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16 And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17 where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.
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!
Christine Suarez is a Los Angeles-based choreographer, performer and educator. Born in Caracas, Venezuela and raised in Baton Rouge Louisiana, Christine made her first works of choreography to the Grease soundtrack. Since then she has created eleven evening-length dance-theater works, numerous site-specific and community events and close to a dozen dances for the theater and film, along with teaching, creating and performing at school sites all over the U.S. While living in New York City from 1994-2006, her work was presented at various venues including Danspace Project, P.S. 122, HERE, Joyce SoHo and Dixon Place. In 1998 she founded SuarezDanceTheater, a not-for-profit, ensemble of dancers, actors and musicians. SuarezDanceTheater examines the unexpected – creating dance-theater in unexpected places with unexpected people about unexpected subjects. Christine and company were Artists in Residence at Tribeca Performing Arts Center from 2003-2006. Her work has toured nationally and internationally to over 20 cities. Her work happens in theaters, houses, parks, Churches, galleries, sidewalks and beaches. She collaborates with multi-generational performers along with parents, children, veterans, high school students and teen mothers.
Since relocating to Los Angeles, she has been invigorated by making dances in unexpected places. Wet Spots (2008) was a site-specific performance about female orgasm that she created in collaboration with a multi-generational cast of women. The Los Angeles Times called it “ingeniously crafted…poignant…hilarious.” She has organized community dance participatory performances in parks, beaches and classrooms in partnership with city governments, community based organizations and schools. She has also been touring Wet Spots: Solo to Tallinn, Estonia, Movement Research at Judson Church (New York City), The Garage (San Francisco), Emory University (Atlanta, GA), The A.W.A.R.D. Show! (REDCAT). Most recently she premiered her new evening length work MOTHER. at the Motion Pacific at the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA.
As an educator, Christine has worked at public schools all over the New York City and Los Angeles area. She has been a guest teacher/choreographer at California State University San Marcos, California State University Los Angeles, Emory University, Indiana University, Southeastern University of Louisiana and Louisiana State University. She holds an MFA in choreography from UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Department and a BA in Theater and English Literature from Emory University. She is a government contractor co-creating a dance program for Veterans at The School for Better Living, a psycho-social research initiative a the West Los Angeles VA Hospital. She also works as a teaching artist with the HeArt Project. She has been awarded grants from the Center for Cultural Innovation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Puffin Foundation, Meet the Composer, the Association for Hispanic Arts, JP Morgan Chase Regrant, the Field and the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center. She is honored to be a Hispanic Scholarship Fund/Cheech Marin Endowed Scholarship Scholar and recipient of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund McNamara Family Creative Arts Projects Grant. (Photo by CedarBough Saeji) www.suarezdance.org