Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ad Deum Dance Company


This piece in The Houston Chronicle is a result of many rich conversations with Randall Flinn on the subject of dance and faith. As a lapsed atheist (who knows what that is) I started with a good dose of suspicion and ended with a sense of respect. My gracious thanks to Flinn for being so available to help me understand his process.


Randall Flinn may have named his company Ad Deum, Latin for "To God," but don't expect his performances to feature choir-robed dancers re-enacting Bible stories. Flinn's combination of faith and choreography is much larger than that. "I create work from a biblical point of view, which encompasses a huge realm in the human experience," he explains.

"In fact, I consider the Bible itself to be a work of art."

Flinn, an ordained minister and 25-year member of Turning Point Ministries, keeps his churchgoing life and dance-making life separate, aside from an occasional Christmas show.

"I know that there are some ... that would find it a lot simpler to box the mission of Ad Deum into a certain classification, be it liturgical, evangelical or Christian art," Flinn says.

"The artist who believes in God should be making important contributions to the whole of life, not just a religious component."

Flinn's pieces resemble typical modern dances. Instead of Christian music, he prefers using popular, classical and world music. His dancers come from many religious traditions, including non-Christian ones.

"Often, dancers are drawn to us because of what we stand for," says Flinn, who formed Ad Deum in 2000. "But there's no specific denomination or church that we attend together."

Ad Deum member Bethany Brantley, who trained in a Christian dance studio in College Station, found a spiritual and artistic home in the company. "It's so rewarding for me to be able to express my beliefs through dancing," says Brantley, 19. "I am privileged to be able to dance pieces with these amazingly positive messages."

Flinn, 50, and his dancers do pray together. Group blessings start rehearsals. "We pray for family members, healing an injury, whatever is on our minds," Flinn says. The troupe also prays before it performs. "As an artist who believes in God, I also believe that the world is the stage that God sets before me to offer and serve with the gift that has been entrusted to me, which happens to be dance."

Flinn admits that religion and art can be a volatile mix. "In politics it's considered fair game to talk about your faith; in art, not so much," he says. "It's almost considered taboo in the art world to include your faith in the creative process."

Flinn, who cites many biblical references to artists and creativity, likes to remind people that art and religion have a long history together.

"J.S. Bach, one of the world's greatest artists, signed every composition with these words, 'solo deo gloria,' (to the glory of God). He saw himself as God's artistic servant, and he gave the world his blessing. That's what I hope to do as well," Flinn says.