It is bittersweet to submit my final post on my project. It has been a beautiful journey. And I am so grateful to share it and be supported in this way.
On August 29, we performed Dancing the Book of Ruth for a generous audience at 1450 Ocean/Camera Obscura in Santa Monica, CA. It was truly a satisfying culmination of my residencies with Spark and Echo Arts and 1450 Ocean/Camera Obscura. Our performance ran about 45 minutes. I was so pleased to have collaborated with dancers, Carol McDowell and Rebeca Hernandez.
A quick re-cap of my process: I was drawn to the Book of Ruth because of the story and relationship between Ruth and Naomi. I identify with Naomi’s depth of desperation and feeling that God had forsaken her. I am inspired by Ruth’s unshakable faith and hope. And together they do something that no other Biblical women do: they reshape what a family is and how women are supposed to behave.
For this manifestation of the work I designed it in part as a site-specific piece and in part as a lecture-demonstration. It was important to me for the audience to experience the real landscape of the location and to see the work from different perspectives. It was also important to me to tell the story while also sharing our creative process. I ended up writing my own version of the story. I quote the Book of Ruth directly twice. The first with Ruth’s speech to Naomi:
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Like I do with most of my work, I try to infuse it with some humor. After I quoted Ruth’s speech, I looked at the audience and said, “Can you imagine feeling that way to your mother-in-law?”
The second passage I quote is what Naomi says upon her homecoming arrival in Bethlehem:
“’Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’”
Our video shows how we were inspired by a series of paintings that capture the moment of Ruth’s devotion to Naomi. I had the paintings up on our studio wall throughout our process. We used these images as a source for movement material. We then manipulated the shapes by moving them through space, changing speed and spatial relationships. We morphed these paintings to reflect how these women reconfigured their ideas of themselves. We also played with patterns in space to represent how these two women navigate the cultural structure, which they lived – how they both continued on with their lives together though with great uncertainty. To end the work, we developed a series of improvisation structures to embody different aspects of Naomi and Ruth.
Our audience was an interesting cross section of people – all were particularly interested in the Book of Ruth. Some of whom I imagine would not normally be interested in dance-theater had it not been for the subject matter. I love that so much! We had a lot of interesting conversations post-performance about Ruth and her motives – about Naomi and how despite her loses still had a plan for survival. What was most interesting to me was to hear how important this text is to both Christian and Jewish people. In attendance were both a Rabbi and a Roman Catholic priest along with other religious people. I had interesting conversations about how this work could live in churches and synagogues. Or how I could use the structure of the piece to work with congregations to create a new version of it. It was very exciting.
I plan on continuing to work on this project in 2016. I would like to investigate further how to relate to the text. How can the performers and myself be in dialogue with these ancient Biblical women? I am curious about new entry points into the story and these women’s lives. I appreciate any thoughts or reflections. Email me at email@example.com. Thanks!