The Power of Art
It was a rough week, Beloveds. First, I have not really recovered with the maltreatment of babies at the border. However, with Justice Kennedy resigning, I felt sick to my stomach. In my home country of Nigeria, fighting broke out between herdsmen and farmers and 86 people were killed. An oil tanker exploded on a main thoroughfare and 56 cars caught on fire causing so much damage and loss of life. Then on Thursday, five people were killed in a newsroom in Maryland. And as I write this, #45 did not say a word!
Overwhelmed. Hopeless. Discouraged. Angry. Sad. Frustrated. Insecure. Blah. SMDH.
Then art happened. And it healed me.
I spent the week in Great Barrington in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. It is my goal in life to spend a week of vacation with my sister each year. This is the second time she has rented a space and we chill, relax and explore. This year, she bought tickets to two performances at Jacob’s Pillow. What is that you might ask?
(Pstttt….throughout this post are a bunch of highly relevant links. Check on them but don’t forget to come back and read all about them. Also, there are tons of pictures that I took from Jacobs Pillow. Enjoy all of them. Tap on them and make them look big on your screen to read them.)
Jacob’s Pillow is a National Historic Landmark. For 86 years, this space of greenery, rocks and studios has curated a summer festival of dance. It is America’s longest running dance festival. It also provided a safe haven, during the 1800’s, as part of the underground railroad system. It is truly a sanctuary and preservation for dance. Great Barrington is also the birthplace to the great American icon, W.E.B. Dubois.
The first night, we went to see a free performance called “Translucent Borders.” O my! Drummers, dancers and singers from Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago, Palestine, Israel, Cuba and the US melded music and dance together simply to defy borders. These artists put together six short pieces based on video conferencing in the months leading up to their performance. When they all arrived at Jacob’s Pillow fromthe various parts of the world, they had three days to perfect their art. They put together a stunning series and when the female singer from Palestine sang “Guantanamera,” and the Ghanaian drummers danced to the strings of the Israeli accompaniment, the anxiety that held my body hostage loosened. My body became aware of reconciliation and hope.
I could literally feel my cells lighten their load, smile, sigh and relax.
I got lost in the performances and lived my best life in those moments when art took over my life.
In the question and answer se
ssion afterward, the Ghanaian man joked about the food that was made available to him that he did not understand, and the Israelis talked about how difficult and arduous it was to procure travel visas to the United States. The Palestinian songstress qualified her songs as activism and told stories about her people and invited us, the audience, to know them first hand.
At that moment, I realized the richness of my life and the profound wealth of opportunity before me.
That night, we saw a performance by Ephrat Asherie Dance called “Odeon” described as
“a high-energy, hybrid hip-hop” with music by a 20th-century Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth which ranged from classical to street beats with an Afro-Brazilian flavor. There werebreak dancing, hip-hop and a variety of dance styles. I fell into a trance as I observed sheer physically and excellence. Here is their link at Jacob’s pillow: https://www.jacobspillow.org/events/ephrat-asherie-dance/
The next day, I was transported into the light by “Pilobolus.” https://www.jacobspillow.org/events/pilobolus-2/
This group was my favorite because it stretched me, and I felt challenged with my body and my mind. First, there was a discussion with a teacher about this group and how dance is often considered performance dance, whether it be classical or modern, for places that have stages like the Lincoln Center. Then there is dance that is more commercial, for instance, Cirque du Soleil. This group, Pilobolus, is both performance oriented as well as commercial. It started at Dartmouth College with three athletes who knew nothing about dance: a cross-country skier, a pole vaulter, and a fencer. They were committed to creative collaboration. Their name refers to a light loving fungus that moves at great speed across great distances. They contort their bodies into the alphabet and they make political statements as well. Here is a lovely video about their campaign for voting.
What I loved is how they crossed borders because they did not know the rules of the art form of dance! They have done adverts for Hyundai and Ford, moving dance and bodily collaboration into commerce.
The first show was about the human eye and how it takes in light. I was stunned as to the Divine message I was receiving that there is always “Light” and I am equipped to take it in metaphorically and physically. This gave me profound hope for the importance of my value system as well as for the kinds of collaboration that we will all see in our lifetime that will make the world a better place.
Finally, my time at Jacob’s Pillow closed with a reflection on the old and the new. “Wild Rhythm” was expressions of the dance called “Lindy Hop” to music by Duke Ellington. It was festive, jazzy and light. Again, I was in awe of movement as an indomitable expression of life. One of the dancers, afterward, in a question and answer mode, said that she was a hip-hop dancer, but she was able to see that the moves of hip-hop were deeply rooted in social dance moves. Another dancer said he got into dance because he was socially awkward, and it made him so popular in high school as it taught him how to relate to others. I enjoyed this performance because Duke Ellington, an African American artist, was highlighted and yet most of the dancers were white. Crossing racial lines with dance and music for me was hopeful and joyful.
My beloveds, what I loved about this entire experience was seeing how all the dancers shared their power and their gifts with each other. Dance teaches us how to share and collaborate. Dance teaches us empathy as the dancers have to anticipate each other. Dance is an expression of the celebration of life.
It was awesome for me and it healed my heart.
I felt connected to hope.
My mind went to my friend who will be teaching art in the fall to high schoolers, another friend, Gasali Adeyemo, who is a batik artist, my friend Silas who paints dazzling Yoruba art, Pauline Williamson who draws whimsical interpretations of Biblical characters, Ellen Gadberry, liturgical artist, whose Celtic cross adorns a church narthex in Decatur, and my other friend Nolan McCants, a global photographer extraordinaire. I am so grateful for the art that they share with the world because it makes our lives so much more bearable. I am also grateful for the musicians and the writers and every form of artists who take the time to express themselves to the world. I bow.
Beloveds, here is a radical idea: As much as you know you must vote in the upcoming elections and as much as we know that we have the power to turn things around for good, why don’t we also donate to the arts and buy art? As long as there is art, there is truth telling and there is healing and collaboration and bonding. Give to the arts. Now, more than ever. It is critical.
Go out today and appreciate some art.
Go out today and buy some art from a living artist.
Go out today and donate to the sustainability of art.
Beloved, that is the power of art.
For my leaders, art makes you a better person. I sure hope you have some in your life.
Get some art in your life! You need it like I needed it this week!
On the wall at Jacob’s pillow was the question:
This was my response and I have no idea why my grammar was off, but you get the point.
So what moves you Beloveds?