The Word in the Wings
From the studio: Hannah Long on dancing as “Emilia”
By: KAYA WEAVER
Casefile: Euangelion premiers this weekend, and the dancers have put a lot of thoughtful reflection into how to portray their characters through movement and storytelling. Join me for a conversation with Hannah Long, who dances as “Emilia,” one of the law enforcement officers who confiscate Izabelle’s Bible. We discuss how Hannah imagine’s Emilia’s backstory and how that affects the story in key moments, as well as how Emilia’s movement expresses her developing relationships with other characters throughout the ballet.
Kaya: Hannah, I’m so excited to hear how you’ve been thinking through your character in Casefile: Euangelion. Who is Emilia? What’s her backstory?
Hannah: Emilia is a law enforcement officer in a country where the Bible is not allowed. Anything that has to do with Christianity is banned. I picture her doing this job for the sake of her family, to fulfill their expectation that she hold a respected position in the government.
I imagine that her mother secretly shared Bible stories, but her dad was in law enforcement and was completely against it. Emilia is not as close with her mother anymore because she’s taken her father’s side, but there’s still a pull. She wants to make her father proud, but she hasn’t been in this job very long, and she’s working to prove herself.
Kaya: The tension in your backstory lines up with the two sides that play out on stage–the law enforcement officers on one side, the Bible smugglers on the other.
How does Emilia feel about the events she’s part of over the course of the ballet?
Hannah: I don’t picture her having much sympathy for the Christians before the very end. Instead, she feels more and more confused, wondering if she is on the wrong side, but at the same time she battles with wanting to be seen a certain way. I picture her thinking, “I need to be a good law enforcement officer,” trying to fit in. She is scared of Gabrielle’s character, Kira–scared that she’s going to be found out. She’s putting on a show for everyone, even her father. Even though she’s picked a side, she still feels the dissonance between enforcing anti-religious policies and her childhood experience that affirmed the Bible.
When she lets them go at the end, it is because she feels like she should. It is not because she has compassion for them. It doesn’t quite make sense for her to suddenly have overwhelming compassion after everything that’s happened. She’s able to see things from a different angle, but she’s not completely transformed. Letting them go is a first step. She sees something good in the Bible and feels a spark, like what she felt as a kid when her mom told her the stories, but she hasn’t completely given herself to Jesus yet.
Kaya: You read the Bible, and it makes you just uncertain enough of what you believed before that it affects your action for this moment. And maybe that action sets off a chain of new emotions and actions that do ultimately lead Emilia to faith.
Hannah: I think she does come to faith, but not by the end of the show. I think she reads the Bible they gave her and eventually becomes a Christian.
Kaya: How would you describe the choreography that you dance as Emilia? What does this say about her character, her motivations, or the role she’s trying to fit into?
Hannah: The choreography doesn’t connect me with Izabelle and the Bible agents. Even when I’m reading the Bible at the end of the show, it’s between me and God, or it’s me recalling memories with my mom.
Kaya: It’s like there’s an imaginary barrier between the law enforcement officers and the Christian characters. You don’t necessarily reach out across that line, but the word of God crosses that line when Izabelle slides it to you–a tentative, risky way of reaching out–and you receive it and let it change the way you interact with the people on the other side of that boundary.
What feelings or qualities do you put into your expression of Emilia’s choreography? How does this align her with or set her apart from the other characters?
Hannah: When I look at Gabrielle as Kira, I stand up straighter! I want to appear as a better law enforcement officer. But there are moments when she’s not looking, and my movements are less put-together. When I’m with her and we’re moving as a group, I’m doing my best to be the best–to impress Kira, to be in sync with her. Emilia’s willing to do anything to fit the role, because that’s the example her father set. But when Kira goes off to interact with someone else, my character is less sure of herself. Emilia’s battling with herself, wondering if what she’s doing is really the right thing. She shuts off that insecurity when Kira is there, but part of her wonders why she’s doing this job. She doesn’t like the part that’s questioning; she’d rather be told what to do and stay in line. Questioning complicates things. That’s why she keeps herself detached from Izabelle and the Bible agents; if she felt anything for them, it would complicate things.
Kaya: Which of the Scripture passages we’ve studied this fall would resonate with Emilia? Where would she see herself in the passage? How would she respond?
Hannah: Her fear that she’s been shutting down is that she sees the persecution of Christians and doesn’t want to be persecuted or looked at as crazy for believing in the Bible. She saw her mom in that position and doesn’t want to experience that herself.
And 2 Timothy 3:12 says that all Christians will face persecution. This is why she acts the way she does around Gabrielle’s character, wanting to appear good at her job in law enforcement, because she doesn’t want the things she sees coming along with Christianity – the persecution and rejection. And what would her dad think?
Kaya: What passage do you think Emilia reads during those few moments in the story where she has a Bible open? What does she read that prompts her to let Izabelle and the agents escape?
Hannah: If she reads Joshua 1, she would find both comfort and a call to be strong. That passage would soften her to the Bible while also strengthening her to not give in to fear.
Kaya: There’s also something about how God says, “I will be with you wherever you go” and you should “be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in [my law]” that might jump out at Emilia because of the way she interacts with Gabrielle’s character, Kira. With Kira’s authority, it’s only when Kira is watching that Emilia has to be at her best to follow and enforce the laws of the land. But if God says he’s with her all the time, and she’s not keeping God’s law, she might feel convicted!
Hannah: Yes, and along with that, she’s been feeling all this tension and fear, but when she reads Joshua 1:9 she finds for the first time comfort in the words, comfort that she hasn’t found in her job.
The combination of seeing the line about the law and seeing the assurance that God is with her and says don’t be afraid–she takes that as, don’t be afraid to act out the law. She’s been afraid of persecution that comes with being a Christian, so she’s been pushing it away even though it’s been tugging at her. This passage shows her that God will be with her if she follows him, and she doesn’t have to be afraid to act out his law and his will.
Hannah Long is a Corps de Ballet dancer with Glorify Dance Theatre. Learn more about where she’s been by reading her bio.
Tickets are still available to see Casefile: Euangelion this Thursday-Saturday. Follow this link to see a trailer and purchase tickets. Hope to see you at the show!
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