The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > How dance does theology: an introduction

Creating culture through Casefile: Euangelion

By: KAYA WEAVER

When Glorify Dance Theatre produces a work of art, we do so both as a response of worship to God and as an effort to communicate something about God to the people in our audience. This is expressed in the mission statement of Glorify Performing Arts:

We exist to present compelling, professional productions to encourage and empower Christians in their walk of faith, inspiring them to step forward boldly to impact the world.

GPA’s productions aim to precipitate change that spreads the good news of Jesus, from our small company, through an audience of 25, 50 or 100, to entire communities. According to writer and editor Andy Crouch, this is how “culture making” works. In his 2008 book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Crouch explains that every “cultural good” begins with an “absolutely small” group of people who innovate together, are supported by a larger group who find their idea compelling, and eventually have their idea spread by a (still “relatively small”) audience to others in their circle of influence (pp. 239-244).

The “cultural goods” Crouch refers to are things created by humans that shape “our imagination, our mental picture of what is in the world and what matters in it” and make a real difference in how we live (p. 27). To apply Crouch’s framework to the work GPA creates, we can think about how these works of art define “the horizons of possibility and impossibility” (p. 29) in terms of how people who watch GPA’s productions understand and relate to God.

Crouch offers a series of questions that can help to consider how a given cultural good makes sense of the world and how it shapes “the horizons of possibility:”

  1. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this cultural artifact make possible?
  4. What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)? (p. 29)

Let’s use these questions as an outline for examining how one of GPA’s works from this past season functions as a cultural good for the kingdom of God.


CULTURE MAKING THROUGH CASEFILE: EUANGELION

As I consider Crouch’s four questions for “diagnosing culture” with respect to past productions by GPA, several elements come to mind that might shape the answers to these questions, including the format, thematic content, and physical media of a given performance. In November 2022, Glorify Dance Theatre performed the original ballet Casefile: Euangelion in a proscenium, or traditional theater, format. The ballet told a story with concrete characters and setting and a connection to real-world situations in global missions. The medium of this ballet was contemporary pointe choreography supported by a minimalist, black-box style set.


HOW THE WORLD IS IN CASEFILE: EUANGELION

In case you missed the ballet last fall, Artistic & Executive Director Melody Stanert summarizes it like this:

Two Agents are on a mission to smuggle a Bible to a girl living where Bibles are prohibited. As they face challenging opposition, will the agents’ mission succeed or will they get caught?…Casefile: Euangelion…will remind you of the joy and value of God’s word in your life.

The plot of the ballet connects to real-world situations where people’s access to Bibles is restricted and where missionaries work carefully and covertly to move Bibles across borders. Organizations like Open Doors, who work to raise awareness of persecution and support Christians living in such difficult circumstances, tell this kind of story.

The ballet assumes that practicing Christian faith can pose challenges and even dangers. In an early scene, the character Izabelle is beaten by law enforcement officers as they confiscate her Bible. But the ballet also assumes that people on both sides of closed borders take risks for the sake of accessing Scripture. Izabelle doesn’t stop trying to read the Bible even after she learns what kind of trouble it brings, and the two agents in the story go undercover and risk imprisonment to bring a Bible to Izabelle. Through its echoes of stories in real-world global missions, Casefile: Euangelion assumes that the world exists with tension between the risk of persecution for practicing Christian faith and the compelling need to read and share the word of God.


HOW THE WORLD SHOULD BE IN CASEFILE: EUANGELION

By the end of the ballet, not only have the two agents risked their safety to bring a Bible to Izabelle, but Izabelle has also risked her own security by offering a Bible to one of the law enforcement officers who was previously hunting them down. Since the story ends well for all the characters who took risks to share Scripture, the plot of the ballet assumes that there should be people in the world who are willing to risk their own security to help others access God’s word. By extension, the story assumes that God’s word should be valued more highly than personal security.

To be sure, the characters in the ballet do express concern over personal safety as the spies attempt to smuggle Izabelle a Bible without getting caught by the authorities. The ideal shown is not necessarily to take unmitigated risk or flagrantly act in ways that put others in danger. The risks that the characters take on themselves are balanced by the care they show for others in doing so. They work together to cultivate faith despite harrowing circumstances, navigating the narrow pathways between oppressive laws and the violent consequences for being caught breaking them by the wrong people.


WHAT CASEFILE: EUANGELION MAKES POSSIBLE

Melody often describes how the beauty of ballet conveys beauty even in difficult truths. Casefile: Euangelion is a story that shows violence and darkness through pantomime and through the sharp, stern dance of the prison guards after they capture the two agents helping Izabelle. But the beauty of ballet pervades the entire performance, even this moment when it seems evil may have won. 

In every scene, the body’s lines are elegantly lengthened by dancers balancing on pointe. The movements are satisfyingly set to match the rhythms of the music. When Izabelle and the two agents dance together, there is fluid coordination whether they dance in unison or in harmony. Tension builds from stage-fighting pairs, through a chase scene, to a moment of decision as Izabelle offers a Bible to a guard, softening her to let them leave unharmed, and the story resolves with a piece that feels like an exhale, gently releasing all the built-up tension.

A story set in a place of darkness told through the art of ballet makes it possible to see the beauty through the darkness. Because of the medium of ballet, there is not a single moment in the performance that is utterly devoid of beauty. This should allow the audience to imagine that there is not a single corner of the world, dark as it may be, where the light of Jesus is absent. It invites us to see beyond what we can see visibly, to know beyond what we know in the present, to trust that God is present and active even where the world seeks to shut God out. After all, Jesus is the light that shines not just where it is already bright, but “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).


WHAT CASEFILE: EUANGELION MAKES IMPOSSIBLE

In addition to the production’s themes and the medium of ballet, the format of a traditional, proscenium theater shapes what is possible or impossible as an audience experiences Casefile: Euangelion. The theater setup covers the audience in darkness while the only lights are on the stage, visually highlighting the dancers’ movements and the story they tell. The volume of the music is turned up to heighten the sensory focus on the stage since everything happening there is coordinated with the music.

The focus of visual and auditory senses helps to eliminate distractions within the theater, and it is nearly impossible to ignore the story unfolding on the stage. Casefile: Euangelion, performed in such a setting, makes it very difficult to turn a blind eye to the story of persecution because of faith. The performance of this ballet in a darkened theater confronts the audience with the real impacts of a life lived in faith, including the suffering that Jesus alludes to when he tells his disciples, “Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world–therefore the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you…” (John 15:19b, 20b). Spending an hour in a space where the only visible thing is this story, its resonance with reality and its tensions between beauty and darkness, it is impossible to deny the conflict between commitment to Christ and complacency with powers that enact violence and oppression in the world.

If the audience who has seen Casefile: Euangelion is moved by this work of art and shares their understanding throughout their communities, then those communities will have their imaginations shaped for the kingdom of God, because they will see the impossibility of ignoring the darkness in the world even as they see the possibility and the beauty of the light that shines in the darkness.



NOTES

Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Essays by Morley van Yperen, Theologian in Residence at Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet, inspired me to analyze GPA’s productions through the lens of Crouch’s four questions in Culture Making.

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

Read more about biblical and artistic perspectives in Casefile: Euangelion on The Word in the Wings:

From the study: to great lengths for God’s word

From the studio: Audrey Hammitt on dancing as “Izabelle” (Part I)

From the stage: “Your word is a lamp to my feet”

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Glorify Dance Theatre Presents

May 3-4

This is a family-friendly ballet that kids of ALL ages will enjoy!