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Art as Non-Performative

Savion Glover was at the Joyce Theater in New York City this summer. I didn’t know anything about his production, “Om,” but had seen him perform before and was willing to be completely surprised. And I was.

The curtain opened on a stage filled with pictures of religious figures and tap dancing icons, surrounded by candles and items of special significance such as religious texts or seminal music albums. There were also five or six individuals who sat and meditated on the stage throughout. Savion Glover danced for close to ninety minutes without stopping moving. His eyes were closed throughout, as were the eyes of the others as they danced their solos. This was dance and music as meditation, as prayer, as internal experience.

Even though the iconography on the stage felt heavy-handed at first, it made increasing sense to me; Savion Glover was inviting us, the audience, to experience the dance as the “performers” were. He was inviting us to experience the dance, not as separate spectators, but as equal participants in an experience of contemplation, and potential transcendence.

With the stage thus set up he was inviting us to not clap or praise the dancers as one might be inclined. It felt almost too sacred to clap (although people did at the end), and this seemed to be exactly the point. And so for the first time, I experienced dance as the dancer must experience it at times – as inner experience; as a practice of inner contemplation, personal communication, and meditation.

This is certainly how I experience the arts in the comfort of my own living room, or the comfort of my own music therapy office. I had never before witnessed dancers capturing so clearly the ways that I understand music as a human resource for health and wellbeing. Savion Glover didn’t so much perform, as demonstrate the resourceful qualities of dance and music. The dancers were there to bring us into their internal experience of prayer, supplication, praise, and joy in the music-dance; the closest example I’ve witnessed of art, not for performance, but for art’s sake.

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