Written by Joanne Carey
Arriving somewhere, whether it is to a place, in a group, in a relationship, or to a home, we all arrive with our story; the place we were right before we got to this new destination . Often, we come with expectations, some realistic and others not. The most beautiful place to be however despite all of these things, is to arrive, open, free, and unencombered dressed with a willingness to surrender to a process where we have placed our trust. It is in that moment of trust that our individual stories seem to fade into the background, allowing new moments and new stories to unfold, weaving their way into the present, enhancing both our past and raising up a newness that will serve these new moments when called upon. The beauty is, so often we are unaware of this taking place. It is the natural ebb and flow of the human condition mysteriously weaving itself in and out and among; a new tapestry is born from the threads of each contributor.
This is the very essence of choreography: shaping, molding, weaving; creating something that exists somewhere outside of time bringing to the surface what not even the minds eye could discern.
That is how I experienced a week of residency at The Vineyard Arts Project on Martha’s Vineyard.
I left my home Monday morning for a weeklong residency excited and uncertain. There was freedom in this uncertainty and an openness. Call it grace.
I met Claire Kretzschmar a year and a half prior. It was what might seem to some like a chance meeting, but for those who know me, understand that I saw the hand of God in it. Yes, I am a dancer, teacher, writer, podcast host, all of those things that might have traditionally caused our paths to cross, but this was indeed different. You see I am a volunteer in the Sanctuary of Lourdes, more specifically a volunteer in the baths in Lourdes. It is my most treasured thing that I spend my time doing.
A year and a half ago I received a message from a friend of mine who knew I would be interested in a clip of choreography entitled Rhapsodie by a then soloist with the NYCB. This wasn’t an ordinary piece of choreography. This was about Lourdes, St. Bernadette and the apparitions of the Blessed Mother that occurred in 1858. My friend was right, this was for me. Anything about Lourdes would cause me to pause but what drew an even deeper pause was trying to find just who this NYCB dancer was. Quite frankly, religious themes, let alone Catholic, aren’t often found in the public ballet circle. It took me a little digging to find the name associated with the choreography and when I did, I wrote her a brief message on her Instagram page and without hesitating hit send and went to sleep.
The next morning I had a message from Claire asking to arrange a meeting.
I was stunned, excited, and stunned some more. A huge amount of gratitude washed over me. I looked up at the picture of St. Bernadette who sits on the mantel in my kitchen as tears ran down my cheeks.
Claire and I did meet and we met several times after that not only about Lourdes but about life, dance, more life and God. We shared our experience of Lourdes, career paths, career transitions, ballet, beauty, artistry and life. With each meeting, each conversation it became clearer to me that Our Lady’s hand was at work. And when Our Lady extends her hand, I hold on tight and let her take the lead.
And a year and a half later she lead me right to a group of individuals who Claire brought together in collaboration to create a ballet. A ballet springing from her original piece of choreography on Lourdes, that very same clip of choreography that was sent to my inbox all those many months prior.
A residency is a big deal for artists. It gives us opportunities to work not stop all day on one particular project. We are laser focused and if everything is aligned properly the creativity flows freely and endlessly. The bonus is the bond you create while creating. This bond, I believe was created for us not by us.
Often dance companies come together for a residency where everyone already knows each other and works together or at least has previously worked together. Our common denominator was Claire and each of our love and devotion to God to serve the creative process we were about to embark upon. We were charged with telling the story of St. Bernadette. In addition, we had another task creating choreography on the relationship of Adam and Eve before the fall. How often do you hear professional dancers, musicians, and artists openly declaring that they are coming together with their faith at the forefront?
Perhaps on the surface, but when you know something higher than you is at work, you surrender and the proof is definitely in the pudding.
Faith based choreography or performances aren’t the norm unless within a specific religious community for a particular occasion, season, feast or celebration. This was not liturgical dancing. This was full on ballet in its purest form with dancers who work or have worked in well-known ballet companies where religion and spirituality aren’t part of the catalog. These artists were wanting to serve the work and were wanting to serve God through it. The choice was deliberate. We did not shy away from the content but rather embraced it and embraced each of our relationship to it. We were exercising and developing a new muscle memory within the ballet world.
Ballet is beautiful. There is no denying it. Ballet dancers come in all sizes, shapes and colors. The nature of the art form is ethereal and light, with an air of mystery to it. And the music, well the music transports us and takes us on a journey that a dancer makes come alive.
Martha Graham said about dancers, ‘one becomes in some area, an athlete of God.’
Put so clearly, how can we not serve through this art form? Ask any dancer, and they will tell you that something bigger than yourself is present when you are dancing. That’s what draws us in over and over. John Paul II said in his encyclical Letter to Artists, ‘Art can make the invisible world ,visible, and draw us into the realm of the divine.´
And here we were making the invisible conversation between St. Bernadette and Our Lady and the conversation between God with Adam and Eve visible to the naked eye and open heart. It was profound to find ourselves creating about the purest moment of our human condition juxtaposed against the backdrop of a pure soul like Bernadette. It truly was all of God’s hope for mankind gathered in one place now on display through the ballet.
We are not finished with our ballet. It is only beginning. We are not finished with our relationships with each other those are being formed.
We are asked however to dance over and over again, continuing to create and breathe life and newness into the world. The duty of an artist. To touch those who witness our work. As Kathryn Bell states so succinctly “Since God has created us and made us to reflect Him ( Genesis 1:26-27), we are also capable of aesthetic creation, reflection, self-evaluation, and visual communication.” And, if I might borrow from scripture the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel 25:23, Well done good and faithful servants.