Deeply Rooted Dance Theater loves storytelling, and what story is bigger or better known than the Exodus, the biblical saga of the Israelites’ flight from their Egyptian captors, with the separation of the Red Sea?
A contemporary reinterpretation of this ancient tale is at the heart of âGoshen,â a developing dance-theater work created by Donald Lawrence, a Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and gospel artist based in Chicago.
Deeply Rooted and 17 singers on stage will present a free preview – a 45-minute version of what should ultimately be a 90-minute work – on August 25 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
The presentation is titled “A Deep Rooted Evening for Healing Chicago: GOSHEN (preview), âa nod to the show’s schedule a few months after the coronavirus shutdown as arts organizations begin to return to live performances.
âIt’s about persevering and going through tough times and healing, so we wanted to do it as a gift to Chicago,â Kevin Iega Jeff said of âGoshenâ. He is co-founder of Deeply Rooted and Creative / Executive Director and Director of this project.
Lawrence conceived âGoshenâ circa 2016 as a recording for his gospel choir, the Tri-City Singers (from three Carolinian towns), to mark his 25th.e anniversary, but he saw the project from the start as the core of a dance-theater piece.
The album, which was released in February 2019, received a Grammy nomination in the gospel category, and its hit single, “Deliver Me. This Is My Exodus,” was named Billboard’s most played gospel song this year. -the.
Goshen is named in the Bible as the place in Egypt where Joseph, an expelled Israelite who rose to become the second behind Pharaoh, invited his countrymen to live after a severe famine. Much later, the Israelite descendants were enslaved, ultimately leading to the Exodus.
âGoshen was considered the safe place of God,â Lawrence said, âbut if you want to use more spiritual and psychological wisdom, it’s like that place of peace and security no matter what is going on around you. , and everything is inside. “
While gospel is the basis of Lawrence’s musical language, other styles appear as well. He studied musical theater at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and coached En Vogue, an R&B and pop superstar vocal group.
âWhen you hear my music,â he says, âit shows you the places I’ve lived musically, whether it’s urban music and R&B, gospel, musical theater, jazz or swing. I just throw it all in a bowl and see what’s up with the art.
After the album’s debut, Lawrence began work on transforming “Goshen” into a dance-theater work and contacted Deeply Rooted, a company that mixes several styles of dance, including ballet, modern techniques. (Lester Horton and Martha Graham) and African. .
The project made sense for the African-American company, said Nicole Clarke-Springer, who is in her second season as artistic director, in part because of the central place of gospel music in the black tradition. âIt’s really an integral part of who we are and how we communicate and have communicated throughout history,â she said.
In preparation for a production workshop of ‘Goshen’ in December 2019 (the next performance marking Deeply Rooted’s 25e anniversary is a repeat of this presentation with some tweaks), five choreographers teamed up to create the dance, each taking different sections. In addition to Jeff and Clarke-Singer, these included Gary Abbott, co-founder and associate director of Deeply Rooted; Joshua L. Ishmon, longtime rehearsal director and dancer, and guest choreographer Tshediso Kabulu from South Africa.
âWe have a wide variety of styles that are incorporated into flowing and mesh,â Clarke-Springer said. âWe all have a common thread as choreographers: an understanding of the music, the story and what has to happen inside each movement. “
Sure, dancing for the sake of dancing can be effective, Ishmon said, but allowing audiences to invest in a script allows for a deeper experience. âI think we are doing it well,â he said. “Even in an abstract work like ‘Goshen’, the journey that you go through visually and sonically, it still resonates strongly with people.”
The 10 dancers from Deeply Rooted Company and two apprentices will join 12 choristers from The NuXperience, who will be integrated into the movement. Also in attendance will be gospel singer Le’Andria Johnson and the lead vocalists of the Tri-City Singers.
The full-length version of “Goshen” was scheduled to premiere in May 2020 under the auspices of Broadway in Chicago, but it was canceled due to the coronavirus shutdown. With the help of this second preview performance, Lawrence and his collaborators hope to get the project back on track.
âIt’s a beautiful journey of a show in which to dance, watch, hear,â Ishmon said. âIt appeals to all of your senses. “
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.