Image © by Christopher Castle
(click to see it enlarged)

Mountains and Rivers without End
Anima Mundi

September 16, 2001
Review by Amy Lenzo

Last night I saw a work-in-progress performance by Anima Mundi, the alchemical marriage of Christopher Castle's music and visuals and Kathryn Roszak's choreography and dance performance. They were joined in a multi-media production of Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers without End at San Francisco's Magic Theatre by spectacularly talented actor Bob Ernst and dancer Keiron Bone; solidly supported by dancers Alberto Brehme and Andrea Brosnan, with lighting by Scott Cannon.

Forty years in the making, Gary Snyder's autobiographical series of poems follow the course of his life in an undulating flow through landscape and time. The poetry is characterized by Snyder's legendary ability to weave human experience into the vibrant warp of the natural world. Anima Mundi brings the relationship between these multi-textured strands to life through a complex interplay of elements: visual imagery and light, sound and movement.

"Streams and rivers never stay the same." The incandescent Kathryn Roszak introduces the evening's performance with a line from the last stanzas of Snyder's 'Finding the Space in the Heart'. And indeed, as the fluidity of words and music and movement unfolds, it blends into one ever-changing image, one feeling-in-motion.

Beginning with the deep overtone chanting of a Tibetan monk, the amazing Bob Ernst uses his deep and resonant voice to extend Snyder's poetry with owl song and djembe calls, bamboo flute and jungle shrieks, harmonica wails and Tibetan bells. At one point, he and all the dancers are playing a pine cone like a thumb piano (and it works!).

Enormous images of petroglyphs, mountainsides, animal tracks in the sand, moving highways and single pine cones serve as backdrop to his mesmerizing voice and the primal movements of the dancers, who seem to be ethereal emanations of the earth spirits Snyder's words evoke. Bone's portrayal of a lizard during one scene is spell-bindingly perfect- he brings us inside the alien world of an alert reptile, cocking his head to and fro' before scurrying across the stage. Roszak's choreography is superb, too, in the subtle changes of action within the ongoing tale. Dancers intertwine with the actor in what is for the most part a seamless flow through various landscapes and emotional tenors.

The musical score reinforces this seamless quality, blending perfectly with the actor's expression, and bringing a beautifully balanced interplay of natural and human sound with Castle's remarkable electronic tonal patterns influenced by Snyder's own eastern inspirations. Castle uses the innate music of nature and man-in-nature as the basis for his symphony of organ, water dripping and cars moving, violin, and saxophone. Much, but not all, of the music is based upon Castle's fascinating work on mapping the spatial patterns between points - the space between a lizard's footprints, running across the sand, for example, sets the musical notes for the score. (Read more about this in Castle's musical interview, found in the Sound section of this issue.)

Kathryn Roszak ends the piece by informing the audience that they've been in dialogue with Gary Snyder, who authorized their use of his poems, and apparently he too had been envisioning his work not only as poetry, but as performance- with dance and music, etc. I can only imagine he would be very pleased indeed with Anima Mundi's interpretation.