The word "meditation" conjures images of quiet contemplation and stillness. For the practitioner of the sema, a Sufi dance that dates back seven centuries to Konya, Turkey, meditation is anything but quiet and still.
Sufism, a tradition within Islam, teaches love, tolerance, and personal and community development through self-discipline and responsibility. Sufis are known for their ecstatic dancing and the circular rhythms of the almost-hypnotic music that accompanies them; their seemingly frenzied spinning has garnered them the nickname "whirling dervishes." In fact, the whirling dervishes or, more correctly, semazen, are anything but frenzied. Their dances are highly choreographed rituals, a blend of movement and music that seeks to express something deeply spiritual and personal but with a universal (literally) purpose. Their goal is not to spin themselves into unconsciousness or ecstasy; the semazen's spinning instead unites the mind, the heart and the body with the universe. With his right hand directed toward the sky, the semazen spins toward the right, focusing his attention on the left hand, which is turned toward the earth. The dancer becomes a conduit between the spiritual and the terrestrial, while symbolically embracing all of humanity with his spinning motion. The thirteenth-century poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, inspired by his meeting with the Sufi Shams al-Din Tabrizi, expressed these ideals in his classic works Mesnevi and Divan-i. At 7:30 p.m. in the St. Louis Community College-Meramec gymnasium (11333 Big Bend Boulevard), the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi present these dances in a free performance. Reservations are recommended and are available by calling 314-984-7167. -- Paul Friswold
Granted, all art is great, but in today's high-tech, computerized world, mass-media installation art is particularly of the moment. Charles Gick, an associate professor of visual and performing arts at Purdue University, presents two site-specific works at Gallery 210 on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus (1 University Boulevard; 314-516-5976). Gick's Waterwitching and Flowers from the Mouth both address the tender bonds between humanity and nature. See? Sometimes technology can be used to help the environment rather than destroy it. Gick's installations are feted with an opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 23, and they remain on display through October 30. -- Paul Friswold
It's a rare day that St. Louisans get to hear the voice of a Macedonia-born Romani female singer who has performed in more than 30 countries and also has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. (It'd be interesting to see Jessica Simpson achieve that.) Listen and dance as Esma Redzepova sings the songs of home on the "Voice of Hope" tour, which stops at Grbic Restaurant (4071 Keokuk Street; 314-772-3100) at 8 p.m. This "Queen of Romani Song" and extraordinary foster parent (mom to 49 kids!) is joined by Ansambl Teodosievski, a five-piece band with a trumpet, clarinet, accordion, keyboard and drums. Tickets cost $18 to $22 and are available by calling 636-938-2362. -- Alison Sieloff
Middle of Somewhere
The collection of essays In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland is a finalist for the 2004 Great Lakes Book Award. The book details and examines many different aspects of the Midwest experience, from the conflict between place and identity to issues of race, class and gender. Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue) has assembled five of the contributors for a 7 p.m. reading. Authors include Becky Bradway, the editor of the collection; Mary Troy, director of the MFA program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; Richard Newman, editor of our town's River Styx literary magazine; and Ricardo Cortez Cruz, who will also perform Midwestern-centric rap with his brother Rodney. The event is free; call 314-367-6731. -- Guy Gray