Dancers connect movement with faith in daylong workshop

| Melenie Soucheray | August 9, 2017 | 1 Comment

Grace Blando, right, of Holy Trinity in South St. Paul works on dance technique during a sacred ballet workshop at Christ the King in Minneapolis Aug. 5. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“Ballet is another way to express the action of God in his creation.”

So says Marius Andaházy, a Catholic and a member of the famed Andaházy ballet family.

He shared his vision during a workshop, Exploring Ballet as a Sacred Art, Aug. 5 at Christ the King in Minneapolis. The event was sponsored by Rivers Ballet, a Twin Cities organization that promotes dance as a sacred art form.

A handful of dancers came together for an interactive presentation from Andaházy. Dancers also participated in a ballet class and a processional workshop led by instructors Jennifer Murry and Sonja Hinderlie.

“The thing with sacred dance is you really need to have someone who knows what they’re doing,” said Moya McGinn Mathews, the music and liturgy director at Christ the King for 28 years.

She is sensitive to the ways in which all of the arts contribute to an environment that enhances a spiritual experience, and she is also aware of the Church’s teachings about the fine line between popular piety and liturgy.

Sacred art, including dance, must create and maintain a spiritual experience, she said. It should have an attitude of reverence. The artist must be willing to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit, she said.

Georgia Finnegan-Saulitis, Rivers Ballet co-founder, conducted a session on the protocols for sacred movement, which covered proper costuming, make-up and accessories.

A member of Christ the King, Finnegan-Saulitis said sacred dance is not part of the liturgy, but it can be a partner. Dancers must be properly clothed, and the sanctuary and other worship spaces must be respected. A dancer’s movement should be graceful, poignant and appropriate, she said.

Workshop participant Grace Blando, 18, has studied ballet with Andaházy. She said she had a little experience in sacred dance and wanted to learn more.

“It’s important to combine dance and religion. It’s a wonderful gift to have the ability to use talent and ability to honor God and give back to the community,” said Blando, a parishioner of Holy Trinity in South St. Paul. “It’s an opportunity to connect with God and help the congregation connect with God.”

For her sister, Lily Blando, 15, who also participated in the workshop, “Dance is about the message, not about the dancer.”

Andaházy heads the ballet department at Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights. He is also the former ballet master in residence at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. As the youngest son of Lóránt and Anna Adrianova Andaházy, American members of the Russian ballet who settled in St. Paul, and heir apparent of the Andaházy ballet legacy, he has dedicated his life to classical ballet as a dancer, teacher and advocate for sacred dance. Along with several secular ballets, the Andaházy parents and son created seven religious ballets between 1951 and 1984.

In 1965, the Andaházys’ “Los Seises: A Meditation in Dance on the Passion of Christ” was commissioned for television. It has been preformed locally in several churches, including the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul and St. Olaf in Minneapolis.

“My parents had a special gift, not just as dancers from the Russian ballet. Even in their productions of secular ballet, I remember seeing their spiritual interpretations,” Andaházy told The Catholic Spirit. “It carried over into what otherwise would have just been steps.”

Although the workshop explored the possibility of dance in a liturgical procession, it did not take a stance on the place of dance in the Mass, an oft-debated topic. Current U.S. liturgical norms generally discourage dance in the Mass, but make allowances for certain cultural expressions, such as those of some African Catholics.

“As a classical dancer, a person’s technique is very important. There’s something about the classical arts, of tone if it’s music, beautiful notes, beautiful trained voice, the choir,” Andaházy said. “Look at Handel’s Messiah, a major work of art. [With ‘Los Seises’ and other sacred ballets] the technique is used to express a higher meaning. If someone wants to do this, I would want them to get training, not just do it because it would be fun, but because it maintains the sacredness of the church, whether it’s Catholic or not. You’re going onto holy ground where people really honor the Lord in whatever way they see him.”

Although sacred dance can be controversial, Andaházy pointed to affirmation “Los Seises” received from Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and former archbishop of St. Louis, who said in a promotional video for the Andaházy Ballet Company that he was “able to see it and to understand the great beauty of this representation of our lord’s passion through a very heightened art form in the ballet.”

“Ballet expresses without words and through the beauty of the movement of the human body using certain key symbols,” he said. “In this case, the beauty of the ballet attracts many souls to the mystery of God’s love for us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and most of all, in his passion and death.”

The cardinal said that the ballet “could be an effective form of the new evangelization.”

“It is my sincere hope that through the continuation of the Andaházy Ballet Company … that the beauty of what I call sacred ballet will draw many souls to Christ,” he said.

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