The Aewen Lilta and Aewen Ohta (essay)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: The Aewen Lilta and Aewen Ohta: An addendum to Owls, Elves, and Avian Affinity (essay)

Author: Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l

Author's Notes

This addendum expands on the dances known as the Aewen Lilta and Aewen Ohta referenced in the discourse on affinity with avian species and how that manifests itself in the cultural practices of the five Elven Houses.

The original dance, the Lilta, dates back to the reign of Lilorandrych Illistim and its complex instructions have been documented in several books on courtly dances found in private library collections across the City-State. Some of these books differ in their interpretation, however, and the author has attempted to compile the variations to present a commonly accepted choreography.

The Aewen Lilta

Born in -24,634 ME (24,473 Illistim), Lilorandrych assumed the throne in -23,652 ME (25,455 Illistim) at the age of 982 and ruled for 3,589 years until the accession of her daughter in -20,063 (29,044 Illistim) when she was 4,571 years old. Lilorandrych was commonly referred to as the "Golden Mirror" and was regarded as the greatest ruler since Linsandrych, reigning over what is now considered to be "a golden age" of Ta’Illistim; an era of advancements in magic, arts and literature. The Ta'Illistim Exhibition was held for the first time during her reign, showcasing the marvels of the City-State, which included the inaugural presentation of the fully choreographed Aewen Lilta.

This dance came at a time when the ceremonial and decorative aspects of elven court were highly valued, though perhaps the original spirit of this had been lost since the demise of Linsandrych. Illistim society of the 27th millennia was at its most flamboyant. Instead of the elven lords and ladies of the pre-Council of Thrones era, who wore simpler clothing and danced to the sound of their own voices, the "golden age" saw ladies with ostentatious gowns and elaborate hairstyles dancing in the Argentate to the sound of harps. The gentlemen mirrored this pretention with their equally extravagant costumes. Social life itself had become more formal and based on protocol and high expectations. The Aewen Lilta was very much a product of its time.

It is common knowledge that Illistim nobility have a strong affiliation with the peacock. The magnificent bird is known for its impressive train of tail feathers that are usually colored a brilliant metallic green tipped with an iridescent eyespot that is ringed with blue and bronze . During its courtship display, the cock elevates his tail, which lies under the train, thus elevating it and bringing it forward. At the climax of this display, the tail feathers are vibrated, giving the feathers a shimmering appearance and making a rustling sound.

The Aewen Lilta was created as a measured, stately dance for nobility to participate in at formal court events and was meant to mimic the magnificence and grandeur of this bird. It first appeared in literature around -22,900 ME (approx. 26,200 Illistim), but Seneschal Halendir Illistim wrote of a "Thain Lilta" – the precursor to the Aewen Lilta - in his account of court proceedings as early as -23,255 ME (25,852 Illistim). The dance rose in popularity during the 27th millennia when it became more popularly known as the Aewen Lilta, largely because of the colorful costumes adopted to perform it. Gowns and coats made from cloth-of-faenor or cloth-of-imflass became an important part of the presentation with elaborate feathered trains, cuffs and collars. The elegant, controlled steps allowed for the lines of the dancers' bodies and the folds and drape of the metallic fabric to be brilliantly displayed. This is also when we start to see the dance steps themselves being documented.


Early versions are thought to have used light, springing steps, however, this seems to have developed into a more refined style later on as befitting that of the court protocol. By the time the dance entered the records on a regular basis, it was performed with slower, gliding steps that remained close to the ground. Dancers were expected to hold themselves elegantly but not so stiff that it looked unnatural. The dance was no longer bouncy but was to be performed with a sense of dignity and grace.

The dance did not become a fixed form until the mid-27th millennia when it was governed by strict court rules. These rules were documented in manuscripts nicknamed “Argentates” by the populace and, amongst the many edicts that have long since been abandoned, they dictated that the dance could only be performed facing the throne, which involved a lot of genuflecting and stooping to ensure that the dancer’s head was always lower than that of the enthroned Mirror's. This rule was soon deemed to be too restrictive and not in the spirit of the original composition so was quickly abolished. The rules now state that as long as the dance begins facing the throne, the sequences thereafter may continue in any direction.

Of the other rules still in place, the most significant are those that dictate the steps themselves; the dancer must always step forward on their left foot first and that the first foot backwards is always to be the right. This makes noting down steps easy as novice dancers do not have to keep being reminded which foot to step on, they can simply write a symbol in their notes. The documents also specify a set sequence for the dance: Ostentation step (O), simple step (S), double step (D), and reprise (R).

In this, simple steps almost always occur in pairs and there are always an odd number of double steps, which mean that the first step of the reprise is always on the right. These dance sequences are called measures, and the name of the measure differs depending on the number of each step. If there is one double step it is a small measure, for three doubles it is a medium measure and for five doubles it is called a large measure.

Usually, the number of ostentation and simple steps in the sequence remain the same, with a changing number of doubles and reprises. The almost constant number of ostentations and simples make it easier for dancers to remember the order of steps, as they then only have to remember how many doubles and reprises there are. The configuration of small, medium and large measures is usually pre-determined by the experience of the dancers and significance of the event at which it is performed.

For the most part, the Illistim nobles of Lilorandrych's court danced medium measures in pairs, with one or more couples dancing at a time. As the dance developed over the millennia, this formation has become a line to accommodate an increased number of participants. The Aewen Lilta basically follows the simple sequence of ostentation, simple step, simple step, double step and reprise. So, starting with a small measure:

Ostentation (O): Stand with your feet naturally apart and gaze lowered, lean forward a little – not too much so as to overbalance. Extending your arms behind you, keeping them low and straight, raise yourself slightly onto the balls of your feet. Lower your left heel, keeping your right raised. Lift your left heel, and lower your right heel. Lift your right heel, and lower your left heel. Lift both heels together. Lower both heels.

Now two simple steps (S): Maintaining the same posture, take a step forward with the left foot, bringing the right feet to close. Repeat starting on the right foot. It is important to maintain eye contact throughout the step phases.

Follow with one double step (D): Take three steps forward starting on the left foot, bringing foot to close at the end.

And finally, the reprise (R): Take one long lunging step back with the right foot bowing your head and slowly draw the left foot back to close. If you are dancing with a partner, turn your top half of your body towards them as you step back. As the lord stands to the left of his lady, he turns his body to the right and she turns hers to the left.

Since it is a highly stylized, dance-like procession, its steps involve simple, short movements of the feet, the raising and lowering of the body, and gentle sideways sweeping motions. In the reprise, as the dancers move backwards, great care is needed so that the ladies do not trip on their elaborate feathered trains.

The Aewen Ohta

As a mark of respect for their long-standing military connection with the Illistim, the Vaalor developed an adaptation to the Aewen Lilta that involves a call and a response. The steps of the Ohta derive directly from the Lilta, but with far more ambitious configurations. Rather than following the sedate line formation where dancers move up and down the room, the Ohta dancers circle each other, change places and meet to dance together.

The sequential choreographic form - in which one dancer performs a phrase while another responds by imitating the same phrase or performing a related one - continues to follow the nomenclature for a group of peacocks. In stark contrast to the majestic Illistim promenade, however, the hawkish display of the Aewen Ohta is made up of a series of smooth darting movements and swift directional changes within circular, wheeling motions. If watched from above, you would see many different figure patterns being made on the floor that resemble predatory circling.

In place of the ostentation, the Vaalor perform the muster (M), which comprises of a sharp turn on the left heel and, on completion, a click of the right heel. A sharp turn on the right heel and, on completion, a click of left heel. The arms remain rigid at the sides throughout.

This is followed by the same two simple steps (S) and a double step (D) as the Lilta.

The Ohta reprise (R) differs to the Lilta significantly as it involves taking one long lunging step back with the right foot, drawing the left back to close and circling your partner closely in a clockwise direction, starting with the left foot. The measure should end with the lord facing the next lady in the line for the dance to continue.

The Flight of the Griffin

Continued research into the formative years of the dance known as the Aewen Lilta has uncovered an interesting occurrence at an event during Lanenreat Illistim's reign. It was a time of uncertainty and unrest leading up to a war so the details are vague but several recently discovered sources of reference have allowed this author to piece together information garnered from letters, society pages and aforementioned "Argentates" of the day.

The Lanenreat Era

By the time Lanenreat had assumed the Peacock Throne in -16,120 ME (32,987 Illistim), the "golden age" under Lilorandrych Illistim was a fading memory. As Lilorandrych's youngest grandchild, the early days of Lanenreat's reign were a riot of parties, balls and celebrations at which the flamboyantly costumed Aewen Lilta featured regularly. Known for its excess and indulgence, the Mirror's court at that time was more interested in fashion than prudent finance and public records show that she spent rather too freely from the treasury.

On top of fiscal impropriety, Lanenreat's failure to contain Despana's hordes finally lost her the love of the Illistim people, the support of her advisors, and ultimately saw the end of the hereditary dynasty established by Linsandrych Illistim. A series of increasingly vocal and visual demonstrations culminated in her ignominious abdication in -15,185 ME (33,922).

One such demonstration took place at a Ball in the spring of that year. The precise date is not mentioned in any of the documentation but it is possible to narrow it down to the month of Ivastaen because of the macabre nature of the event. Influential members of Illistim society were present and, as usual, no expense had been spared. The descriptions in society pages spoke of lustrous cloth-of-faenor and cloth-of-imflass gowns burdened with peacock feathered sleeves, collars, and trains. Similarly ornate brocade coats and waistcoats heavily worked in gold and silver all vied for the Mirror's attention and favour upon the wearer. Representatives from House Vaalor who were present were described as being bedecked with flamboyant crimson and gold feathered epaulettes and sleeves. All in all, it was quite a feast for the eyes and a strain on household budgets but everyone wanted to be present and, more importantly, noticed. Many were on the dance floor performing the gliding steps of the Aewen Lilta or equally elegant but swifter circling counter-steps of the Aewen Ohta when they were rather rudely interrupted.

Ostentation, Muster, and Flight

Every year, around the beginning of Ivastaen, residents of Ta'Illistim and its environs witness adult griffins taking flight over the land in search of food for their grifflets. Only recently have the populace been adversely affected by this but it has been a well-documented phenomenon for millennia.

The hatching of the griffin eggs was occurring at the time of the event in question – hence narrowing down the date somewhat - and a group of renegade denizens of the Shining City took it upon themselves to dress as the majestic creatures and infiltrate the court gathering.

With ferocious eagle beak-like masks and lion pelt mantles, the griffin-mimics spread out through the shocked ensemble, interspersing themselves among the Lilta and Ohta dancers mid "ostentation" and "muster." There are graphic accounts of them circling and threatening those on the dance floor, inserting themselves between partnered couples or dancing in pairs on the periphery and effectively corralling everyone. One article actually used the headline the "Flight of the Griffin" and described the whole scene as a representation of combat between peacock, hawk and griffin with the latter most assuredly having the upper hand.

Each griffin dance move had been seamlessly choreographed as to appear spontaneous; all adding to the sense of intimidation. Some Lilta or Ohta performers had their hands snatched and lifted high into the air where they were forced to stand on tiptoes and unceremoniously twirled so as to become unbalanced. Others found themselves forced to the ground by blows to the head and body. Many were apparently seriously injured during this invasion with reports of broken limbs and mild concussion. More significantly, the reputation of the Mirror’s court was severely damaged and some claim that this incident was the beginning of the end of Lanenreat's reign.