JArts commissioned Boston Dance Theater to create a light themed piece for the 2020 Hanukkah celebration with the MFA. Originally planned to be performed in a gallery, the piece was filmed in a studio during Covid-19 and shown as part of the December 9th virtual program.
Here are some words from Boston Dance Theater Artistic Director Jessie Jeanne Stinnett to illuminate the process and themes behind this powerful new work.
Rather than keying into religious iconography or approaching themes of Hanukkah from a narrative perspective, I chose to work with the idea of light, like the flames of the oil lamp in relation to the back plate. I thought about the relationship between light, shadow and the dancing body.
I began my creative process by collaborating first with the curators of the Judaica collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The initial inspiration for this piece was an 18th-century Hanukkah oil lamp originally from Augsburg, Germany.
Hyman Bloom, rather than interpret forms that he sees, would capture the inner experience of the object. I felt a strong connection to this as a dancer; improvisation is about tapping into inner sensation and giving it form through the body by carrying weight, in space and time.
As a dance-maker from a musical family, I regularly work between the relationship of sound and form. I feel a strong connection to the concept of synesthesia, which the painter Kandinsky had; when he heard sounds he saw colors and would translate sounds into colors and shapes on canvas. Similarly, I am particularly sensitive to sound and often see movement in forms and colors with relationship to particular sounds. For this commission, however, I took on the challenge of designing a piece motivated by the visual qualities of the oil lamp, working with the ideas of refractive light and sensation.
“Shadows and Flame” is a co-commission by the Jewish Arts Collaborative and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston for their annual Hanukkah celebration. Co-director Jessie Jeanne Stinnett had originally been asked to choreograph a dance work that would live in the gallery space for an audience of 3,000 people. The project shifted, however, in favor of a dance film collaboration with Ernesto Galan of Scalped Productions, where dancers can be viewed from only a single light source and the light and shadow of their dancing bodies is at play. Grant Stinnett, Jessie’s brother, composed the score for this work, creating a tone scale that references traditional Hebrew folk songs.
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