The Word in the Wings
From the studio: Audrey Hammitt on dancing as "Izabelle" (Part II)
By: KAYA WEAVER
Audrey Hammitt dances in GPA’s new ballet Casefile: Euangelion as the character Izabelle. Izabelle is 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. In this second part of our conversation, Audrey shares about how she sees a story–and how she sees herself–reflected in the poetry of Psalm 119. We also discuss how dance tells a story in Casefile: Euangelion and how that connects to the stories of Scripture and our own lives.
Kaya: 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. What’s the story being told in Casefile: Euangelion? What are some of the clues you identify that communicate the events happening or characters developing?
Audrey: Izabelle goes through a shift where she’s living her life and then life happens to her. She has to regain a sense of making active choices instead of being the victim or being afflicted by circumstance. She realizes things may not always be safe, but God is also near during the times when things don’t feel safe. God’s goodness is more highlighted when the things around us don’t feel good.
I’m still in the process of working with Melody to make choreographic decisions about when Izabelle is decisive in my second solo. On stage it’s hard to follow along with her abstract train of thought in decision-making, so I want to narrow it down to just two things that she’s wrestling with: do I stay, or do I go? Rather than rapidly shifting, “stay-go-stay-go-stay-go,” there are two parallel tracks that she feels at the same time, but for the audience, you have to be the train on one track saying “I’m going to stay,” and then switch to “I’m going to go,” and they have to be more spaced out so you can see the difference between them and how that affects my movement quality or where I’m looking in space. Am I reaching one direction, or am I saying I’m not going that way? The audience will be able to see the back and forth through the space, and ups and downs.
Kaya: It’s challenging to communicate multiple ideas at the same time as a solo dancer. A lot of what Melody does with choreography in the group pieces is to contrast the movement quality between the police and the secret agent Bible smugglers. The police are sharp, upright, standing on two feet, whereas the smugglers are slippery, weaving in and out of tumbling shapes so they’re hard to catch. When they’re on stage back-to-back or together, there’s a clear contrast between two movement ideas.
But when it’s just you, and you’re wrestling between staying and going, you have to find other ways in the choreography to express that there are two ideas in tension. And you are finding those, as you talk about tension in your body and using the space. I’ll be curious what the audience sees in that as well as they bring their own lens to view the choreography.
I’m also curious about how you’re finding story in Scripture, particularly in Psalm 119 which doesn’t have a clear narrative. It sounds like thinking about Izabelle’s story in the ballet is part of how you’re reading Psalm 119 and drawing the story out of it. Is there something within the psalm that’s really vivid to you or otherwise stood out to get you thinking in terms of narrative?
Audrey: Sometimes I could see myself in it. During the week, Wednesdays are the hardest for me to get through because I have the most work, so I know it’s going to be harder. I see these lines in verse 25: “My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word.” It’s these oppositional forces: I’m really low right now, and now I recognize my utter need for the Lord’s strength.
So one way I see a story in Psalm 119 is in seeing how relatable it is. There’s also repetition, just like there’s repetition in life: here’s the same situation again, I feel the same way about it, and I really just want to get over it, but I don’t know what else to do about it! Because Psalm 119 is an acrostic in the Hebrew alphabet, that makes it feel all-encompassing: through every letter of the alphabet, through every type of day that I go through, I’m going to have these ups and downs, yet God is still going to be faithful and worth trusting in. That’s comforting.
I also connect it to Philippians [4:10-13]: I know what it’s like to have much, and I know what it’s like to have little, but the secret of contentment is trusting the Lord. The only way I can be content in whatever experience I’m in is the love of the Lord and trusting in God. Being content sometimes feels like the hardest thing I can do, but I can be content through Christ who gives me strength.
As I was thinking more about seeing patterns through every letter of the alphabet, there’s a new way of reaffirming God’s trustworthiness and of delighting in him even though everything looks like a pile of mud sometimes.
we’re not made for an ending
Kaya: Sometimes when we think about telling stories, we think about crafting a narrative with rising action, climax, and resolution, but the rhythms of life are not one smooth narrative arc; it’s these day-to-day cycles, ups and downs, ebbs and flows. I hear you finding goodness in that as you reflect on coming home to rest in God’s word or the reassurance that even in the chaos or in the mud, you can always rest in God’s word. It becomes a story by relating to your real experience.
Audrey: We have this picture of what a story arc can be in the format of books and movies with nice resolution, but we’re not made for an ending. We’re made for eternity, to have this sense that good things continue. It’s not about just the absence of bad things, it’s the presence of the Lord and the good things we have in God. We’re not just going to have climax, resolution, and plateau. In eternity when we’re united with Christ as the bridegroom of the church, there will still be all kinds of adventures; there just won’t be the pits of despair.
Kaya: That is some food for thought! There’s an open-endedness to the ballet, too, where the audience gets to wonder what new adventures Izabelle goes on to.
Audrey: And it might be uncomfortable at times, because it’s not the typical, “She found Prince Charming and lived happily ever after.” When we have stories where everything ends perfect and fine, we step out of the story and are faced with reality. A lot of entertainment and art give us a glimpse of something that isn’t real life, isn’t the constant repetition of pain and suffering.
I don’t think this ballet is too close to home–like watching something about the pandemic while you’re going through a pandemic can feel like, I have enough of this already! But it has enough encouragement and suggests a possibility for what it could look like to follow God and take a risk for God.
Sometimes we need to find ourselves in the art that we’re watching and recognize that life is really hard! Izabelle’s trust in the Lord doesn’t change over the course of the ballet, but it’s really hard. There’s a lot of wrestling and discomfort. And I hope that resonates with some things that our audience does face–maybe not the part about snooping around to spy music, but to see in an approachable way the reality of what a lot of people face and to say, what opportunities am I presented with when I can step out in boldness and my life isn’t at risk? What are the ways I can be steadfast in pursuing the Lord given the privileges that we have in this country?
Kaya: I asked Melody if she had a specific setting in mind for the ballet, and she said it was “vaguely 1970s” and “vaguely eastern Europe.” So it’s open-ended enough that, while there are concrete characters and micro-settings, people can relate to it in their own ways.
An additional piece of what you’re saying about it is that, because it’s art and because there’s that layer of it being a fun, spy-themed show with fun, spy music and sleuthing movement, you can take a step back so it can be a gentle invitation to relate personally. It’s not so vividly, immediately what most people in our audience are experiencing right now, but there are elements where the audience might recognize a feeling or experience from their own lives or from real-life stories they’ve heard.
Audrey: With the levity that’s included, we don’t want to make light of the persecution that’s real in the world. Art allows us to step back, but there are terrible things that people are facing right now. An important preface to the ballet is that this can be really weighty, but we want to make it an approachable space to see it. We’re not showing graphic things, and we’re not using the prettiness of ballet to say it’s glamorous to get hurt.
Kaya: Right, it’s important to communicate that we’re portraying things based on stories we’ve heard from the real world, not to make light of them or to glorify suffering and violence, but to glorify God through the story that sadly includes suffering and violence but that ultimately moves through redemption.
I have one last question: What’s one thing you hope the audience will learn or experience when they see Casefile: Euangelion in November?
Audrey: I hope the audience will hear that it’s okay when you’re going through hard things. Jesus guarantees that, and we shouldn’t be surprised when things are uncomfortable and hard. I hope the ballet gives people images to express or an opportunity to talk about the messy things in life and the messy feelings that we have, like, I don’t have a clear way forward, or, I wish I had a voice saying, “This is your next mission,” like the secret agents have. But even with that, they know there’s a risk of getting caught. They couldn’t anticipate exactly how it would play out. We are given clear instructions for how to honor God with our bodies, our minds, and our actions, but we don’t know how that’s going to play out in the details.
I hope the story encourages the audience to remain faithful. It’s not about leading 10,000 people to Christ. For Izabelle, it’s about being faithful with the one guard who was open to reading the gospel. We all have our own gifts, strengths and weaknesses and have to depend on God for the little pockets of life that we get to speak into and shine light into.
I want the audience to be reminded that things are hard sometimes, but there can be beauty in the midst of that and there can be other people going through it alongside us. What you’re facing on behalf of Christ, believers around the world have been facing. We get to rejoice in the fact that we’re facing hardship on behalf of Christ and we get to share in his suffering so that ultimately we can share in his glory.
Kaya: Thank you for sharing your deep and personal thoughts. I can’t wait to keep working on this and see the show in a few weeks!
Audrey is a First Soloist with Glorify Performing Arts. Learn more by reading her bio.
Tickets for Dance & Dialogue this Saturday, October 22, 2022, are available. Space is limited, so book yours today!
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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