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“Music From a Painted Cave” (Robert Mirabal) and The Sacred Dance

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    Have any of the Joseph Campbell community here heard of the Pueblo musician Robert Mirabal?

    (It is possible that I mentioned this on an older message board here some years ago but am not certain.)

    And I ask forgiveness ahead of time for any typos or “awkward modifiers,”

    since can no longer find the Edit button alas! My 80 year old English tutor may be rolling in in the stars as my words trip over themselves in a Percival flow of consciousness!

    Back to Mirabal.

    2nd question have any of you seen Music From a Painted Cave?

    This piece was shown on PBS back around the millennium.

    It is filled (at least to me) with the transcendent energy, and symbology, which crosses cultural boundaries…the energy and experience, which Joe Campbell loved.

    For those who have not seen it…Robert Mirabal is both musician and storyteller (why this reminds me so strongly of Campbell)

    Robert brings together both the traditional dance and music and storytelling of his culture (beautiful Native flute and drum…underscored by subtle cello and violin)

    Dancers in vivid bright feathered costumes and fringed shawls…

    Then moves into the conflict of the traditional culture finding balance and celebration with the modern culture of cars and computers…

    And in comes the electric guitar, the battle between native and rock drums, a harmonica and then a true crossing of culture Robert plays the digeridoo!

    All this is not by accident as Robert himself journeyed to different places in the world.

    His beginnings at Taos Pueblo in NM…he had a native dance mentor who I imagine played a part in Robert’s call to adventure… but Robert also was in theater and took modern dance as well! * note to All who know of Campbell’s wife Jean Erdman!!

    Watching the video, one can tell Robert had both traditional and modern dance training. It’s beautiful to see.

    My family and I were lucky enough to see Robert Mirabal perform live “Songs From a Painted Cave” at the Asheville Civic Center in NC.

    It was a powerful and gorgeous experience! It felt like being in a ceremony and even Robert said as much from the stage…”you do not know it but you just participated in a ceremony (Peace.)”

    it happened November 2001 so one can imagine that something uplifting

    was very much needed. And this was!

    As for Robert’s travels, he went to Russia where he gained the nickname “gypsy man!” And he danced with them.

    Robert went to Japan, where he danced with two Japanese Boku? (Not sure if saying that right) dancers, whom he befriended.

    And he traveled to Australia (the aboriginal culture there)

    Thus the digeridoo.

    One of my favorite songs is “The Dance.”

    Robert speaks of the sacredness of the dance…the need for the Dance…what The Dance means in his culture.

    And I can hear reflections of all those Joseph Campbell quotes in relation to dance, rhythm and poetry.

    Where there is doubt there is hope.

     Where there is fear there is love.

    Where there is hate there is peace.

    Where there is suffering…there is the dance sings Robert.

    ‘All life,’ said the Buddha, ‘is sorrowful’; and so, indeed, it is. Life consuming life: that is the essence of its being, which is forever a becoming. ‘The world,’ said the Buddha, ‘is an ever-burning fire.’ And so it is. And that is what one has to affirm, with a yea! a dance! a knowing, solemn, stately dance of the mystic bliss beyond pain that is at the heart of every mythic rite. -Joseph Campbell quoting the Buddha

    I also recall Joe Campbell quoting Alan Ginsberg?
    About joy, music dancing…and the whole world will want to join the Dance?

    “Music From a Painted Cave is an excellent example of this!”

    Touching on the transcendent!

    I believe Campbell would have fallen in love with “Music From a Painted Cave.”


    In the title track, “Painted Caves…”

    Robert asks: “Who were these ancestors painting the same symbols all over the world?”

    The light is dimmed upon the stage and projections of pictographs are illuminated on the screen behind and there are cave paintings  on the back of a woman’s shawl…

    Robert plays eerie notes on a picorina.

    Talk about Cosmic Consciousness!!

    I love the music, but would highly recommend the video or DVD of “Music From a Painted Cave!”
    It is right up this road of adventure!

    Robert no longer tours such a spectacle and he began to do smaller shows with either jazz ensemble or his own smaller band over the years. He also did a one person monologue (was it on Geronimo? May have to recheck that.) And he wrote raw biographies of his life on the reservation. And put out other solo flute albums.

    But I will never forget “Painted Caves!”

    And lest other dancers be left out…Rulan Tangen is a gorgeous modern dancer…

    Think Jean Erdman as well as Joe would appreciate Rulan’s dancing in the “Courtship song.”

    And Michael Greyeyes too is an excellent dancer!

    Other participants in the show include Robert’s wife Dawn, their daughter Aspen Dawn (4 years old)

    Robert’s brother Patrick,

    And guest stars Star Nayea

    (a well known Native Singer) mom

    And Kenny Aronoff (session drummer for John Mellencamp.)

    Not to mention the whole ensemble of beautiful Native dancers and singers who bring the songs, dances and stories alive!

    Wish Joe and Jean Campbell could have seen this!







    During my decade or so “on the road” – thumbing my way around the continent – I usually spent a couple months every year in Taos, where Robert Mirabal was a legend (deservedly so).

    sunbug – you may enjoy perusing this conversation, in our Campbell in Culture forum, where Nancy Allison (editor of The Ecstasy of Being, Joseph Campbell’s posthumous work on dance, who worked closely with Joe’s wife Jean), discussing Jean Erdman’s approach to dance. (No need to read it all at once, but Nancy’s comments are compelling, often sharing anecdotes involving Jean and Joe).

    I’m also curious what handle you used in the old forums here back in the day (my cyber moniker was “bodhibliss”)


    That’s awesome! Traveled out west back in ‘98 with my family. Didn’t visit Taos, but climbed down into the ruins of Mesa Verde on a tour.
    Mind blowing, especially climbing back up the vertical ladders on the cliff and seeing the hand indentations where the people climbed without ladders at all! But a friend of mine did visit Taos and met Robert’s dance teacher.:-) I met Robert in Asheville…had a nice experience in addition to the show…had choreographed a “modern” tap dance in moccasins to Robert’s “Little Indians.” In Asheville Robert was at the Kituwah before the show and was able to give him my video. And when we walked back to our car, his wife said he was in the trailer watching it.

    I didn’t think about that during the show but afterwards yelled great show Robert and he came up to me…one arm bear grab and said “you’re a good tap dancer.” More than the compliment appreciated being able to share the joy of the music. 🙂 those kind of connections can be rare. But am thankful.

    Definitely will check out the discussion on Jean Erdman…

    Not until I read the little yellow book with compilations of JC quotes did I realize…my God his wife is a dancer and danced with Martha Graham!

    I was lucky in younger years to take a few “Graham” classes at Alvin Ailey.

    Though tap is my main forte…

    Have training in ballet, modern and jazz as well and love free form.

    And was in a regional ballet company.

    As for the moniker…I’m guessing it had “hobbit” in it.

    Think I went on an Entishly long roll about Joe Campbell meeting Tolkien and how Tolkien’s works were completely up that alley and it seemed a shame they were not mentioned.

    And someone responded about it would be cool to imagine the two sitting down together…Tolkien with his pipe…and maybe conversing over tea and coffee.
    Though it occurs to me that Campbell rebelled against his strict Catholic up-bringing and Tolkien because of being orphaned from his Mum (a storyteller too) was taken in by a Priest who raised him and Tolkien’s Mum recent conversion to Catholicism would make sense why the son who loved her would stay with that and the love for the father figure of the Priest…

    (Tolkien’s own life story could also fit into Courtly romance of Campbell as he and his love were warned away from each other—That whole romance inspired the mythic history and genealogy of his stories talk about personal Myth!) but that’s a different topic.

    Even though interestingly Tolkien did not want any blatant religious themes in his works…so those other mythic themes from Celtic to Finnish and Greek are there.

    Will enjoy reading posts on Jean Erdman! Thank you!


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