Friday, March 09, 2007

That was Zen, this is Tao

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to put down anyone; if by any chance the people in question see it, they will have no doubt who they are and should know that I'm stating the facts.

I've been hesitant to post about this incident because I don't want my motives to be misread, but I realise that 1) it's not likely that anyone actually reads this blog anyway; and 2) people can interpret anything their way, but as long as I know why I write and my conscience is fine with it, let it fly.

A few months ago, I was asked to choreograph a dance for a church event. This I did, gathering the dancers I needed and rehearsing independently with them because the leader who'd asked me to do the job was buried over her head in other work.

Twice before the performance, she came to view the choreography, and both times she gushed approval. The second time was five days before.

Three days before the performance, she blew into the hall like a very small, but very strong, hurricane and snapped that things had to be changed because the dance was "too Zen".

How she had managed to drastically change her mind in two nights, I still don't quite understand. The bottom line is, we managed to change the choreography to something she would accept, and in the end the dance was one of the least of her worries because there was a power failure on the day of that event.

My question is...
How can a dance be described as Zen? It's a variation of the question I always ask: how can a dance, referring to the motion itself, be referred to as "Christian"? Isn't "Christian" an adjective applied to people who've made the conscious decision to believe that Jesus was God sent to earth as man; that He died; and that He came back to life on the third day? How does a dance piece "believe" anything, being a passive, intangible object?

Back to "Zen", then. I choreographed the piece to reflect the importance of prayer, humility, submission and Scripture in our faith. Apparently, some people who viewed the last few rehearsals took issue with the movement motifs I had chosen to reflect these traits, as they resembled the prayer movements of other religions.

Lines in the sand
Where does the boundary between "arbitrary gesture" and "assigned religious symbol" lie? If I place my hands together and bow my head when I meet a Thai or Nepali, is this a religious act? More and more people, thank God, will tell me that no, it's an accepted greeting in these cultures.

In that case, I'd venture to say (and may I be corrected if I'm wrong) that it wasn't spiritual discernment that made certain quarters reject the dance; it was ignorance and fear. Fear of the unfamiliar; fear of appearing "un-Christian".

Why did I not say all this then and there? Because we were counting down the hours to the performance and the priority was to do whatever worked. Because my reason for agreeing to choreograph the piece was to come up with a work that would glorify God; not to give my artistic expression exposure. Because I was tired from that and Drunk Before Dawn and all I wanted was for it to be over.

My limits aren't your limits
I realise that living as a Christian today involves walking many fine lines: socially, professionally, culturally. The fact is that for each of us, the lines fall in different places. We need the courage to accept that if something's all right for me, it may not be for you and vice versa. It was a tough lesson, but one that this experience taught me in spades.

Oh and the title? I did have a split second of wicked inspiration when I wanted to change the choreography to something different, but just as Oriental-inspired, and shoot this wisecrack at the leader. But I didn't. Peace at all costs, yada yada. Plus, it was late at night and I wanted to sleep.

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