The Word in the Wings
From the studio: Audrey Hammitt on dancing as "Izabelle" (Part I)
By: KAYA WEAVER
Audrey Hammitt dances in GPA’s new ballet Casefile: Euangelion as the character Izabelle, a Christian young woman living in a country where access to the Bible is restricted. She wants to grow in her faith, but it becomes so difficult that she questions whether staying in her home country is worth facing the trials and persecution. Join me for a conversation with Audrey about what it’s like to portray this character’s wrestling and growth through movement. In this first part of our conversation, Audrey describes how she relates Izabelle’s story to her own faith journey and to what she reads in Joshua 1 and Psalm 119.
Back and forth and opposition
Kaya: Hi Audrey! I’m excited to start digging into the theological themes of Casefile: Euangelion with you. In your own words, who is the character Izabelle, and how does she fit into the story of this ballet?
Audrey: The ballet itself is a small snapshot of her life, but it’s a jam-packed, traumatic snapshot. She’s forced to grow a lot.
Izabelle starts off as a little bit cautious. There’s a new regime, or a new law being enforced to not allow Bibles or religious gatherings. She starts off wondering, can I read my Bible out in the park where I’m used to going? Then she quickly learns that, no, you’re going to get beaten.
She wrestles with what to do next, because the persecution she’s facing is new. Do I push against the opposition, or do I have to find a safer place to practice my faith?
There’s never a point where we hear from the voice of God, “You’re going to stay here two more months and then be able to leave,” which, sometimes as Christians we wish we had that kind of clear answer.
A lot of her journey is navigating being a Christian in an environment where she’s being persecuted for her faith. She’s maturing and learning, maybe I can step out in boldness, or maybe it depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s better to remain in the shadows and sometimes it’s better to distract someone by throwing a Bible at their feet!
Kaya: Your character grows as she comes to terms with a changing situation. Izabelle’s experience of violence because of her faith is probably not something you’ve directly faced in your own life, but are there ways that you relate personally to Izabelle’s experiences?
Audrey: Although I haven’t faced physical, human opposition to my faith, I definitely have faced temptations or emotional opposition. The enemy doesn’t want us believing in the truth of the Bible and the gospel, so there have definitely been times when I’m isolated or alone–which Izabelle feels at times. The enemy can use that to get us into a darker place where we more easily believe the lies, like, “I don’t actually have worth, and I shouldn’t continue.” Depression, anxiety, or physical or mental illness can be an isolating factor and something I’m butting up against that makes it hard to hold fast to what I know to be true about God’s faithfulness.
Kaya: Isolation is part of the challenge for someone like Izabelle, living where it’s not safe to practice her faith. When you’re free to be open about your faith, you’re free to connect with people who believe similarly, but Izabelle doesn’t have that freedom. It’s interesting how you’re connecting that to other factors–not just politics and oppressive law enforcement, but also mental health and internal struggles–that can create that sense of isolation.
Audrey: I also relate to the tension Izabelle feels: I feel grateful and want to trust God, but how do I move forward? I don’t have the next ten years of my life mapped out; I have to trust the Lord day-to-day, asking, am I going to choose to trust in God, that God can prove himself again as faithful, or will I try to take matters into my own hands and go based on my comfort level or my desires?
Kaya: How are you imbuing your dancing as Izabelle with that personal connection? How does that come out in the details of Melody’s choreography you focus on or play with, or in the emotions that you draw out in your movement?
Audrey: There’s one moment where I step out and extend my leg forward, but as I take that step out, it’s like when you’re at the Grand Canyon and you step out on a glass platform, and you’re like, I know I’m safe, but I can see a mile down. That movement is like looking over that precipice. I reach out and then reach down the opposite direction. I lack confidence in the ground beneath me, uncertain even though stepping out in faith. If God’s hand wasn’t upholding me, then I would plummet.
I feel a sense of back-and-forth and opposition within my body, but also in spatial orientation. I sometimes have a back-and-forth pathway, from one corner to the other, forward and back, or going in circles. That could be ruminating and processing. Sometimes you just have to go over things several times to make sense of what happened and get more distant from the visceral, emotional side of an experience. [After Izabelle gets beaten by the police] I’m sure she would be feeling, oh my goodness, I’ve never been through this kind of pain and trauma before; what do I do now? If I had another Bible, or if I had an opportunity to stand up for my faith, would that be the result again?
Those are some of the tensions and cyclical patterns. There’s repetition as well, where I’m doing similar moves and playing with how to make them different each time to express the development of how I feel at each point in the dance.
God is still as merciful
Relating repetition to Scripture, it’s good to read it again and again so that it soaks into our hearts and minds and lives. Not all repetition is bad; not all cyclical patterns are bad. God has created good cycles like the cycles of seasons and cycles of our body clock. It’s good to let things go, but also be filled again. We need rhythms of work and rest, too. Izabelle is wrestling with the question, what is this new day? Am I going to face the same challenges as before? Am I going to feel the same? She’s working out new rhythms because of the changes around her, but she’s trying to keep moving forward through the changes rather than stagnate.
Kaya: Izabelle may be experiencing each day as a repetition of familiar challenges, yet she grows and changes through each repetition, so she experiences each day through a slightly different perspective. That’s how Izabelle matures over the course of the ballet.
We’ve been studying some Scripture that goes along with the themes of the story, particularly with the practices of reading Scripture. Has anything stood out to you as you develop Izabelle’s character?
Audrey: The first passage where I could see Izabelle in was Joshua 1:1-9. Verses 5 and 6 stood out: “No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall lead this people to possess the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.” I feel like Izabelle could be encouraged by that, but also find herself in this history. Let’s say her parents grew up in the faith and taught her Scripture–it’s unclear what happened to her parents, but she could be encouraged by how God was with her parents, so God will be with her as well, to the same extent. It might be a different set of circumstances, but she can find solace knowing that God is still as merciful as he was before these new laws were enacted.
And I can see Izabelle–and myself too–being a reluctant leader, wondering, is no one else going to stand up to these people? Is no one else going to take that step to stand strong in the faith and stand for God. She might hesitate and wonder, is that what God’s calling me to do? To be bold and take risks? It may not be the safest option to stay where she’s been living or interact with a “turn the other cheek” mentality: although you hurt me, I’m going to give you another chance to be kind, and maybe God’s softening your heart.
As the ballet goes on, she does decide, spoiler alert, to stay and try to get the spies out of jail. The second solo that I dance, she’s on the verge of leaving the country. She’s thinking, I have this opportunity to leave. She could let the spies can figure their own way out of this, but she also thinks, maybe this is my chance to pay back the kindness that they gave to me, and I have an advantage because I know the town we’re in and I know, like, the coffeeshop where we could hide out. I notice the one guard isn’t as forceful, so I think she might be open to receiving the Bible or to be distracted. Izabelle decides, I’m going to cross the Jordan and go where the giants are. I’m going to take that risk because I feel confident that God will provide a way.
home in God’s word
In Psalm 119, there’s a sense of longing that I can see in my solos, when I feel this stretching in my body or stretching and sustaining a movement with the music. Verses 81 and 82 say, “My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes fail with watching for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’” I feel that waiting in uncertainty, wondering, when are things going to change? Are they going to change? Am I going to change?
Izabelle wants to steady herself: I’m still being obedient to the Lord, and I’m still going to trust in God. There’s a period where she doesn’t have a Bible; what Scriptures has she memorized? She can rest on that even though she doesn’t have a physical copy of the Scripture.
In Psalm 119 there’s also this opposition: everything around me says don’t trust in God, yet I choose to remain faithful to him and obey his statutes. There’s the theme of delighting in God’s law. I see that at the very beginning of the ballet where I have this moment of pure delight, that feeling of butterflies in your heart: I get to dance in the sunlight, and God is speaking to me intimately, and I’m so known and so safe in his love.
Even after she loses her Bible, can we still find those moments of delight? Verses 94 and 95 say, “I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your decrees.” Ok, we are the Lord’s even though there are lions ready to pounce on us at any minute, and we can find delight and life in God’s word. Safety in the home and delight in God’s word contrasts with the way her home now doesn’t feel as much like home. How can she still find her home in the steadfastness of God and his word?
Kaya: I love how you’re finding a story in Psalm 119. It’s easy to get bogged down in the repetitive phrases, but in drawing out a story, you’ve identified that as a grounding theme to return to continually, like going home. You can feel secure in those repeated ideas: I love your law, I will meditate on your law, your law is good.
I’d like to ask you more about storytelling, because our upcoming Dance & Dialogue event will focus on how dance tells stories and connect that with how Scripture tells stories…
Return to The Word in the Wings next week to read the second half of my conversation with Audrey! We’ll talk more about how Audrey relates to Psalm 119 and finds a story within the lines of biblical poetry, as well as how Casefile: Euangelion invites the audience to relate to the story in unique ways.
Audrey is a First Soloist with Glorify Performing Arts. Learn more by reading her bio.
Tickets for Casefile: Euangelion are available now! Hope to see you there on November 10-12, 2022.
Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version.
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