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By Susan Judith Hoffman November 19, 2014

Divine Water

On October 16th, 2014, in the Dawson Theatre, Montreal, Quebec, S.P.A.C.E. presented THIRST, a dance performance by Suzanne Miller & Allan Paivio Productions with dancer Magali Stoll. Below is a meditation, inspired by the performance, on the mythology of water.

Thales of Miletus (c 624 –c 546 B.C.E.), an ancient Greek philosopher and early scientist, argued persuasively that the source and origin of all existence is water. He also claimed that water appears to have the kinds of powers usually ascribed to gods since water has no need of any other being to bring it into existence. Water has the power of self–transformation and can manifest itself in different states: solid, liquid, or gas. In this way it appears to have the powers of a divine being.

Thales argued that water must be the primary substance of everything that exists, since it is the common element in every existing being and the origin or source of every existing being. Water, Thales reasoned, is everywhere in the world: it falls from the sky, it surrounds land masses, and it swells up from the ground. Everything that lives and moves needs water to sustain its force.  No animal, insect, human being, or plant can live without water. For all these reasons, Thales is one of the first scientists, who, like today’s nuclear physicists, tried to define the most fundamental substance of which all material beings are composed.

I thought of Thales and his fascinating and imaginative scientific theory on the origin of being as I watched the contemporary dance performance Thirst in the Dawson Theatre on October 16th. Two outstanding artists danced icebergs that eventually broke apart and melted away into waterfalls and lakes that were then greedily quaffed, guzzled, and gorged in a thoughtless manner, at times playful, at times just mindless wasteful overconsumption. It was a “wet production” with some water right on the stage.  A dancer scaled the heights of heaven on a ladder to literally drink up the divine substance of water only to then spew it out carelessly right onto the stage below. Later in the dance we saw water turn the great wheels in a watermill, working for us, harnessed as sustainable energy to grind our flour and work our machines. We saw clouds become heavy with big loud drops of comforting cool rain. And then, a beautiful and serious dance that had already enthralled us with the importance and power of water to sustain life, and had already gently reminded us that the kind of play we engage in with our natural resources is deadly serious, invited us into the darkest chambers of a world in which there is scarcely any fresh water left. In this grim world, the precious liquid must be dispensed in carefully measured out doses and administered with syringes to human beings who are on all fours. Why were those human beings on all fours, were they babies crawling, grown-ups weak from dehydration, the human race transfigured into more ape- like beings, a kind of devolution at work in a world with no water?

We were then drawn into an asphyxiating realm in which the dancers gasp for breath as it dawns on us that our lungs need water to function, and we cannot breathe if there is no moisture in the world. We are more than half water ourselves! The dance ends with a beautiful source of water turning into mist, into a vapor that slowly disappears over the horizon. We get a last glimpse of the divine substance that gave us life. We realize that Nietzsche, the nineteenth century thinker who famously prophesized that human beings could kill the gods, was right after all, and that our insatiable thirst has devoured and squandered the divine being that sustains every life form. The beautiful mist finally disappears altogether as the lights dim and we are left in empty space, in the darkness of non being.  The insatiable thirst of human beings is a force to be reckoned with.

About the author

Susan Judith Hoffman teaches Philosophy and Humanites at Dawson and Philosophy at McGill. She is also a beekeeper.


Photo Credit: Emmanuel Begouen


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    November 25, 2014

    This is absolutely beautiful! I actually really wanted to go and see the performance when it came, but I wasn’t able to. From what I understand, this dance gave us a chilling and real insight into the importance of water in our lives and how, whether we want to believe it or not, it is a divine thing. The sad truth is that we humans are killing the divine with out insatiable thirst and greed for it and we must make a change to ensure that it does not completely disappear.

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    November 26, 2014

    I really enjoy this article, to read a passionate piece on water is a nice change. Water is a very important part of our lives, it sustains life for all creatures. I watched the performance that goes with this article and I think that it is really good. Water is really divine in how it influences us in our daily lives, whether you’re an artful and scientific individual. Just by reading this article I have become inspired to maybe write something about or has been influenced by water. It is a shame though that people today take water for granted and don’t understand it’s importance. But as long as their are people who write article like this, there will always be people who will fight to preserve the water we have.

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    November 30, 2014

    I really enjoyed this piece! I actually saw the video of the dance described, and was quite surprised by the extent of its success in bringing out strong emotions. I would have thought that though I would have appreciated the dance, it wouldn’t have left me with any strong sentiments. I thought that I was so subjected to this topic of human consumption, and the lack of fresh water on Earth, that the piece would cease to have a lasting impact on me. For whatever reason, maybe this being the form that the message took (as it is a choreography), or simply the talent of the dancers it is composed of, the piece definitely evoked strong emotions in me.
    I find that you did an excellent job in outlining the issues, and this piece was, to me, a sort of completion to the video. You also shed light on some aspects of the dance that I didn’t grasp while watching it!

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    November 30, 2014

    This piece is fascinating because it presents water in a beautiful way which made me reconsider the way I view water. It is so easy to forget how essential water is to life, and the power that it holds. Though I did not see the performance, your description of it brings to life for me the dance that we ourselves play with water. I have seen and experienced firsthand how fortunate we are in Canada to have clean fresh water yet we take it for granted every day, while people around the world struggle to survive without the same access that we have. Water is powerful, the control lies in humanity’s hands and our ability to find a balance in using it.

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    December 6, 2014

    I really enjoyed this article; I can feel the author’s passion towards the dance performance and water through her words. Unfortunately I was unable to go see the dance in person but I did watch the recording of in online. I found her description and analysis of the performance extremely accurate and it pointed out some amazing details that I missed while I was watching it. Personally my favorite part of the article was at the beginning when she was describing Thales of Miletus and how he was the first scientist to really understand how essential water is for all life on the planet. I found that was the perfect intro into an article discussing the value and importance of water. Additionally the authors closing statement where she mentioned Nietzsche’s prophecy was especially moving and powerful.

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    December 15, 2014

    I thoroughly enjoyed this reading due to the fact that it displayed the importance of such a simple element to our everyday lives, even though we take it for granted so often. It gets one to think of how little we could accomplish without it. Rarely can you turn your head and see something in which water was completely absent during its creation, sustenance or disposal. Even with this knowledge, there are still millions of people without access to this resource, even during a day in age where we are so technologically advanced and have become more globally conscious. The Thirst dance performance was very captivating because it was able to capture the wide range of significance which water has in our lives. Due to its abstract nature, it forces one to think a little bit more critically and this then causes us analyze our relationship with water and in turn hopefully change our attitude if need be. Finally, the idea of no matter how small an action or thing is, it can have a large and ripple like effect on numerous aspects of life.

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