All summer evenings were devoted not only to Movements but to the study of the difference between real inner phenomena, such as telepathic sight, thought-reading and so forth, and what Mr Gurdjieff called “tricks” and “half-tricks” by which these phenomena could be simulated. I will say more about this when I speak of the demonstrations in America. For the time being I will content myself with describing one of the exercises given in preparation for them.
During the summer and autumn of 1923 our work by day was physical labour in the open air, but something more was added. We were given long lists of words to memorize. Mr Gurdjieff insisted that we should not set aside special time for it, but do it while working in the garden.
In the course of trying this I made one very important discovery. Usually when one observes oneself during physical labour, particularly work consisting of repetitive movements like digging and scything, one’s thoughts wander freely in directions that have nothing to do with the labour. Associations flow, following one another in complete disorder, without goal and without result.
Now that Mr Gurdjieff had added these memory exercises during just such work, there was no room for leaks of wandering associations. At times it was necessary to stir oneself and direct attention to the digging itself, which at other times became almost unconscious. But the characteristic feature in all this was complete collectedness. Not a single bit of consciousness wandered away beyond the limits of the person. Everything was concentrated inside. This is one example of the many varieties of the Work, which always has as its ultimate goal the development of the person’s being.
When I described the first big push of our work on the Study House, only the outside had been finished. Inside it was empty and cold. As soon as the three big stoves had been added, just before the onset of winter, we were able to transfer some of the evening sessions from the chateau to the Study House. Then, when electricity was connected, we continued to complete the most necessary parts of it by day while using it for its intended purpose in the evenings.
Mr Gurdjieff had told us that he was planning big Movements demonstrations, to take place in Paris in mid-December. During the summer, therefore, I had been orchestrating and copying the parts for much of the music, but much more remained to be done, depending on Mr Gurdjieff’s choice of Movements. So one morning I went to the Study House to try to find out what to begin next. When Mr Gurdjieff saw me standing there, he shouted at me, “Why are you loafing? Go up in the gallery and fix the cracks in the wall.” I worked some days at this, but then decided that I had better go on with orchestrating the rest of the music I had, as cracks could be “fixed by anyone.
By this time the inner arrangement of the Study House was basically complete. The stage for Movements was at the south end of the building, covered with linoleum. Along the side walls we had built high benches with footrests. These were places for guests and visitors, who would soon be permitted to come on Saturdays to watch the Movements. In front of the benches was a wide passageway covered with matting, beyond which was a low ornamental wooden fence, which enclosed the central working space of the hall.
Inside the north entrance, underneath a balcony, was a kind of loge as in a theatre. That was Mr Gurdjieff’s place. Three sides of it were draped with curtains, the open side faced the pupils and the stage. The floor of his loge was raised twenty-eight inches above the main floor, so that when he was working with the pupils he could conveniently sit down and watch.
On both sides, along the inside of the ornamental fence, mats were placed. These marked the places where the individual pupils sat, separated from one another by colourful bolsters. The places on Mr Gurdjieff’s right were for men, those on his left for women.
The Study House acquired its final appearance only in December 1923, when it was necessary to complete the decor, as Mr Gurdjieff said, “on time,” for the Paris demonstrations. At such moments he commanded absolutely everybody, except the cooks, to work together till done. We painted the walls, fences and windows with Eastern-style ornamentation. All the inner space was covered with oriental carpets, and some of the finest ones were hung on the walls as well.
To conceal the structural woodwork of the ceiling, a huge canopy was made of white calico. All the women worked on it. They first transferred the design to the material spread out on the floor, then Mr Gurdjieff showed them exactly where he wanted the many aphorisms inserted, and they painted and embroidered them in a special cipher script that he had taught us.
When the canopy was ready, its centre was raised up to the ceiling by means of a sturdy pole, which temporarily had to support the canopy’s whole weight. Once the centre of it was securely fastened, one by one the four corners were raised and fixed in place, and everything fitted exactly, though it had all been worked on upside down.
Now came a dangerous moment. The centre pole that supported all this added weight had to be taken away. Mr Gurdjieff told my wife to stand outside and not let anyone else in. The danger was that, when the pole was removed, the strain on the roof might bring everything crashing down… But all stood firm!
Over the passageways at intervals hung small electric lamps with translucent red shades. And two mechanical fountains with changeable lighting were installed not far from the stage. Mr Gurdjieff occasionally scented them with Eastern spices and perfume. Then their functioning made the air fragrant and aromatic.
When the main lights were switched off, the entire hall was submerged in semi-darkness, and all the oriental rugs and Eastern ornaments, bathed in the dim red glow of the lamps and reflecting the changing multicoloured light from the fountains, became even more beautiful and expressive. Mr Gurdjieff often asked me to play the Essentuki Prayer, and when the pupils, led by my wife, began to hum it, the combination of music with the magnificence of the scene created a very deep and unforgettable impression…
During the final push we worked without relief. We had begun as always at six o’clock in the morning and worked all through the day, but there was still an enormous amount to do if we were to finish on time.
Night was falling and the tempo of work continued without a break. On and on. At four in the morning Mr Gurdjieff sent a message to the kitchen to bring everybody coffee with milk and white bread. With this we strengthened ourselves and continued on.
The time came for morning coffee. It was also brought to the Study House. At noon appeared bread and big pieces of meat. But the intensity of work did not diminish by one iota. Finally, I remember, the last nail was hammered in at seven in the evening. We had dinner and went to bed. The following day we did not have to get up at six o’clock. We were allowed to sleep as long as we wished…
During all this time Mr Gurdjieff had also been creating new exercises, and more and more music had to be composed and orchestrated. My difficulty was increased because I had only 35 musicians instead of 100, the usual number for orchestral performances in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. I could not use trumpets because, masking my few strings, they would have sounded blatant.
Eight performances of our programme were scheduled between 13 December and Christmas Day. The last three nights before the dress rehearsal I did not sleep at all. What sleep I had was snatched during travel between Fontainebleau and Paris.
My composer-friend Tcherepnin came along to a late rehearsal to see our work and listen to my music. Of course it was just then that Mr Gurdjieff told me that the Mazurka music sounded “limp.” I didn’t know what to do. In desperation I decided to leave the music as it was, but I added another melody above it. I really had a feeling of satisfaction when, after the rehearsal was over, Tcherepnin told me how wonderful it all sounded.
The night before the dress rehearsal, all rugs, goatskins, mattresses and even the fountains from the Study House were brought to the theatre. The foyer became an oriental palace. For the public there were all kinds of Eastern delicacies and the fountains were filled with champagne instead of water. Pupils who did not take part in the demonstration, among them an English diplomat, stood at the entrance, dressed in the costumes we had made for The Struggle of the Magicians. The Movements were much appreciated, but the greatest reaction was to the women who walked in a circle around the stage with outstretched arms. The audience began to shout “Enough! Enough!” because they could not understand how it was possible to maintain it for so long.
According to accounts that reached me, there was one person who was very displeased with the demonstration. This was Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. Perhaps it was because everything that he saw contradicted his own system of movement, which had been widely accepted. Here everything was based on quite another principle of anti-mechanical movement, simultaneously developing physical work with consciousness and even prayer, as in the Dervish Movements.
When the demonstration ended I asked Mr Gurdjieff, “How did everything go?” He looked at me, smiling, but said nothing. That gave me a strong inner experience, and from it I realized that in work of this kind we do not seek words of praise or encouragement. We have to fulfil the task as best we can and there should be no consideration for whether one is praised or not: that is the aim. Mr Gurdjieff so often said: “Never think of results, just do.”
At one of the later performances Mr Gurdjieff sat in the front row. During one of the Movements he took the baton from me and himself conducted the whole Movement from the floor.
At another performance, when at the very end Mr Gurdjieff shouted, “Stop!”, the pupils on the stage held their postures and held them quite long. Then Mr Gurdjieff had the curtain brought down without saying that the “stop” was finished. One of the pupils did not continue to hold the “stop” once the curtain was down and Mr Gurdjieff scolded her very strongly. He said that the “stop” had nothing to do with the audience or the curtain… that it is Work and cannot be finished until the teacher says so, that it has to be held even if a fire should break out in the theatre.
After the last demonstration all the carpets, fountains and other things were taken back to the Prieure. That year we celebrated Christmas on New Year’s Eve. Beforehand Mr Gurdjieff went to Paris to buy rich presents for all the children. Dinner was in the Study House itself. There were entire roasted lambs, suckling pigs, oriental meat dishes and Eastern sweets. To this feast many French guests were invited, among them painters. One of them—I believe it was Soutine—was simply destroyed with exaltation. I remember asking him whether he wished to taste anything else and he simply threw up his hands, saying he couldn’t find any words to express his delight.