LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, July 30, 2007

Katherine Gant: Blessing through Dance

This week I’m featuring dancer Katherine Gant. Katherine received her dance training in Memphis, Tennessee, under the direction of Pat Gillispie at Classical Ballet Memphis. Trained in the RAD syllabus, Katherine graduated with honors, RAD’s highest mark. During her years at Classical Ballet Memphis, Katherine performed many leading roles and was Assistant to the Artistic Director. She also performed as a guest with Yuma Ballet Theatre as Cinderella in Thom Clower’s “Cinderella.” In 2002, Katherine joined Ad Deum Dance Company as an Apprentice and was promoted to Company Member later that year (www.danceaddeum.com). While with Ad Deum, she performed works by Steve Rooks (formerly principal dancer with Martha Graham Company) and performed at Project Dance in New York City (www.projectdance.com). [Note: I featured Steve Rooks on the blog last month: www.christiansinthearts.blogspot.com/2007/07/steve-rooks-part-2-god-given-honor.html] Katherine then went on to dance with Ballet Magnificat! under the direction of Kathy Thibodeaux. Since moving to Atlanta in 2005, Katherine has continued to teach and dance throughout the Atlanta metro area, including being a founding member of the Atlanta Christian Dance Community (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/atlchristiandance). Katherine and her husband David have two children, Elizabeth and Caleb.

LeAnne: How did you get involved with Project Dance? What do you do?

In 2003, I attended Project Dance’s New York event as a member of Ad Deum Dance Company and I fell in love with the idea of dancers from around the world coming together to bless a city. Since then, I have become friends with Cheryl Cutlip, Project Dance’s founder, and I felt called to bring Project Dance to Atlanta. I am now the Event Coordinator for the Project Dance’s inaugural event to be held in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on Sept. 22, 2007.

LM: Tell me about your dancing and teaching in Atlanta.

I teach for Atlanta Ballet and I am a dancer/director of Refuge Dance Company, which is made up of mostly members of the Atlanta Christian Dance Community.

LM: You are a founding member of the Atlanta Christian Dance Community. What is the purpose of the group?

Our purpose is to build and grow the network of Christian dancers and other related artists in and around the metro Atlanta area. It is very easy to get discouraged, thinking that you are the only one out there doing your type of ministry. The community provides a safe place for artists to gather, collaborate and encourage one another.

More from Katherine Gant on Thursday. Next week I'll be talking with essayist Robert Benson.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Robin Parrish, Part 2: INFUZE

This week I’m featuring Robin Parrish, founder and editor-in-chief of INFUZE Magazine (www.infuzemag.com), a unique intersection between art and faith. In addition to his work at INFUZE, Robin has written two novels in a trilogy: Relentless and the newly-released Fearless.

LM: So give me a few examples of some people you’ve featured who stand out in your mind.

Some good outside the box examples: one of my favorites—we’ve interviewed him twice now and we post news about him frequently as well—is an actor named Doug Jones. He’s one of those actors with a loyal following and nobody knows who he is. If you ever see him in person you’ll never forget him. He’s very tall (about 6’ 6”), very skinny and lanky. Doug’s a Christian. He’s a character actor and usually plays characters under very heavy makeup. He has done a lot of small bit parts and this year he really broke out and did some big things. He was the title character in Pan’s Labyrinth. He was the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four movie. Right now he’s filming Hell Boy 2. He plays the character Abe Sapien, an aquatic character.

Don’t let that name Hell Boy throw you off. That’s another movie with a lot of great redemptive ideas in it. It’s a fable. It’s outside the box. It’s not realistic, it’s not theology. But I can’t imagine any Christian watching that movie and being offended by it. There might be a little bad language and a little cartoony violence so if that’s over your boundaries, then don’t go. But there’s nothing that is in any way offensive to Christianity. It’s respectful of it, actually.

We talk to author Ted Dekker all the time. He’s got tons of fans who read our site. He’s a great example because he is in the Christian industry but he’s starting to appeal to [people] outside of the industry. And he’s interested in the things we love to talk about. He’s very big into asking the big questions in life. He’s creating this rich mythology with the books he’s writing now. We’re fascinated with this stuff. There are characters with superheroic powers. We’re very big on superheroes at INFUZE because superheroes are almost always an allegory for our human need for Christ to save us.

LM: Let’s talk about your own books. I’m really intrigued by this idea of serializing your novel on INFUZE. How did that come about?

I was trying to find a way to get back to my first love of writing when I first created INFUZE. I wanted to use these great contacts I have so I knew it had to be a media website. But I also knew I had to get into publishing original stuff ourselves: creative works, short stories, poems, and artwork. I’ve wanted to write a novel forever but on a practical level I knew I needed a deadline to make it happen. Without a publisher as pressure there was nothing to make me do it. At the time I was into 24 and Lost—serialized TV shows and comic books—so it just seemed like a natural idea to do a novel in installments. I did a chapter every other week and it would come out every other Friday. That was the book that eventually got turned into Relentless, my first novel. In the original book there were 18 chapters—they were much longer than they are in the book now because I wanted it to feel like you were getting a full installment of a TV show like 24. I always tried to end on a little cliffhanger to keep you hanging until next time.

As soon as I put the first chapter up, people started coming out of the woodwork. I even heard from people who had never been big fans of my reviews but they said I could write. Because all of the earlier chapters were still there, I could pick up new readers as we went. We had done a contest for short stories with editor David Long, who has the blog “Faith in Fiction” (http://www.faithinfiction.blogspot.com/). When the book was finished, David, who’s at Bethany House, asked if I would like to publish it. I didn’t have to seek out a publisher, which is an amazing thing that I don’t take for granted.

I pitched him some other ideas and, to my great astonishment, he wanted to make it a trilogy. I wasn’t interested in taking the original story and trying to stretch it out over three books. I felt like it was a good solid contained story as it was so I wanted to add more to it. I went back and reworked it, rewriting and adding a lot of little seeds that would grow and play out in the coming books. It’s not like a book and two sequels. It’s a continuation: the 1st part, 2nd part, 3rd part of this 3-part saga. It’s very much like the Lord of the Rings. When it’s done it will be one big story with a definitive beginning, middle, and ending.

LM: Tell me about your books.

Most of my influences come from TV, movies, and comic books. I suppose that’s why my books are so fast-paced. My editor actually coined the term “bullet-paced” for the first one. The short answer is that my trilogy is “suspense thriller” but in my mind it falls under many categories. There’s a big mythology aspect. It’s set in the modern day but is a step outside of reality. There’s a big cast of characters. It’s got drama, a little romance, a lot of suspense, and a lot of mystery. Mystery is important in any genre. You need some kind of unanswered question, a little hint of mystery to keep people reading. So there are a lot of unanswered questions that eventually we’ll answer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Robin Parrish: INFUZE Magazine

Born Michael Robin Parrish on October 13, 1975, Robin's earliest writing efforts took place on a plastic, toy typewriter, and resulted in several "books" (most between 10 and 30 pages long) and even a few magazines. After college, he entered the writing profession through a "side door" -- the Internet. More than ten years he spent writing for various websites, including About.com, CMCentral.com, and his current project INFUZE Magazine, which is a unique intersection between art and faith which he conceived of and created 3½ years ago with the help of a private, local investor. (INFUZE is now published by iTickets.com). In addition to being editor-in-chief of INFUZE, Robin has written two novels in a trilogy: Relentless and the newly-released Fearless.

LeAnne: INFUZE “examines the place where art and faith intersect.” What does that mean?

I’ve talked to many people over the years and have gotten great quotes that helped me formulate ideas about how I wanted to do this. One of the people I talked to said that we were created to create. We were created by a creative Being to be like Him, and one of His greatest qualities is that He is creative. Something powerful happens when we express that. Just like when we worship, when we do something that’s in devotion to him—creativity is an act of devotion.

The thing that most Christians stumble over is that creativity is not relegated only to the Christian market. Plenty of things outside the Christian world not done by Christians still have illuminative qualities. They still shed light on what it is to be human and the magnificence of our existence and why we’re here. You can find purpose and meaning in a lot of things that were not even meant for that and we try to find them. We try to find things with redemptive qualities.

Now we go pretty far across the board. We do cover R-rated movies and we always tell you if it’s an R-rated movie but we’re not a watchdog group. We’re not a parenting group that will tell you, “Don’t go to this movie for this reason.” There’s plenty of that kind of stuff out there and if you want that, go for it. We report what’s good in a movie, what you can take with you that might [make you] feel uplifted and inspired and apply it to your life. It’s not always Passion of the Christ. Sometimes it might be a PIXAR movie or Spiderman movie. The Spiderman movies are some of the most spiritual movies made because they are so powerfully rooted in forgiveness and redemption themes. We cover everything: books, movies, video games, comic books, music, you name it—if it’s a creative outlet, we try to plug into it and see what we can find. And get our hands messy so you don’t have to.

LM: Have you always been interested in culture and the arts and creativity?

Yes. My career in this industry started in covering Christian music for about 11 years in various places. I got burned out with it. I had done over 1000 CD reviews and I felt like I had said everything I wanted to say.

My first love was always storytelling. I always wanted to be a writer. I always wanted to tell my stories. I love other people’s really great stories. The offer was there from this local investor if I wanted to do something different, we could create something. I was trying to come up with something new that would challenge and grow me and allow me to get back to my first love of storytelling, something that wouldn’t waste all of these great contacts I had made in the Christian music industry. So I got to thinking, what do storytelling and music have in common? They are forms of artistic expression so that’s where I came up with the art and faith intersect idea. I see it in my mind very clearly as a grid of lines: there’s a line called faith and a line called art and we try to stay right there in that sweet spot where the two of them meet and are happily co-existing.

LM: Who is your audience?

It’s eclectic. I would say the majority are probably college age to early 30s but we have young kids and we have senior adults. It’s mostly people who are intuitive and savvy when it comes to popular culture and the arts. You hear that word “the arts” thrown around and it sounds like this high-minded, Boston Museum of Art kind of term with people buying turtlenecks and being stuffy but we don’t consider the arts that way. We take on pop culture and the arts so anybody who’s into pop culture, who’s into superheroes, who’s into where entertainment and art are going right now, that’s who we try to appeal to.

We don’t go out of our way to say we’re Christians. There’s nothing wrong with doing that—it’s not that we’re ashamed of it in any way. But as soon as you put that out there and say “this is a Christian website,” anyone who’s not a Christian is going to come to the website and say immediately, “Oh this is meant for a club of people that I’m not in.” It builds walls around us and creates a big “us versus them” mentality. We don’t try to turn anybody off that way. It’s sort of an advanced form of evangelism. We talk about Christian ideas, messages, morals and values, and you’re going to see it if you spend any time there but we don’t draw attention to it.

We recently opened up a message board where people can have discussions on their own. We’d like to create a place where people can come together from all walks of life and discuss the big questions of life: does God exist? What is our purpose as human beings if He doesn’t exist? What is all this about? Why are we here? It can’t all be chance, can it? Those kinds of conversations can happen where there are no walls between us.

More from Robin Parrish of INFUZE on Thursday.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chris Tiegreen, Part 2: Artistic Prayer

This week I’m featuring Chris Tiegreen, author of Creative Prayer (Multnomah), and editor of indeed magazine from Walk Thru the Bible (www.walkthru.org).

LM: You write in Creative Prayer that sometimes words are not needed when we pray. Explain what you mean by artistic prayer and give us some examples of how we can pray this way.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So why do we fumble around with a thousand words when we pray? There’s nothing wrong with verbalizing our requests, of course, but why stop there? I think sometimes we tend to explain to God every detail of our prayers, when really we could say, “Lord, you see this picture in my mind? That’s my prayer.” And it’s even better to draw it, write it, sing it, dance it, act it out, or whatever. When we do that, we won’t be able to pray detached prayers, and we’re not likely to forget them the next day. The more senses are involved, the more engaged we are with God and the more we’ll remember our prayers and His answers.

Some people are reluctant to do this because they don’t think they’re creative or talented, so they think their prayers will be insufficient. But the truth is that our words are also insufficient. Paul made that clear (Romans 8:26). Our creative prayers are like a three-year-old bringing mommy a drawing, and she can’t even make out what it is. Does she reject the art? No, she sees the heart behind it and she loves it. I think that’s how it is with God.

LM: What are some ways we can communicate more creatively with God through our senses and circumstances?

Again, the sky’s the limit. (Actually, not even the sky is a limit!) But for a few starters, here’s what I like to do:
• Write your sins or trials in the sand and watch the waves wash them away, asking God to give you a fresh start.
• Eat an ethnic dish to identify with a certain nation, as though it’s becoming part of you. (You are what you eat, right?) Then pray for that country not as an outsider but as its representative.
• With whatever instrument you have, play a melody that reflects your current situation. Then play one that reflects what the situation would look like if God intervened. That tune becomes your prayer.
• Draw a picture of your heart and write all your ugliest attitudes on it. Then erase them and ask God to do the same. Or better yet, throw the whole drawing in your fireplace and ask God to refine and purify you with the flame of His Spirit.
• Act out one of your prayers. You may look like a bad mime, but that’s OK. God won’t mind at all — He’ll love it.

Coming soon: Robin Parrish, creator and editor-in-chief of INFUZE magazine, which “examines the place where art and faith intersect,” and author of two novels, including the brand new Fearless

Monday, July 16, 2007

Chris Tiegreen: Creative Prayer

From time to time I interview people with a special interest in creativity. Author Chris Tiegreen takes that interest one step further--into his prayers. Author of Creative Prayer (Multnomah 2007), Violent Prayer (Multnomah 2006), and several other books, Chris is an editor and writer for indeed magazine at Walk Thru the Bible. Chris has also been a missionary, pastor, and newspaper journalist. He and his family live in Atlanta.

LeAnne: In Creative Prayer, you write that many of us have an unbalanced relationship with God when it comes to how we communicate with Him. What do you mean by that?

If we think about all the ways God has communicated with us, and then compare that to the ways we communicate with Him, it looks pretty lopsided. Not that we can ever match His style, of course, but we can certainly do more than just talk to Him at a set time each day. I look at it like a couple in love, where the guy expresses himself every way he knows how — music, poetry, meals, flowers, dances, etc. -- and the girl just leaves a message on his voicemail every once in a while. That’s the kind of imbalance I see in our relationship with God, and I think we’re missing out on a lot.

LM: You mention that the purpose of your book is to discuss creative expression to God. What is creative prayer?

Creative prayer is praying with our whole being — using all the gifts God has given us to express ourselves. We can draw or paint our prayers, act them out, dance them, sing them, dress to match the mood of our petitions, and much, much more. The possibilities are limitless. We see some very tangible communication with God in the Bible: sights, smells, sounds, movements, etc., through the sacrificial system, the psalms, the lives of the prophets, and in Jesus’ ministry. God’s language seems to be primarily visual, but it covers the whole range of our senses and beyond. That’s an invitation to speak back to Him in a variety of creative ways.

We come into the kingdom through a very narrow gate — Jesus alone — but once inside the gate, the pasture is enormous. God encourages us to get outside the box in our communication with him. We’re never to violate His character or His will, but the means of communication in Scripture is never formulized or even specified. There’s shouting, dancing, instruments, sackcloth, incense, blood, bread, weeping, rejoicing, and on and on. God made us individually for a reason: to express ourselves individually.

More from Chris on Thursday.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Oh My

In a keynote address at a Christian writers conference I attended at Mount Hermon several years ago, Robert Benson (www.robertbensonwriter.com), author of Between the Dreaming and The Coming True and the brand new Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard, tells the story of his visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. After their eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, he and his wife realized they were “standing in the presence of as much art as we were ever going to see again in our entire lives and perhaps all that we would ever need.” His wife whispered, “Oh my.” He said, “Oh my—that someone would do something like this just for the glory of God.”

Even though he and his wife didn’t want to leave the beauty that brought tears to their eyes and lumps to their throats, they caught a plane to take them home again. Robert says, “If I am to do anything just for the glory of God, it will have to be at my house, in my studio, with my dreams, with my blank pieces of paper, and with my sentences.”

This week at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS, www.christianretailshow.com) I’m going to be interviewing Robert about his sentences—about writing and art and storytelling. I’m looking forward to seeing him again and to featuring him on the blog very soon.
I’ll post again on Thursday.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Steve Rooks, Part 2: A God-Given Honor

I’m continuing my interview with dancer Steve Rooks. Steve began his dance training in Washington D.C. with Jan Van Dyke and Greg Reynolds, after graduating with honors from Dartmouth College. He joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in the summer of 1981, and was a Principal Dancer with the company until 1991. In October 1989, Mr. Rooks’ solo, Outside, was selected to be presented in the New Choreographers series during the Graham Company's fall season at the City Center Theater in New York, and one of his works, Cool River, became a part of that company's 1996-1997 Repertory after its World Premiere at Lincoln Center in August 1996.

Mr. Rooks is currently Resident Choreographer and Associate Professor of Dance at Vassar College, and was one of the founding faculty members for the Dance Degree Program at Howard University. He is also a Guest Instructor at the Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham Schools of Dance. Steve would like to thank Jesus Christ for all that has happened to him.

LM: How has your faith affected or impacted your passion for dance?

Particularly now as a teacher, I feel it is a God-given honor to dance and to serve others (as a mentor/teacher) through dance. I don’t think that I could love the art if the Lord had not given me that love. It is pretty impossible for any dancer not to feel that there is a “heavenly endowment” that he/she has been given to experience the world of dance, and I believe that as one passionately seeks to know the giver of all good gifts, it will ultimately lead that person to the feet of Christ.

LM: Have you faced challenges from the world because of your faith?

Yes, but not any different from those challenges that most Christians face as we live in our world. I have had to turn down a couple of opportunities that might have been lucrative but would have put me in a questionable light. And there have been and will always be scoffers who simply believe it’s not possible to call yourself a dancer and serve Jesus.

LM: Have you found that Christians don't understand why you are involved in the arts?

As a young believer many years ago, there were many Christians who simply thought that dance was much too worldly and that God really couldn’t be pleased with any dancer working in a secular world. I have had well-meaning saints tell me that they felt that God wanted me to start a Christian dance school or that dance would only be a pit stop on the way to what the Lord “really wants me to do.”

But things are different now, and there is an entire generation of Christians who are solid in their faith and feel called to serve God in their craft—whether that be in ministry at their home church, or as a Broadway artist, concert dancer, or studio director. In the past, we have made God “too small” and I feel that Christians shunned away from many arenas that desperately needed to have the light of truth. But this is a great day, and I believe that we will see an even greater calling for believer artists!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Steve Rooks: Pursuing Excellence in Dance

Steve Rooks began his dance training in Washington D.C. with Jan Van Dyke and Greg Reynolds, after graduating with honors from Dartmouth College. He joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in the summer of 1981, and was a Principal Dancer with the company until 1991. Mr. Rooks has appeared in the Metropolitan Opera House presentation of Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels televised for "Celebrate! 100 Years of the Lively Arts at the Met". He has appeared in television commercials, and as a featured dancer on the television special, "The Martha Graham Company in Japan." In October 1989, Mr. Rooks’ solo, Outside was selected to be presented in the New Choreographers series during the Graham Company's fall season at the City Center Theater in New York, and one of his works, Cool River became a part of that company's 1996-1997 Repertory after its World Premiere at Lincoln Center in August 1996.

Mr. Rooks has been a guest artist with the Hakodate Ballet in Japan, and toured with the Morning Star Classical Biblical Theater in their 1996 International Tour to Israel. He has portrayed Joseph in the 1996 International Christmas Television Special of Billy Graham Ministries, and in May 1997 appeared as a guest artist with the Great Day Chorale in their performance at Carnegie Hall. He was also the recipient of a Vassar Research Grant for an Artist Residency in Riga, Latvia in May 2002.

Mr. Rooks is currently Resident Choreographer and Associate Professor of Dance at Vassar College, and was one of the founding faculty members for the Dance Degree Program at Howard University. He is also a Guest Instructor at the Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham Schools of Dance. He was a 2001 Artist-in-Residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and has been a member of the International Association of Blacks in Dance. Mr. Rooks has taught internationally at several dance festivals and as a guest instructor for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Symposium on Dance at Yale University and others. Mr. Rooks would like to thank Jesus Christ for all that has happened to him.

LeAnne: For ten years, you were a principal dancer with Martha Graham. What was that experience like?

It was a formidable experience—to have the opportunity to study under the tutelage of one of the leading artists of the 20th century. Even in her latter years, when many of her works lacked the searing impact of some of her earlier classics (like "Appalachian Spring", "Cave of the Heat", "Primitive Mysteries"), Martha’s concept of theater and the dramatic use of the stage space was unparalleled. Her approach to dance still impacts my teaching and creativity to date (under a great shadow!) and at a time when this term has lost a lot of credibility, she was truly a “genius.”

LM: You're an Associate Professor of Dance and Resident Choreographer at Vassar College, and you teach regularly elsewhere as well. How would you encourage your students and other artists trying to live their Christian faith in the world?

The call to be light and salt (a “witness”) in the dance world is no different from the call to live out one’s faith as a lawyer, a stay-at-home parent, a plumber, or a pastor. So much of our effectiveness as a believer is how we approach and execute our craft. There is a scripture that has been a kind of “blue print” for my walk—Colossians 3:23-24 says:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

The bottom line is that we need to pursue excellence and integrity in our work not to make us look good, but to give God glory. Once people find out that you are a follower of Christ, your life immediately goes under a microscope (and that is a good thing!). We need to reveal God’s nature in how we approach life in our successes—and in our failures.

More from Steve Rooks on Thursday.

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