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CRUX: a paratheatrical video document by Antero Alli

I've recently had a chance to view CRUX, a video document by Antero Alli.

82 minutes of raw, intense, personal images (along with Alli's running commentary) chronicle a five week long ritual, culminating on August 11 1999, day on which a rare interplanetary configuration known by astrologers as a Grand Fixed Cross took place.

"A great time to plan a ritual", Antero observes at the beginning of the documentary. And not just any ritual, but one focused on the archetypal symbol of the crux: "The word crux" Antero explains, "is a mountaineering term for the most difficult passage on the way to the top of any mountain. This tough passage is called the crux because if you get through it, you can reach the top of the mountain. If you can't get through the crux, you have to return to base camp, or get stuck in the crux."

This image describes in detail what the seven participants to this ritual have had to face. By leading the group through a series of ritual triggers, Antero aimed at inducing each individual to find elements that could lead them to discover their crux. The key question here is: "What am I living for?". Of course part of the challenge implied by such a question is actually answering that question, finding what is one actually living for right now, rather than what one would like to be living for, thinks/feels/believes to be living for, and so on. And this, in turn, implies being exposed to certain realities about oneself that are not always easy to bear.

Even the idea of passing the crux so that the top of the mountain may be reached offers no consolation. One might reach the top of the mountain or not, and Alli takes pains to warn that there are no guarantees of trascendence, and surely none of self-improvement. Yet the seven ritualists faced the challenge and undertook a process that promised no rewards, just the discomfort of more self-knowledge and self-awareness. There's always something special about any group of people that congregates for this purpose, and judging by the video this group was no exception.

Each of the seven found a name to capture an essential quality that would define his/her own "character" throughout the duration of a ritual. This simple act became part of the magic of the ritual, allowing the "actors" (so to speak) to step up their commitment towards fully becoming the "character" the character really being a more raw and uncompromising version of themselves. In the consecrated yet honest and unrestrained space where the ritual was held, the participants were able to fully unleash their idiosyncratic manifestations and allow them to collide with each other. The unremitting search for one's own crux provided the context, while the interactions (at times very intense, and even resulting in diametrical clashes) proved to be a very rich subtext.

The video delves deeply into each participant's inner world, so strikingly brought to the surface by the self-questioning nature of Alli's ritual technology. We take a look at the personal history of the ritualists, their life conditions at the time of the ritual, their personalities, their identifications. Antero's pointed questions lead them to expose those essential qualities that define each character, allowing the camera to record moments of intimate honesty. As we get to know the seven, it is often striking how appropriate each character's name is. We have to mention just some Proof, who's looking for the teorem that will explain her to herself and to the world; the intellectual and elusive Slippery, or the edgy and unconforming Scatter. Left alone in the same room, in the same ritual, these profoundly different individuals will collide, interact and confront each other, each absorbed in the attempt to find precisely what they are living for.

This video demonstrated to me another application of the paratheatrical medium I've participated in. I was struck by the intensity reached at times by this group, and the quality of intimacy that, perhaps partly because of the small number of participants, can be sensed in these rituals. It was also interesting to note how using the crux as a central symbol didn't fail to raise the bar of conflict, bringing in sharp contrast different emotional attachments to the meaning of the cross. This even though the symbol was clearly being used well beyond its religious and cultural implications. It's a deep one, folks...

I appreciated visiting the inner worlds of the seven ritualists and taking such a candid and honest look at them, although I would have liked to witness more of the actual rituals themselves. Then again, as I understand it Antero has already covered those processes in detail in other video documents, which I haven't yet had occasion to see. At any rate, I continue to be fascinated by the strange and ineffable meaning that these rituals seem to hold for those that are willing to explore them, and I still wonder about their potential to mutate into subtly life-changing experiences.

In the search for a certain kind of miraculous, paratheatrical work can be a precious ally, connecting us as it does with the curious amazement that can be found in honest, unmediated interactions with other free beings as we each strive to be true to our own sources. The call of such naked immediacy I find both insidiously enticing and vaguely scary. I'm not surprised: considering the saturation of mediatic filters through which many of us experience reality today, restoring to full use "the least mediated of all media" the body can be an especially radical and shocking gesture.

As we gradually externalize our very Central Nervous Systems and advance steadily towards final amputation (in the McLuhan sense), experiences such as those encountered within paratheatrical "rare areas" become increasingly rare indeed. The struggles and efforts faced during the rituals, while apparently thankless, might be one way to keep practicing the fundamentals that make us human; one way to maintain continuity as we are hurled into a posthuman world, to continue chasing the ephemeral, miraculous and cryptically meaningful presence of Soul. For some of us, it's worth a try.

NOTE: To learn more about paratheatrical work, check out Antero Alli's Paratheatrical ReSearch site. You can also read these notes detailing my experience in Antero's latest paratheatrical lab, Initiations.