The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > Reflecting El Roi: practicing preparation

Reflecting El Roi: practicing preparation

By: AUDREY HAMMITT

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Glorify Dance Theatre will premiere a new ballet, Reflecting El Roi, in March 2024 during the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a forty-day period when Christians prepare to experience Holy Week and Easter and to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reflecting El Roi uses dance to explore three traditional intentions of Lent: preparation, prayer & fasting, and giving.

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Breath of the arm…See the room with your eyes…Oh, my calves are tight this morning…Four tendus front, three side, two back, one inside leg…Fight for the balance…Squeeze the inner thighs together in fifth position…Faster feet…Ahh, this stretch feels good…Keep the hip down…Brush the floor on the way out and in…Light grip on the barre…

These are some of the thoughts dancers might have as they warm up for a day of rehearsing or performing. A typical ballet class consists of exercises at the barre, in the center, and across the floor. The first portion of the class, barre, takes up about half of the class time, and follows a predictable pattern of progressively bigger and/or faster movements. Holding onto the horizontal barre provides extra support for the dancer as they get in touch with their body and warm up their muscles. Taking the time at the barre to prepare for center work enables the dancer to feel more limber and confident to accomplish the challenging steps to come. Ultimately, even the center combinations (exercises) are to practice and prepare for the grands battements (kicks), turns, and jumps required of the dancer in choreography.

Something special about GDT’s upcoming performance, Reflecting El Roi, is that the audience gets a window into the typically unseen preparation of the dancers through the presence of a ballet barre and dancers putting on their pointe shoes on stage. This section, entitled “Preparation,” demonstrates the everyday acts of preparation a dancer undergoes, and encourages the viewers to reflect on their own daily rituals of physical and spiritual preparation. There is something safe, calming, and mindful about routines we follow each day, and this section portrays those qualities through the flowing movement that is performed with ease and thoughtfulness. The melodious piano music seems to carry the progression of the movement throughout the stage. I personally feel a sense of peacefulness in this section, and I hope to carry that intention into other forms of preparation I perform–not rushing the process, but savoring the sequences that set me up for success as I walk out the door or walk into work.

Some biblical examples of preparation are found in Isaiah 40:1-31. Verses 3-5 say,

 

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (NRSV)

 

And in verses 9-11:

 

“Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (NRSV)

 

These two passages elicit a sense of anticipation and use phrases such as “prepare the way,” “make straight,” “herald,” and “lift up your voice.” These phrases are spoken to the Israelites to prepare them for what is coming, or Who is coming. So what happens once the people are prepared? The Lord arrives! Any act of preparation in Christian spiritual practice, such as during the yearly season of Lent, is meant to get us ready to see the Lord our God. You can think of it like the tales of kings of old— trumpets sounding and squires announcing the king’s procession. (I’m imagining a kingdom of colorful, poofy gowns and trousers with a short man shouting to the crowd, “Hear ye, hear ye!”) Naturally, as humans, our ears are sensitive to sounds, so a loud voice grabs our attention, thus making us use our eyes to see where the sound is coming from as well as what it is making known to us. In 21st century terms, you could think of these calls for preparation like movie teaser trailers, which are meant to make viewers aware of the new blockbuster film to come, to have them share the news with others, and to build excitement and interest in the movie before it premieres. Do we experience the same degree of heightened interest and eagerness to see the Lord and His glory as we do if we were to meet an earthly king or see a new film?

Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 40 finds its fulfillment in John the Baptist’s ministry and proclamation of Jesus’ coming. Luke 3:1-20 tells us that John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance, which was preparation for Jesus’ forgiveness of sins. As crowds came to John, they asked him what they should do, and he answered them according to their occupation for how they should act in an honorable way toward others. His words stirred up hope and wonder in the people, but he made sure to not claim he was the fulfillment to what he was announcing:

 

As the people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” (Luke 3:15-16, NRSVUE)

 

John’s ministry serves as an example for us who seek to share the good news of Jesus to all people. Our role in God’s kingdom is to tell others about His forgiveness, but it is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s work to change their hearts to acceptance. The preparation of announcing Jesus’ work of salvation, current presence, and future return is our opportunity and commission to plant seeds of the gospel in the soil of human hearts. This task is not without suffering, as John ended up in jail and beheaded because he spoke up for righteousness. Just because our work of preparations may not result in a seemingly positive outcome, that does not negate the immense value of the time, love, and effort invested for the Lord. God sees our daily faithfulness, and everything we do for Him is priceless in His eyes. 

 

“Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NRSVUE)

 

Each day offers us new opportunities to prepare for how God will reveal Himself to us and others. Some spiritual practices we may participate in to prepare our hearts and minds are prayer, reading and memorizing Scripture, and expressing gratitude. As dancers repeat many of the same steps in each warm-up they do, so we must also repeat and remind ourselves of God’s truth and character. As dancers rehearse pieces for a performance in order to be ready for the challenge and any unexpected elements in a show, so we must also rehearse the gospel of Jesus to ourselves if we want to be ready for the challenges in life and ready for sharing that good news with others. When we face trials in this life, we can take heart that like our muscles must be overloaded and break down in order to build back stronger, so too those trials are strengthening us and preparing us for future glory.

 

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV)

 

I hope my imperfect words, connections, and thoughts have provided you a little appetizer for what preparation looks like not only as a dancer, but also as a follower of Jesus. Your life and how you live in the present heralds what you believe is coming next–which in Christ is the glorious redemption of all things. That’s a reality worth preparing for.

Now, find a place at the barre. But instead of pliés, tendus, and rond de jambes, let’s rehearse the gospel. Love mercy…Seek first His kingdom…Do not worry about tomorrow….Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength…Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…In Him we live and move and have our being….Every breath comes from Him….Go and make disciples of all nations…

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