As the Ad Deum dancers whirl through the spirals of Steve Rooks’ choreography in rehearsal, there’s no sign of jet lag for this world traveling troupe, who just recently returned from Malaysia, where they premiered Rooks’ Prophets: The Tale of Three Messengers, along with several other works. The company trip to Malaysia was sponsored by the ACTS School of Performing Arts and they performances there benefited Malaysian Children’s Aid Society.
Rooks’ dance focuses on the tales of prophets Deborah and Huldah from the Old Testament and Anna from the New Testament. “We often think of the Bible in patriarchal terms. Here are three strong women prophets that people are not familiar with,” says Rooks, a former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company and Associate Professor of Dance at Vassar College. The piece was well received by audiences that included both Christians and Muslims. “Islam is an Abrahamic faith and they are familiar with prophets,” adds Rooks.
Rooks and Ad Deum Artistic Director Randall Flinn have been friends and close colleagues on the Christian dance circuit for the past decade. This is Rooks’ sixth piece for the company. “I love coming to Houston, it’s a second home for me,” Rooks says. “This is a wonderful company, they understand my work, they get it right away and are a joy to work with.” Currently on sabbatical from his teaching job at Vassar, Rooks recently won a choreography competition for Hubbard Street II. He regularly teaches at the Ailey School and spent time dancing in Ailey II before joining the Graham company. Not all of Rooks’ work is Biblical in nature; he prefers to draw from a wide variety of influences, including Alvin Ailey. “Still, I am informed by my faith in whatever I create,” he says.
As a former Graham dancer, Rooks remains interested in sharing his wisdom from his close association with the legendary modern dance icon. Rooks selected John Adams’ “Shaker Loops” for his dance, a piece of music he was introduced to by Graham herself. “She taught me to dance in the stillness and to always have a story going on in my own mind,” remembers Rooks, about his time working with Graham from 1981-1991. “I have made an intentional homage to Martha in the piece.” Two of the dancers are relatively new to the Graham technique, but have been getting the most out of Rooks’ morning company classes. For Lydia Hance, who trained in Graham at Southern Methodist University and the Graham School, the dance deepened her experience. “It was a chance for me to take classroom work into performance and keep the integrity of the technique,” says Hance.
Although all three dancers are well versed in scripture, they had to return to the exact passages to better portray their respective roles. “It was amazing to dance the role of Anna,” says Bethany Brantley. “Some of the spirals were a challenge and I really had to work towards getting the details down.” Hance had only three verses about Huldah to work with. ”The verses mostly describe what she actually did,” says Hance. “I really had to embody her actions in my dancing.” Shizu Yasuda found dancing the role of Deborah well suited her dynamic range. “Of course I had to re-read the Bible to digest her character,” says Yasuda. “She’s a bloody warrior.” The dancers had the added challenge of performing unison movement while keeping each character distinct.
The company also performed works by Freddie Moore, Caleb Mitchel, Bobby Wesner, Maggie Ho Kwan, and Flinn. In addition, they taught numerous classes to ages 4 through adult. In between teaching and performing, the troupe managed to get in a little sightseeing, which included a visit to the rainforest at Forest Research Institute Malaysia. The trip helped the troupe bond as well. “We have never spent that much time together, “ remarked company member Amanda Parsons. Apparently language was not an issue at all, Parsons reports, “Everyone there speaks perfect English. Flinn, who was unable to accompany the company on the trip, is proud of the troupe’s accomplishments there. “They really worked as a team and covered for each other,” says Flinn. “They are truly a company.”
The entire show will be repeated this weekend at the Katy Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Ad Deum Dance Company presents, NO MORE DRY BONES – A Homecoming Performance, Sunday, Dec 14th at10am, at Katy Visual and Performing Arts Center, 2501 S. Mason Rd. Addmission is free, Call 713-626-5050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.