Michelle D’Arbanville has had many mentors in her life. The community of Topanga has been one of them. Originally from Orange County, her world was one of privilege but also prejudice. From an early age, Saddleback Mountain was her backyard where she became acutely aware of the “protective, sacred sense of nature.” Each morning, when she arrived at middle school, it was the nature of prejudice and intolerance that she was forced to face.
By Mary Crescenzo
She was a minority, albeit a white girl, from a well-to-do home. She was involved in theatre and “Indian” ceremonial dance as an elementary school student, a Jew in a place where her religion was not the majority and a female at a time when a prescribed life for young women was the norm. Anything outside of that narrow realm meant consequences. Subsequently, She bonded with other girls who didn’t fit the mold. She and her friend Karen, who was Japanese-American, were “teased and ridiculed by other students.” When D’Arbanville saw others being disrespected and violated, she stood up and said, “No! I do not accept this!” The consequences for having a strong thought and expressing it were many. Within her group of friends that also included others of white privilege, there grew a common commitment to embrace and embody inclusion for all. D’Arbanville still remains friends with many of those women and men. “These close friends helped make me who I am. I look back and see how I connected with them and Mother Earth, and how it all began my deep, personal interdependent relationship with nature and humanity.”
“These close friends helped make me who I am. I look back and see how I connected with them and Mother Earth, and how it all began my deep, personal interdependent relationship with nature and humanity.” Michelle D’Arbanville
The healing aspects of nature brought D’Arbanville to Topanga more than once before she settled here. Just out of high school, she, Michelle Waxman, at the time, hitchhiked from Malibu to Canada at age seventeen. On her travels back, she found her way to Humboldt State College where she took courses but was urged by a dear friend there to seek out the Dell’Arte School of Mime and Comedy which was just opening in Humboldt. She took her friend’s advice and fell in love with the physical theater work that is Commedia Dell’Arte. It was there D’Arbanville met one of her mentors, a well know mime master named Carlo Mazzone-Clementi from Padua, Italy. He inspired her “to learn how to take the fall” physically and figuratively, in her life. She fondly recalls a quote from Carlo, “The ground is your friend.” After six years of study, she travelled to LA to pursue acting, writing, directing, teaching and the facilitating of community programs. She later left for New York to continue her theatre work. She was also inspired by the book, Improvisation for the Theatre, by Viola Spolin.
“When I moved to Topanga in my mid-thirties, I had a summer opportunity to bring and facilitate, for the first time at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum theater, the work of Commedia Dell’Arte, the sixteenth century form of Italian improvisational theatre that celebrates, through the storytelling of the archetypical life of migrants, the comedy and tragedies of their lives, of all of our lives.” At that time, she was also a facilitator of “The Council Project” through the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at Palms Middle School, a program that was steeped in First Nations traditions, formerly called Native American traditions, empowering others through dialogue. D’Arbanville also taught the Dell’Arte techniques at various LAUSD schools through the STAR program, a United States government education initiative. At Crossroads School in Santa Monica, she facilitated a life-skills program developed by the school called, “The Mysteries Program,” which focused on the empowerment of children through dialogue. In Topanga, D’Arbanville has also taught performance at Corazon and staged her work, “A Howling Necessity, Cry Out Your Weakness” at the Topanga County Library.
D’Arbanville attended local and regional women’s groups that encouraged the creation of her own performance pieces and found participating in these groups to be a rite of passage. “We are always in a creative matrix, always in comedy and tragedy, in the pain and joy of life.
Moment to moment, we are in change.” Through many sweat lodge ceremonies, guided by her teacher, Wallace Black Elk, she’s gained a deep understanding for compassion and wholeness for humanity. Topanga’s circle of community and its reverence for the land of the Chumash and Tongva-Gabrielino tribes has made a true impact on her life’s vision and work.
“Topanga has given me a subtle awareness of this, and the knowledge to risk, to trust. It comes back to the somatic awareness – how we deal with the body. We are walking with a lot of fear and trauma in our bodies and somatic work releases the fears and trauma. When it comes to culture, a multicultural community makes us powerful. I’ve gotten my strength from Topanga to continue my work of education through tolerance.” She and her husband, Philip D’Arbanville, established, “Living Wellness: A Global Action Network for Change” that has established numerous programs including, Walk Across the World, Global Steps for Unity and Harmony, Sounds of the Sacred, Songs of the Earth, Film & Theatre for the Soul, and Care for the Caregiver. Her passion is for “empowering the community through its gentle release of tension and celebration. By taking action individually and collectively for universal and social responsibility, together we can inspire changes that help elevate humanity.”
When asked how she responds to the chaos that seems to be engulfing our country and world at this point in time, she quotes the poet, Rumi, ‘There is a community of the spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise’. D’Arbanville believes that this is the time to come together and transcend the boundaries of hatred, prejudice and fear. “My childhood propelled me into the work I have done and continue to do. Humanity inspires me. Protestors are my favorite people right now. I am excited by the noise, we need to change.”
Living Wellness will present its 12th annual celebration of “Walk Across the World, Global Steps for Unity & Harmony” at the Topanga County Library on Saturday, October 6, at 2 p.m..
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