BY Crystal Rodriguez
This past Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Blooming Arts Festival opened with the bending, twisting and contorting of Anna Botts. She swayed in silence, captivating an entire audience with the story she told through movement.
Her arms extended out to the audience only to be pulled back in. Botts leapt mid air, her body spread across expanse then crawled and writhed on the wooden floors. The lack of music only strengthened the atmosphere, hearing your own breath and heart beat rise and fall as her body did.
The next performer was Lisa Higbee in collaboration with Cedric Penn and Kimberly Applewhite – Teiler. No one knew what to expect and the title of her song The Olive Tree gave no clue as to what was to arise.
Higbee began her song. Her voice was sweet simplicity that lingered in the room like a bell tolled in the distance. After the first note, Penn and Applewhite began. Their arm movements in accordance to every word created a romantic relationship between the two.
There is a passion in the subtle movements of the hand. Their hands moved close to their chest then sliced through the air with elegance. The shapes formed by their movement seemed to stand still as their hands continued to move. And with every word said and every movement made the two became one. And The Olive Tree was no longer a sequence of letters, vowels and sounds but of movement, shapes, and symbols.
This display of song and movement was not just a beautiful display but spoke far beyond an art form. American Sign Language is a form of communication that has often gone unnoticed – a lost language.
The deaf congregation in the Church inspired Higbee to write The Olive Tree. “I’m struck with the beauty of the language,” said Higbee, after her performance. She took it one step further and collaborated with a deaf member of the congregation Penn and an ASL translator Applewhite.
Cedric “helped me translate what I wanted to convey in ASL” said Higbee.
Then it came time to interview Penn. I wasn’t sure who to turn to, Applewhite or Penn, and blushed in my inability to communicate. As I tripped over my words Applewhite stood alongside me, her hands swift and precise. And as I spoke and Applewhite moved, I felt for a moment I was a part of the beauty and magnificent relationship between what we communicate and what we mean. All of my words were captured in symbolism.
Penn’s hands told me what he felt when he did ASL. “He feels the spirit” translated Applewhite. Penn told me “ASL is poetry” and as he told me this, his arms moved in-between us, filling the space words never could. I believed him.
Penn is a professional dancer with the Def Dance Jam Workshop. “He helps people incorporate ASL into their language” said Applewhite. Penn explained how different ASL is to English.” English is more for reading and writing, its different” translates Applewhite. But English and ASL together is an art said Penn.
The last dance performance was Shaun Parry’s Somebody Out There in collaboration with other modern dancers. The dance was hopeful and told a story of humanity and compassion.
The audience moved to the chapel for the song portion of the festival. First to the stage were the Uptown Women, conductor Martha Sullivan and Dave Wozniak on alto sax. The song Fish was unalike anything one would hear in a chapel setting. The women made fish sounds, whispered, and hit beautiful high notes as they told a tale of, well, fish.
The night ended with many vocal and instrumental acts. Children played violins and the audience was captivated by the opera performances.
It was beautiful to see such a talented community coming together for a night of song, dance and food. Nancy Scott, the chair of the activities committee at the church, out did herself. The event was elegant and as charming as the many children running around with grapes and crackers stuffed in their cheeks.
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