It feels a little old-fashioned to talk about spirituality in dance, but as choreographer Dianne McIntyre points out, "it's kind of avant-garde. There hasn't been that much encouragement for the expression of spirituality in art. So to come right out and talk about God that's bold."
"Dance and Spiritual Life," an evening produced by 651, An Arts Center at the BAM Opera House, on November 21, addresses the issue directly in works by black artists: Bebe Miller's lush, lambent, gospel-inspired Blessed, McIntyre's deeply felt Love Songs to God, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and the Urban Bush Women in Transitions, based on the dancers' taped conversations about what God looks like to them.
The program is so promising it seems ungrateful to quibble. But is spirituality more inherently a part of the work of black choreographers than of any other group? As Miller points out, "It makes you think, 'Hunh, how come?' There's that assumption that we are the gospel singers, the jazz singers, the feelers. Should we be asking, 'Who sets those limits and what are we trying to perpetuate here?' I can't help thinking that my company is not a black dance group, we're a mixed group." Miller's Blessed is danced to spirituals sung by an a cappella group of white Australians.
Zollar points out that she finds the work of such white choreographers as Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown intensely spiritual. "But," she explains, "it's the difference between internalized and externalized. In the black community I think there's less cynicism about spiritual values, and our traditions maybe give us more freedom to explore them openly."
McIntyre envisions a "Dance and Spiritual Life" series that might be more inclusive. "Maybe there could be a festival that would give choreographers the opportunity to be bold and to address issues of spirituality. And I mean choreographers of all colors."
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