she said, “this is what a body is supposed to feel like?! I’m home. I just found my body.” And from that moment on, I started to layer Continuum into dance therapy and layered dance therapy into Continuum and they’ve merged together.
Ever since I’ve started teaching Continuum, quite honestly, I don’t feel as burned out.
Every time I came out of Rwanda, or Kosovo, or some of the places I was working, I was fine and I was really sick. I had a really bad cough, my back went out, etc. So there would be some aspect of my health, my wholeness, my wellness that would be affected. And when I went to Darfur, which is probably one of the most dangerous places I’ve ever been, there’s a certain magic, the landscape has this really deep tawny rose colored sand, that’s like silk. Camels, the way that they move, white robes. So there’s all this beauty and then there’s all this not beauty there’s the war.
Every night I would lay in bed, and I had to sleep under one of those big thick mosquito nets because there were spiders there, and I did the lunars. And it was the first time that I had a really conscious practice, like it was like kind of like a lullaby or a prayer you’d do for a little kid. I would just get into bed and I would do the lunars until I drifted off. And I would do the lunars with the landscape when I was walking around. I remember I went home from that trip and my husband looking at me and he said, “there’s usually some suffering that comes home with you. I’ve never seen you so light. And so uplifted.” I said, “well, it was different this time.”
I realized it was the way the lunars connected with the beauty of that place, they were the perfect breath to go with the sound of the wind at night, and the little hut, the cool that is coming through, the shape and colors of the sand, the hills, the movement of the camels. And ever since I’ve started teaching Continuum, quite honestly, I don’t feel as burned out. I don’t feel as stretched out.
I always say everyone has the right to embody their body […] and that’s really the spirit of this work. So the creativity of health is also acknowledging that we can be empowered to move ourselves from when we’re in the more alien places, to the places that have more wholeness.
Tree Tryst, danced last July at Omega Institute, during The Somatic Movement Summit, Creativity of Health, partnering Continuum movers with a grove of pine trees.
Bea Ehsram, Nicole Faustini, Melanie Gambino, Lauren Grady, Lila Greene, Meredith Johnson, Elisabeth Osgood-Campbell,Rori Smith, Kori Tolbert
Choreography by Elaine Colandrea
Film and Video by Prue Jeffries
Original Music by Morena Boschetto
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