Last Sunday, we used a video of a dance piece at the end of the service – a visual illustration of the relationship within the Trinity. I thought it might be interesting for some of you to know a little of the back story on that piece.
As we came up to that sermon, we were looking for ways to illustrate the idea of perichoresis. Perichoresis is the word that theologians have used for centuries to describe the relationships of mutual indwelling, knowing, giving that are experienced within the Trinity. This way of relating has sometimes been called ‘the divine dance.’ So we wanted to include a dance if possible. It’s always our preference to do pieces like that live (as opposed to a video of a stage performance) but for various reasons it looked like that wasn’t going to be able to happen on that particular Sunday.
In the middle of all that, Donna came across a video on YouTube. We ended up getting in touch with the choreographer, Eddie Oroyan, to see if he had a higher quality version that we could show in church, and if so, how much he would charge us to use it. He responded very quickly, letting us know how special the piece was to him, and giving us permission to use his work without charge. He made the version we used on Sunday available to us to download that same day. Because of time constraints, we didn’t use the entire piece on Sunday, but basically showed the 2nd of 3 sections. The entire video is below:
Over the course of the week, Eddie and I emailed back and forth several times, and he shared some background (This will make far more sense if you’ve watched the whole thing). I had asked why he named the piece “Melisma” and what had inspired him to create it.
A melisma is a string of notes sung to one syllable, like in the song, “Gloria”. I liked that it was a term for another art form, but also got at the idea of three in one. It’s hard to call one note by itself a song, but three notes or chords and you’ve got possibilities! A lot of old hymns have melismas in them, as well. The flow of the word felt right for the piece, too.
My friend [who inspired the piece] was a spiritual advisor I had back in college that told me about the concept and said, in fact, “You should make a dance. It would work well. I can’t imagine it, but I bet you can.” I usually don’t don’t take requests, but the idea stuck with me for several years until I decided to give it a try. After studying a ton on perichoresis and on the Trinity I felt really stumped as to how to physicalize something so abstract, to give the idea some justice. I started thinking about what I know that I could spin off of and the obvious presented itself. I used the model of a family: father, mother, and son. Now the dancers are all wearing suits and and there’s an androgynous feel to the person I have representing the mother/Holy Spirit, but her movement is naturally softer and, if you noticed, is the last one to move(out toward the audience). The father/Father does most of the lifting and has a sense of leading the family, but I tried to show how each member was always revealing/glorifying/submitting to the others. The Son is eventually separated(for the first time in eternity) in a fashion, and the passage I kept thinking of when making this section was the Garden of Gethsemane and when Jesus cries out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
When the Son expires (which is partially hidden by an audience member’s head), the Holy Spirit is sent. In a timeline, that would be the beginning of Acts.
Anyway, that’s a bit of what went on in my head when I made the work. Of course, if you saw something different, you are not wrong. I am a strong believer in the importance of the active viewer. I love when people see or are attached to different things than I meant them to be. Often, I find a different take is a parallel understanding of my intentions.
I still get shivers at two parts almost every time I watch it. One is near the end of the first “section” and the woman trips. That wasn’t choreographed, but the other guy didn’t hesitate for a second to help her up. I feel like that conveyed something that was key in the example God wanted us to recognize in the Trinity that I couldn’t have choreographed. I love it! Also, at the very end when the Holy Spirit “descends.” The woman dancer does is just right, timing and intention. I know God was dancing with us!
Eddie Oroyan is a working artist and graciously allowed us to use his work at no charge. In his words: “As an artist, it’s always nice if people who are affected by it want to donate money to my artistry. So if anyone wants to donate a few bucks that’d be great.” If you’d like to donate, just email Sarabeth Jones.