That evening when the villagers had just returned from their day’s work, as the sun was sinking low, the air was cooling and the land was settling comfortably into sleepiness, something unexpected appeared between the trees on the edge of the village.
A handful of children were playing in the clearing between the village and the forest when one of them called to the others, “What’s that?” They all stopped their playing to look where he pointed. At first it was impossible to determine what the shadow was that flitted so lightly through the undergrowth. One moment it was flowing out from behind a tree, then it had darted behind it only to appear moments later beside another tree. It appeared to the children like a cobweb that had magically come to life, so ethereally did it float and spin and leave trace forms in its wake.The children were not scared, something about the moving shadow resonated warmth, but they were filled with curiosity, “What are you?” they called, “Show yourself to us!”
And then the formless shadow was formless no longer but emerged from the undergrowth and began to move towards them. It was a girl. The centre of the shadow became her body, the outwardly spiralling cobwebs became her arms, the warmth filled her eyes. She smiled as she appeared before them and hovered for a moment as quiveringly still and full of grace as a candle flame suspended in the air.
Then suddenly she darted to one side and transformed her body’s shape and movements to imitate a bear who had wandered dazedly into the clearing and was now shaking itself and looking around in bemused puzzlement as to how it had got there. The children cried out with laughter; the girl was here to give them a show! The bear lumbered forwards a few steps and then stopped to look at the laughing children. It winked at them and in a flash was a bear no longer but had become a wolf, lean and proud and full of rippling energy that pulsated through its muscles as it moved. Seconds later the girl was a wolf no more but had become the most delicate of butterflies, landing lightly on imagined flowers and taking off again to fly with the softest of wings.
The children were enthralled. As Lilanthro moved playfully between her imitations of different forest animals they clapped and called out in delight, each one attempting to be the first to guess every creature. She had now moved into the centre of the clearing with children all around her. Their calls and laughter drew others near so that gradually the whole space filled up with excited faces and exuberant giggles.
As Lilanthro began to move towards the village, she changed her dance. No longer was she the creatures of the forest. Now she became the forest itself, with its solid trees, hanging vines and whispering leaves. She moved with the most silken of caresses as she became a bud about to open and shuddered freely as she became the wind shaking the branches. Then she was as strong and solid as the tallest of trees, with roots that twisted their way down into the ground and curved spaces within her body that could shelter an animal from the rain. Then she was the rain itself falling lightly onto the trampoline-like leaves, bouncing off and dropping to the ground.
One brave child could not help but start to copy her movements, and gradually others began to do likewise. Lilanthro delighted in this, exchanging mischievous glances with each child and slowly, subtly changing her dance so that she in turn began to mimic those around her. Between them their dance took shape. Lilanthro and the group of children magically transformed into one pulsating, energy-filled creature. Like a flock of birds in flight overhead or a school of fish darting upstream, the dancers sensed each other’s every move and responded in an instant.
By now, some of the adults had come out of their huts to see what the children were so excited about. Lilanthro began to lead the dancing, laughing, excitable group into the village itself, processing slowly but surely along the village’s central pathway. At times she moved with the children, copying their movements and weaving her body around theirs. At others, she returned to her own world for inspiration to lead a change in the pace and feeling of the dance. As she became aware of the presence of the adults, she slowed her movements and became even more intricately detailed in her every gesture. She let go of all form; no longer was she a deer, a blade of grass or a sudden flash of lightning. Instead she became simply a moving thread of colour and texture that wove its way through the space, under and over children, in and out of doorways, and around the watching adults.
Her body was hers but not hers. It spoke of things unseen and unheard, of invisible swirls in the air and flowing currents in the water. Of the sap rising in the plants and the pulsing of a human heart. Of the colour of feelings emerging and disappearing in the body and the quality of thoughts drifting through or hammering on the mind. Of an energy and presence that breathed life into her body and allowed her limbs to move but was also not her. She became everything that exists in the spaces between things.
The children were now confident enough to experiment freely with their own movements. Some continued their mimicry of animals and plants, others enjoyed the challenge of pretending to be the wind in the trees. And others still moved beyond literal forms to an exploration of their body’s ability to move in a hundred different ways and express a thousand different qualities. They moved with unselfconscious freedom and unfettered imagination.
The adults were open mouthed and wide eyed. What on earth was this? Their children were behaving as they had never behaved before and in their midst was this wild, feral girl able to combine fluidity, abandonment and authority in one spiralling body. No doubt if they had had the time to stop and think some would have been appalled by such a display of recklessness, others would have feared the spell that the girl was placing on the children, and some may have been furious at her audacity to dance her way so confidently into their midsts.
But it all happened so quickly that they did not have time to think and act, or even unthinkingly react. One moment they had been in their huts, preparing the food or recovering from the day’s hunt, the next they were outside surrounded by an enchantment which even they could not break. They were spellbound. As they stood and stared they each felt a wonderful pull of energy flowing through their bodies. Their toes and fingers tingled, their lungs filled with nourishing air, their hearts beat in time with the dance. Some became more still than their bodies and minds had known in a long time, some were moved by emotions they had not allowed out into the world for many a year, some felt blocks of granite-like pain and tiredness slipping gently from their bodies. They watched, they smiled, they laughed at and with the children, and some of them gleefully joined the dance.
For a short in-breath and out-breath of time every person in the village was aware only of this one unexpectedly, intoxicatingly alive moment. It felt different to each of them, as if striking different notes in the instruments of their bodies, while also uniting them in a shared moment of wonder; an orchestra playing in harmony.
And then Lilanthro reached the farthest end of the village. She had timed the procession perfectly. The darkness of night was descending to wrap the village and surrounding forest in its impenetrable velvet cloak. While the children still twirled and leapt and lunged to the ground, and the adults still watched transfixed or rippled with their own movement, Lilanthro softly melted back into the deepening shadows of the trees. She crept a little way away and silently climbed a tree so that she could watch the end of the villagers’ dance.
They continued for a while with joyful self-assurance and seemingly endless energy, until one child, the same boy who had been the first to spot her arrival, cried out “She’s gone!”
One by one the children stopped dancing as the adults shook themselves out of their dreamlike state. The children ran to their parents, took their hands and chatted unceasingly at them. “Did you see me dancing…? Who was that girl…? Where did she go…? Do you think she’ll come back again…? I danced like a wolf cub… Did you see me…? Can we do that again…?”
The adults ushered the children back to their homes while exchanging slightly puzzled glances with one another. “Who was that girl?” their expressions said, “Will she return?” their eyes asked. Lilanthro smiled to herself as she watched the crowd disperse. She caught a glimpse of Talas departing. He had been watching the spectacle from the back of the crowd the whole time and, as he turned to leave, Lilanthro was sure that he alone could see her hiding in the trees.
“Well, that went all right,” Lilanthro mused to herself, “Let’s see what they make of tomorrow…” And with that she settled comfortably into the embrace of the tree’s branches to sleep peacefully and await another new day…