Ahimsa Rehearsal

Ahimsa: Living Without Harm

Mahatma Gandhi.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
John Lennon.
And a teenager emigrating from Poland at the start of the 20th century.

Those four persons form the foundation of Ahimsa, a sacred dance presentation of Trinity Movement Choir in St. Paul’s Chapel on Friday, May 19 at 8pm.

The title refers to Ahimsa, non-violence or non-harm, to all living beings. Ahimsa is a principle of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, three of the major faiths in India.

The journey of Ahimsa as a work of performance art began in the depths of Covid with musician Stanley Grill writing the score while locked down in his attic in New Jersey.

“I've had a long interest in being an advocate for peace. I joined an online group called Artists4Peace. And saw Mariko's work on the site. And reached out to collaborate,” Grill said.

Mariko Endo from American Landscapes-Contemporary Dance
Mariko Endo danced in the Hudson River for American Landscapes-Contemporary Dance, her 2021 collaboration with Stanley Grill.

Mariko Endo is a dancer and choreographer trained in Modern Dance and Butoh, a dance form originating in Japan. She and Stanley Grill first collaborated on American Landscapes-Contemporary Dance in 2021. In Ahimsa, their second work together, Grill combines the life of his grandfather, Louis Rekort, with the lives of Gandhi, King, and Lennon, to tell the unfolding story of advocacy for non-violence in the world.

Mariko Endo says that dancing the four parts of Ahimsa is a challenge, albeit one she welcomes.

“It really feels like every person who joined this movement from 1905 and Gandhi, and people around Dr. King, and John Lennon—­everybody in this magnificent movement and history—is moving through my body. And it's really physically demanding.

“I started to take spin class, cycling class, to make sure my legs are strong enough, my lungs are strong enough,” Endo said with a laugh.

Mariko Endo has danced frequently with Trinity Movement Choir. Founder and director, Marilyn Green, noted that Trinity Movement Choir's work has always been rooted in Butoh since its performances began more than a decade ago.

“The Movement Choir is involved in this with huge screens. So we have a two-part choreography here,” Green said.

“We've coordinated so that screens that are nine feet by 16 feet, two of them, will be placed near the altar. And they'll create a world for Mariko to dance in.”

By recording their performance on video, members of Trinity Movement Choir can dance alongside Mariko Endo.

Louis Rekort, grandfather of musician Stanley Grill
Louis Rekort, Stanley Grill's grandfather, immigrated to the United States from Poland at age 15 in 1905.

While Gandhi, King, and Lennon are internationally known historical figures, Stanley Grill felt compelled to begin Ahimsa with his grandfather, a teenage Polish immigrant who heavily influenced Grill’s commitment to non-violence.

“My grandfather grew up in a little shtetl outside of Warsaw in a family of 13. That was a very religious family. In those days if you were in a religious family, you could only study the Torah. And he didn't want that,” Grill said.

“At age 15, he picked up and he came to America.”

Ahimsa Rehearsal
Gerald Baugh and Mariko Endo have been rehearsing Transfiguration at St. Paul's Chapel.

As they collaborated on Ahimsa, Mariko Endo and Stanley Grill decided to add a separate work, Transfiguration, a creation of Mariko which she dances with Gerald Baugh, a parishioner of Trinity Church Wall Street and frequent dancer with Trinity Movement Choir.

Magic Wands for Ahimsa
Credit: Kiichiro Adachi

Both hold lighting instruments, which they call “magic wands,” made by Kiichiro Adachi.

“A lot of times when performing a piece you sort of get the intent behind the music and the story you are portraying,” Gerald Baugh said.  

“Mariko and Stanley created the music and idea of this so I am working with the people who actually had a vision of what this should look like. 

“It is a tremendous help for finding the mindset necessary when performing.” 

Stanley Grill thinks Transfiguration, with music for four violas, and a message of non-violence, is a perfect way to end the performance.  

Mariko Endo, Stanley Grill, and Gerald Baugh at Ahimsa rehearsal
Stanley Grill (center) discusses the Ahimsa performance during a rehearsal at St. Paul's Chapel.

“We're living in very dangerous times. With the rise of populism and all these authoritarian-leaning societies, that era of violence can start all over again,” Grill said.

“But people can change. They can be transformed. We don't have to be our same old selves.”

Gandhi, MLK, and Lennon

Mariko Endo draws encouragement from the persons whose lives she is commemorating in Ahimsa.

“Gandhi was shot and killed, Dr. King was shot and killed, John Lennon was shot and killed, but truth never dies. That means they are still living,” Endo said.

“I wish this piece will encourage people. You're not alone. We're together in this. How can I be encouraged keep the hope alive?

“That's a big question that I ask every day on working on this piece.”