Feminist theater company Brava! for Women in the Arts couldn't have chosen a more convincing presence to consecrate “A Special Evening for Peace in Afghanistan” than Coleman Barks, the popular American voice of 13th-century Afghan poet Jelaluddin Rumi. The dervish mystic's free-spirited approach to being one with God now resonates with a new generation of path-seekers, for whom Western religion often falls short. In some 70,000 exuberant verses, Rumi extolled the essential joy of living in loving union with “the host.” In layman's terms, this translates to adopting the compassionate examples of Muhammad, Jesus, and “every other messenger and prophet,” as well as partaking in life's rich revelry — beauty, sex, wine, music, dance, laughter — as a sacred act, akin to meditation, to be indulged in ecstatically.
“Rumi's branch of Islam is the cure for Talibanism,” says Barks. “It's the exact opposite of fundamental zealousness. It's the part that dances in the street and embraces everyone.”
In his introduction to The Essential Rumi, one of 15 works of translation to which the recently retired English professor has devoted much of his adult life, Barks explains the role of poetry, music, and movement in Rumi's world as “parts of that communal and secretly individual work of opening hearts and exploring the mystery of union with the divine.” Rumi himself addressed this subject with poignant matter-of-factness: “All day and night, music,/ a quiet, bright/ reedsong. If it/ fades, we fade.”
To honor Rumi's legacy, Brava! has paired Barks with world-fusion multi-instrumentalist Jai Uttal, whose roots in Indian musicmaking should complement the euphoric verses. For non-dervishes in the audience, celebrated aerial choreographer Jo Kreiter will provide the dance element with a gravity-defying work about dislocation in the Bay Area.