Christine Pountney

Transcendentalist Poets Of Movement

Yoram Savion, “Turf Feinz Crew: RIP Rich D” (YAK Films, 2009)

A friend of mine posted this YouTube link a while back on Facebook and I couldn’t stop watching it. I watched it ten times a day for about a week. It made me cry several times. It is such a stirring combination of contrasting elements — what is formally referred to in art as chiaroscuro, the juxtaposition of light and dark — the balletic grace of the young men, the grittiness of their surroundings, all the implications this has on the conditions of their lives, and their gorgeous attempt to transcend those conditions, or make art in the face of their hard circumstances, to express and immerse themselves in these circumstances and yet, escape them.

They seem to be talking with their souls, not their bodies — or showing us how that amounts to the same thing. How the soul can shine through the body. We need to be reminded of this in the post-enlightenment west, at the weary tail-end of an age of neo-reason.

We so often assume that the soul resides in the mind, that the intellect is the temple of the soul. We worship the mind, all of its neurosis, and try to access our souls through our thoughts, by making our thoughts pure, by organizing, reshuffling and analysing them. And yet what so many mystical traditions teach us is that the soul resides not in the mind, but within the body – that it is through the body the soul will find expression; through the body that our souls are liberated.

Here is the Lion of Puna. Whose actions speak for themselves.

B.K.S. Iyengar, “Performing Asanas” (1938)

How similar some of their poses are to the dance moves of those guys on the street, as if, by some trans-geographic osmosis, those young men, hanging out on the streets of Oakland, California, discovered the same physical correlative in their search for transcendence, or the divine, through anger and defiance and poetic creativity, in forging their own brand of mysticism.

I decided those young men were the new American transcendentalist poets of movement, the new Walt Whitmans and Emily Dickensons, but maybe they’re the new yogis — the new mystic yogis of the ghetto. They are visionaries, dancing in the narrow space between freedom and the cage.

Yoram Savion & Ben Tarquin, “BIRDSEYE BONES: PARIS” (YAK Films, 2010)

Again, the sincerity of the effort, the emotional need of it, is moving. What is his soul trying to say? Maybe something very simple: listen to me. Be kind to me. Stop yelling at me. Whatever. I am a bird. I am a machine. I am a video game. I am. I am.

This woman, too, is shouting with her body.

Y. Savion & Ben Tarquin, “Swaggers Marathon: EMELYNE” (YAK Films, 2010)

And who will hear these souls? Or see, or listen? And where will the angels be? Where they have always been. Singing the soul up out of the body and into the trees.

First Aid Kit singing “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” by Fleet Foxes (Sweden, 2008)

“And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Revelations 22:2-3

- Christine Pountney

  • Alejandra Fabris

    Poetic yes, without question. But not transcendental, not a priori or supernatural. The dancer’s poetry comes directly from experience, from the soul’s encounter with/ through suffering and the martyrdom of day to day human existence.

    “The soul is necessary to this body, and this body is necessary to this soul. If one is missing, the essential composition is lacking, only an element of being would remain; being itself would not fulfilled…ur ideas] do not truly live except when they are expressed…their adequate expression is in acts. It is there where they find their completion.” (citation from the volume “Silence Cartusien,” translation mine.)

    • Christine Pountney

      Yes, rooted in experience, grounded in the body, dependent on the body – the only real transcendence from the body being death, and i’m not talking about death. nor am i speaking from a kantian perspective. not transcendent in a traditional sense. not god. but the freedom that comes when the body is liberated from rational thought. the transcendence of reason. the liberation into inarticulate physical wisdom, spiritual, shamanic – and yes, maybe a priori, maybe even supernatural.

  • Alejandra Fabris

    The transcendence of reason, physical wisdom rooted in experience, yet before it. But animated by what…? Expressive of the animal kingdom? That falls short of poetry.

    • Christine Pountney

      this analogy with the animal kingdom is not really what i’m trying to get at. animals have a purity, and dance too can have a purity reminiscent of the kind that exists in nature, but what i get from these videos is a nature or a spirit that feels inarticulate, human, but also – maybe it’s heart. maybe it’s emotion. an emotion that feels admirable and redemptive, a bit like love. and love makes me think of some overarching and unifying thing that runs through all things, like soulfulness. and when i use the word transcendence, i feel like what i’m describing is the rising up out of the petty and the temporal and that which passes, into something pure and meaningful and enduring, something that exists within, but also without, that when you discover it in yourself, you see it also exists outside of yourself – like something divine, whatever the hell that means.

  • impostor405

    though surely the animal kingdom–of which we humans are all a part–contains innumerable instances of poetry, all expressed via the body. if poetry might loosely be defined as the deliberate manipulation of elements to form interludes of beauty and truth, then these vids have it. thanks christine!!

  • Pasha Malla

    Dreal’s cousin died in a car crash on that spot the day before. The video’s meant to be a memorial. Adds an extra layer of amazingness, I think.

  • Alejandra Fabris

    (@ imposter/ Christine) The animal kingdom contains innumerable marvels, but in my opinion, the poetry of dance is distinctly human; it makes use of a kinetic intelligence more complex than mere instinct. Some yearning, something deliberate is always present, however pure the improvisation. Dancers use the intuition of the body… for which there is no need to conjure the spirits of the trees or of the dead… And the fact that the (hip-hop) is a memorial makes it all the more poignant.

  • Dr. Dan

    Why is this an ‘attempt’ to transcend circumstances. You assume they would rather be elsewhere and not dancing in the streets. Why are their circumstances not enough? I smell classism.

    • Erik Rutherford

      Dr. Dan, the guy who made the video is Yoram Savion, and he’s part of the “Stop Youth Violence Project at Youth UpRising.” He says it himself:

      “Our goal was to show the creative sides of what some of the youth are doing in Oakland and show an alternative to violence… offer a different choice to people who are growing up in environments that push them in directions that are negative… you know, you end up dead or in jail or jobless…”

      You can watch him explaining what he does here (and reciting a poem):

      Really, why must it always be patronizing to acknowledge the hardships and exploits of people living in circumstances less favourable than one’s own?

    • Christine Pountney

      whose circumstances are enough they don’t occasionally yearn for transcendence? that yearning is, i think, a universal property of the human condition – in varying degrees, given your temperament; a product of the restrictive limitations of having a physical body; a curiosity in what might exist when, and if, the body were shrugged off; and a feeling, when you dance, that you kind of do – shrug it off. not to mention the defiance, the actual circumstances – social and political – of those young men. i’m not saying they’d rather be elsewhere, i feel like they are. that, for a moment, they’ve gotten away with flipping the bird at whatever forces of authority would prefer to restrict them – slipping the temporal bonds, as it were, because sometimes the only force of authority you are trying to defy is your own corporeality – and flying free.

    • Henry

      The music in this video can take on two distinct roles. It can embellish an awestruck melancholy: the viewer projects onto the players a deep yearning to transcend limiting circumstances (impoverishment, corporeality); or it can provide an accompaniment to some young men making beautiful and lyrical gestures. The first tone is condescending and precious, the men are tragic heroes, your heart is breaking as you watch them overcome their misfortune, their future decided, casualties of their own fate, and yet they find a way to transcend. It’s a patronizing gaze that locks them in time as if the world around them weren’t pliable and subject to change, as if they are sad creatures making earnest and vulnerable attempts to rise above the inevitable. You applaud their ability to communicate with you, you applaud their art. You cry because you relate to their escapism, but without a bleeding heart you can see them just relating with each other. They’re reciting gestures, fighting boredom, solidifying friendships, taking turns in the circle and relaxing in between sets. Their movements keenly relate to their surroundings, but this is secondary to their flourishing relationships with each other. They’re not victims in these surroundings, they’re players in a moment. They might turn around and make a lot of money off of their incredible ability to dance, would their gestures be deprived of meaning in another context?

  • Shoals

    “New mystic yogis of the ghetto” + “soulful” essence that transcends time and space + animal kingdom in the comments section is some kind of trifecta, no?

    • impostor405

      place your bet, shoals.
      i’ll take ‘some overarching and unifying thing that runs through all things,’ by a nose

    • Alejandra Fabris

      : ) ‘Everything riding on “Pascal’s Wager” ….neigh!

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Christine Pountney was born in Vancouver in 1971 and grew up in Montreal, did some more growing up in London (UK), and continues to grow up in Toronto and rural Newfoundland. She has a beautiful son who is growing up too. His mother is the author of three novels, “Last Chance Texaco,” “The Best Way You Know How,” both published by Faber and Faber, and "Sweet Jesus," published by McLelland.