The Word in the Wings
The Word in the Wings > Season Preview with Melody Mendoza (Part I)
Season Preview with Melody Mendoza (Part I)
By: KAYA WEAVER
Glorify Dance Theatre’s 2023-24 season has begun, and it’s a big one! Listen in on Part I of my conversation with Artistic Director Melody Mendoza as she describes her inspiration for this season and we discuss how the biblical themes tie our upcoming shows together.
Kaya: Thank you for taking some time to talk with me about each of the shows we have coming up. I’m excited to hear more of your heart behind each of the shows on the calendar, and I think by the end of this, everyone else will be excited too!
Let’s start with the fall MainStage, the Mixed Repertoire performance. Looking at Be Ready, Trecho, and Alive in Us, how do the three ballets included in the mixed-repertoire performance fit together into one cohesive production?
Melody: I had originally planned a different ballet for the first act, so it was not intentional putting these three pieces together, but in putting them together it’s been cool to see the ties and parallels.
Trecho goes into the scripture of running the race set before us and persevering.
Be Ready asks, what does our life look like when we’re not solid in our faith? When we’re feeling lukewarm, how does that impact us? That dives into the scripture, “be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you,” both as a way of sharing our faith with others to inspire them but also as a way of standing our ground, holding fast, and becoming strong in our faith.
In looking at the progression of these three ballets, it starts with Be Ready, with a character who’s not completely confident and is being swayed back and forth. She needs to come to the conclusion of whether she’s going to take that scripture to heart, press through when things get hard, and not give up on her faith, or whether she’s going to reject that faith.
It starts in that story and then moves into Trecho, which is running the race. Say we make that decision: we are going to follow Christ. We have this path set before us where sometimes things are easy, sometimes things are hard, but can we persevere. Having the encouragement of other believers around us can help us continue to grow and strengthen.
Shifting into Act II, Alive in Us, it goes into the quality of our “trecho,” how we “run” on our journey. What is it about the way we interact with people and how we communicate and live out our life when we’re running for Jesus? Instead of a flat, “I’m just running,” what are the things going on in our mind and in our hearts as we’re running that race, and how does that show in our daily lives?
This show is another one of those Holy Spirit moments where I decide, “We’ll do this, this, and this,” and God is able to bring out the connections.
Kaya: I’m already starting to see the connections! In the passage about running the race, from 1 Corinthians 9, the idea is that when you’re running for the prize, it affects how you run. You run with discipline, or self-control, which is one of the fruit of the Spirit. It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re thinking in terms of how Alive in Us connects to Trecho.
Have you started visualizing choreography and imagining how the movement in each piece will contrast or echo that of the others?
Melody: Alive in Us was already choreographed in 2019. There are ten pieces, and nine of them relate to a fruit of the Spirit. As I choreographed each one, my mind focused on asking, what is this particular fruit? So joy, for example, has a lot of jumps in it and has a lot of turns in it because when you think of a kid full of excitement and energy, they’re leaping and twirling. There’s this bubbly-ness in their movement. I’m still this way even though I’m a grown up! When people are excited, they jump up and down; when we’re at a concert, we’re moving. I tried to think about what feelings and what normal movements does this particular fruit of the Spirit seem to embody, and then what in contemporary and classical ballet movement could relate to that. So that whole ballet is entrenched in the thought process of: what is this fruit of the Spirit? What are the feelings? How is this embodied in real life in how we communicate and show our feelings to one another? How do we translate that into the medium of contemporary ballet?
For Trecho, I’m really excited because we’re doing a sneaker ballet. I’m excited to see what it allows or prompts in terms of different movement and qualities of movement. You’re not going to be doing bourrées or thirty-two fouettés wearing sneakers–those movements don’t fit the vibe–but a lot of jumps, and obviously a lot of running–the quality of movement is going to be characterized by the footwear. I anticipate there being a lot of fast-paced movements, but also not everything fast-paced; when you’re running a race you want to also pace yourself. I’ll be keeping the realities of how people do run races in the back of my mind as I’m creating movement that is also artistic and involves a lot of jazzy ballet.
Kaya: In both these ballet’s you’re considering what movements in day-to-day life communicate a certain emotion or image. With the image of running a race, maybe that movement is more familiar to a lot of people than something like temps levé arabesque. We talked about that at Dance & Dialogue last year when we explored how dance expresses emotion, so if any of that audience come back for this show, they’ll be well equipped to see those ballet movements that connect to particular emotions.
Melody: Be Ready is a mix of styles. It’s the main character, a group of dancers representing people who are not walking with Christ, and another group of dancers representing people who are walking with the Lord. For the quality of movement with the people who are not walking with Christ, I want it to be a little more heavy, earthy, self-centered. They’ll be in flat ballet shoes, but the characters that are walking with Christ will be wearing pointe shoes, so their movements will have that extra ability to get their relevé a little bit higher, so it will have that quality difference.
My main character, the one in the center, is going to start off in one pointe shoe and one ballet shoe, and that’s going to help show her struggle of wanting to be in both worlds. That’s not a space you can confidently be ready with an answer, so she has to decide which group she’s going to join. She either puts on a pointe shoe or she puts on a flat shoe, and you’re going to have to come and see to find out!
Kaya: I love the connection with the footwear being thematically symbolic, as well as how for you as choreographer and for the dancers that it puts boundaries on the type of movement you can do, or maybe it inspires movements that you wouldn’t otherwise do. That connects with the idea in Trecho of the discipline required to run the race of being an apostle of Christ. There’s a thread among these ballets about freedom in Christ, in but that kind of freedom isn’t willy-nilly; it’s about subjecting yourself to the law of Christ, so you have to be disciplined to walk according to the law of Christ to run for the prize. There’s a connection there with the footwear choice in Be Ready and how the main character has to choose, which type of constraints is she going to take on? Is it the one that gives you extra lift and a feeling of freedom? Visually that will communicate really strongly.
Since the idea for Be Ready originated as a show for students in the context of performing at schools this season, I want to ask: What makes the message from 1 Peter 3 particularly pertinent in that context?
Melody: High schoolers, middle schoolers, and even college students are at a phase in life where they’re seeing faith as something that has to be theirs and not just their parents’. It’s easy to go through the younger grades and just love Jesus because you see mommy and daddy loving Jesus. But when we get older and have more experience in a secular environment, for me at least that’s when questions started to arise. Is this actually real? Why do we believe this? There are so many rules! Not seeing the connection between rules and freedom at that age can be really difficult to want to stay in the faith. I think it’s really important at that age for students to think about it: if I choose to be a Christian, these are persecutions I might face. There are choices I’m not going to make because of my faith, and other people might ridicule me for it. If you’re going to make that decision, you have to be very strong! You have to have the Holy Spirit in your heart and have that connection to God that’s very personal. The ability to have answers when people are asking you questions is invaluable to your faith and its level of shakiness.
I question things in the Bible all the time, but no matter how many questions I have, I’m grounded and I can say, “This is really frustrating, but God knows more than I do, and I’m going to continue to choose this even though I don’t know all the answers right now.” I can continue seeking, I can continue looking, but I’m not just going to throw away my faith because I can’t answer a given question. That’s something that I want to spark in the students’ hearts and minds. Whether or not it leads to something in the future depends on them and their relationship with God and how God is speaking to them, but I want to put something in front of them that gives them a visual connection for the importance of thinking about this, making that choice, and having conversations with God.
Kaya: That resonates with me, having a similar experience of growing up in church and then in high school realizing that I needed to ask questions and understand my faith for myself. I agree that’s going to be really valuable to give the students a visual, kinesthetic experience of seeing that asking questions doesn’t have to lead to walking away from faith but is actually a very good path to growing closer to God. I think that is the message in 1 Peter 3, where the writer says to the church, you’re going to experience suffering, so be ready with your strong grounding in the core of your faith – that you’re saved through Jesus’s resurrection – and if you’re rooted in that understanding it will give you the resilience to ask questions, or to go through suffering for your faith.
You talked a little bit about some of the choreographic elements in terms of how it connects to the other two pieces in the Mixed Repertoire. Is there anything else in terms of choreographic or production elements you plan to use to bring that message to life for students?
Melody: Costume-wise, they’ll wear pedestrian clothes that they can dance in. I want the performers to look like normal humans. Also, how within the non-verbal communication are we sharing the tension between characters or the resolve within certain characters? When we put together a show like this, the dancers spend a decent amount of time thinking about who their character is and what feelings that character has in this moment. They do a lot of work to embody someone who’s not necessarily them. Then that can come across so that when you’re in the audience, you might feel like, “Oh, I can actually see myself in this person,” instead of just seeing another person.
Kaya: The costumes and the emotion will make it relatable for students.
Speaking of school shows, Oikia is the show Glorify will be bringing to preschool audiences this year, and it’s based on Jesus’s parable of the wise and foolish builders. The fun thing about biblical parables is that Jesus provides a concrete image to work with as well as helping us interpret the image to understand the abstract idea Jesus is teaching about.
How will you use choreography and other production elements to convey the concrete images from the parable, as well as its abstract meaning, in a way that’s accessible to preschoolers?
Melody: I am so excited about this show! My goal is to get cardboard houses that you can color on. Then the builders will have giant crayons, so they’ll color the houses. We’ll definitely be using some props and set pieces to help give concrete images. The preschoolers can be really good at using their imaginations, so sometimes you just need to give them a little bit to go on. Two characters are the wise and foolish builders, and the other dancers will be the builders, the wind, and the rain. Chinese fans have a lot of long fabric at the end, so I’m going to get them in white and blue, so when the rains come and the winds blow, the dancers will have the fans that will go up and over the house and push the house down.
I want to add an element of compassion, kind of like “The Three Little Pigs,” where when the foolish builder loses her house, the wise builder will let the other one come and stay. I think that image can be really powerful for the kids to see: the foolish builder has the opportunity to see what the wise builder did and make a new choice. We’ll talk to the students about the parable and the themes: there were two choices; who made the better choice? Who’s house stayed? We’re able to ask questions that they’ve seen concretely on the stage and then give space to say, sometimes we don’t make good choices, but our next choice doesn’t have to be bad; our next choice can be a good choice.
Kaya: When you add to the story of the parable that the foolish builder could go ask the wise builder to shelter them, that helps make the link from the concrete image that the preschoolers will see to the abstract relational teaching that Jesus is getting across. After all, this parable comes in the context of the whole Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) and “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1). You’re going to portray that the wise builder whose house stays up is the same kind of person who will extend hospitality to someone in need.
That will certainly keep us busy through the fall. Even so, I know you’ve already started thinking about the spring…
Return to The Word in the Wings next week to read about the shows Glorify Dance Theatre will perform in the spring. In the meantime, mark your calendars and book your tickets (pricing is pay-what-you-will) for Dance & Dialogue or the Mixed Repertoire performance. I hope to see you there!
Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.
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