Magazine article Dance Magazine

Making Divine Dances: What Leads Choreographers to Blend Dance and Spirituality? below; Four Artistic Directors Tell Their Own Stories. and Their Approaches Are as Unique as They Are. These Profiles Show That Everything from Ballet to Improvisation Can Be Used in Sacred Ways

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Making Divine Dances: What Leads Choreographers to Blend Dance and Spirituality? below; Four Artistic Directors Tell Their Own Stories. and Their Approaches Are as Unique as They Are. These Profiles Show That Everything from Ballet to Improvisation Can Be Used in Sacred Ways

Article excerpt

BRING SACRED WORDS TO LIFE

AS ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE AVODAH DANCE ENSEMBLE, I bring together my love of dance, God, and community. As a 14-year-old at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I studied with Helen Tamiris, a pioneer modern dancer. It was an outstanding experience to perform in Dance for Walt Whitman, a piece she created that summer, and to be exposed to such artistry at a young age. Inspired by her and the beautiful mountain setting, I danced my gratefulness to God.

Fourteen years later, composer Irving Fleet and I founded Avodah after discussing how we often felt disconnected to services when we attended temple. We decided to use our talents to explore some of the key prayers of the Jewish Shabbat service. Using members of Temple Israel in Tallahassee, Florida, we developed a dance cantata called In Praise for the dedication of a new sanctuary.

Today, Avodah, based in Manhattan, consists of four professional dancers (and guest collaborators) and operates sixteen weeks each year, full-time. The company tours to synagogues, churches, community centers, and college campuses, fulfilling its mission of deepening Jewish identity and bridging understanding between diverse communities. Let My People Go, a dance-theater piece created with choreographer Louis Johnson, tells the story of the Exodus from both Jewish and African American perspectives. Interfaith programs and Holocaust education add to the breadth of company offerings.

Avodah also pioneered dance midrash (a Hebrew term meaning explanation or exposition), in which biblical text comes alive through dance. Our nonverbal method is based on a 2,000-year-old rabbinical process of raising questions from the text and answering them. We use dance midrash to create choreography and in workshops that teach children and adults to relate to sacred text and each other through movement. Avodah offers a training program to certify movement specialists who want to teach dance in religious settings.

In addition to working with the company, I sometimes set pieces on untrained dancers who want to dance for their own congregations. The potency of congregational involvement was reinforced last June when I guided forty members of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, in a dance honoring Richard Jacobs, the temple's rabbi of ten years, who danced with Avodah from 1980 to 1986. Young children waved banners, teenagers lifted two classmates high in the air, and ten people, ages 16 to 70, interpreted rituals of the Torah service in an adaptation of a piece Rick and I created in 1980. The enthusiasm of the 800 congregants resonated in Rick's response that having Twyla Tharp or the New York City Ballet in the service couldn't have brought half the delight of seeing members of his own community dancing.

THE DANCING PRIEST

By Father Bob VerEecke

I FORMED A COMPANY OF BOSTON College students and alumni who were interested in liturgical and sacred dance into the BOSTON LITURGICAL DANCE ENSEMBLE in 1980 with Carol Coggio Faherty, a dancer and BC alumna. I was a "Billy Elliot" type; as a child I went to a neighbor's ballet class and was enchanted. That was in the 1950s, and even though my parents were singers and involved in the arts, there was no way I could study dance. So I just made up dances and then, when I went to Regis High School in Manhattan, choreographed the school musicals.

When I entered the Jesuit order, I never suspected that I would end up with dance training and a dance company. But in 1971 I attended a Jesuit Artist's Institute at Santa Clara, California. Diana Morgan Welch was offering a ballet class for Jesuits of all sizes and shapes. For me it was a real epiphany. I found my heart and soul in a few moments. Then, in a December 1978 Dance Magazine article, "The Bible as Dance" [page 55], I read about Jesuit biblical ballets created in the Baroque era, which inspired me to do sacred dance. …

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