Descent, Dante and Ibn Arabi
In Descent, we wanted to create a story - and a production - which would draw on different cultural traditions.
As a company, we are interested in the connections and parallels between different cultures, belief systems, and mythologies. For example, there are stories of “descent” into an underworld in many different traditions, from different times.
As we worked on the play, we were aware of certain parallels between Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the ideas and poetry of Ibn Arabi. The two writers lived and worked 100 years apart. One was a Christian, and the other was a Sufi Master. So we were intrigued by possible connections between them.
From Ibn Arabi, we have taken…
The idea of a “mystical journey” which moves through various marâtib (levels or degrees).
The idea of an imaginal realm, or barzakh: a world that lies between the real world of the senses, and the spiritual world, which we can enter through the imagination.
The image of the mirror as a kind of “imaginal realm” or barzakh where you can contemplate the mysteries of both the visible and invisible worlds.
In our play, the characters enter an “imaginal” or “dream” realm, and pass through different stages or “levels.”
We wanted to leave it open for the audience to decide if the “visions” they see are real spiritual experiences – or simply their own psychological projections.
We have made use of “screens” as a recurring device. The characters see things in screens as in “mirrors.” Are they simply seeing things in their own minds?
Images on this page: Anish Kapoor, Islamic Mirror; Michelangelo Caetini’s map of the “journey” through different levels in The Divine Comedy. Below: The sea in Tarkovsky’s science fiction film Solaris – itself a kind of swirling “mirror” in which people can see their own dreams and nightmares