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dance - the opportunity to tell a story
Topic Started: Apr 16 2009, 03:47 PM (1,602 Views)
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"more is more"

As dancers confronted with a new song to dance, we all face the temptation to interpret only the words of the song, even though we have the opportunity to say so much more. And so, what do I mean by that?

Each song is a piece of poetry that can be taken at face value. The words meaning just what they say and presented as someone translating those words in a literal way to movement for the song writer. This can be an effective way to interpret a song. But in in an interpretation, we always have the choice of using a movement that is literal, which may or may not convey the actual intent of the phrase....or a movement unrelated to the actual word definitions...but something that gives the sense of the overall message the song is trying to communicate. We move from language devices to conveying concept and character.

For example, the phrase "the whole world" could be expressed by drawing a circle in the air in the shape of a globe. That would be very literal. You are asking the viewer to picture a globe. To make a full body circle with arms reaching outward as you turned is a broader message of something going out to all parts of the earth. That is one layer deeper beyond the literal.

But there can be even more. What if the song begins to paint a picture of a story in your mind that is supported by the music and words, but is not connected to them in any supportable logical way? That can be a most compelling way to interpret a piece.

Some examples. Michael W. Smiths Agnus Dei. The song is a repetition of the cry before the throne, "Alleluia, alleluia, Holy Holy are You Lord God Almighty. Worthy is the Lamb. Amen" If we let that music transport us, we can write a story that unfolds as the elegant proclamation is sung. In one interpretation, a dancer representing the Bride celebrates before the throne with her attending maidens all around. In another, the song is the backdrop for the Annunciation--when the angel gives Mary the news that she will birth the coming Messiah..he dances with her and the piece ends with a wild angelic celebration.

Another example: the piece: Come, My Light, by Edye Jackson. An ethereal prayer of St. Dimitri You can listen to this piece and others mentioned in this post in the ZFF Audio Library [You must be a registered member with 2+ posts to access the ZFF Audio Library ]

Come my light, illumine my darkness
Come my light, revive me from death
Come my physician and heal my wounds
Come, come

Come my king, sit upon the throne of my heart
Come my Lord, come and reign there
For you alone are my king and my Lord
Come, come

Come flame, flame of divine love
Burn up the thorns of my sin
Kindling my heart with the flame of
Your love, your love

For you alone are my king and my Lord
My Lord come, reign in me, reign in me
Revive me
For you alone are my king and my Lord

We don't know what St. Dimitri was going through when he wrote this prayer. But we can imagine. As I listened to this beautiful quiet melody, I envisioned something. I'll share with you what it was.

Sometimes a piece of music gets a hold of you and evokes a whole story in your mind. Edye Jackson's song, Come My Light is one of those for me. It is an exquisite musical setting of a a prayer of St. Dimitri. The haunting quality of the melody and the passion of the words bring to my mind images of the fourth century saints. It was the Dark Ages of the church, a time when the Light was hard to find. It was a time when the Truth was all but lost, and yet, there was a remnant of those who held on to the Truth and the Light with all that was in them.

A documented phenomenon began to occur in some saints termed the stigmata. These were physical wounds that would mysteriously appear on a person in the same places that Jesus was wounded in His passion and crucifixion--the hands, feet, side and the head. It was thought that this was a heavenly gift and a sign of great favor that one could bear the marks of Jesus suffering and so share in it in a physical way. Some saints bore these marks only on occasion, and others for their entire lives.

I imagine that a believer, who could in those Dark Ages of the church, cry out so passionately for the Light, might also be branded with the stigmata. I can imagine that cry coming from a lonely place and the wondering, just as Elijah wondered, if there were any others who had remained true to the faith. And yet, in the cry is also the certainty that the prayer is answered and that the Lord is near. Let us too, cry out for the Light that heals and revives us, and let us too, bear the marks in our lives of the one who suffered and died for us.

And so, this piece became a silent stage play. I made a hooded cape, reminiscent of what one might imagine in a 4th century monastery. I crafted a tunic with a red jeweled square cross on the breast that was revealed as the cape opened. I attached jeweled emblems to the palms of my hands to represent the stigmata. And the dance was done holding a red candle in a way that displayed the stigmata emblems...the candle representing the eternal flame of Christ's life, held close as precious to that believer who felt so alone. And so, from a prayer about something unknown, a compelling story was told in the dance.

These are the sorts of choreographies that are embedded in peoples' spirits and memories and can be forever associated with that piece of music because it just seems that after you have seen it interpreted that way, you can't imagine it being done any other way.
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