All Saints’ Day 2018 in Toronto dawned with chilly temperatures and showers in the forecast as the city prepared to host the gathering of the Parliament of the World's Religions. Marilyn Green had come to Toronto with members of the Trinity Movement Choir.
“We went to Toronto to dance Reconciliation,” Green said, referring to the sacred dance that she and the Trinity Movement Choir had first introduced in 2011 on the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
As Green and her fellow dancers rehearsed in Toronto, more than 2,500 miles to the southwest, a caravan of men, women, and children from Central America was converging on Tijuana, Mexico, seeking asylum and hoping to enter the United States.
Eventually, about 35,000 migrants would arrive in Tijuana (photo above), but the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border was only one example of an international crisis. The United Nations estimates that there are more than 82 million people worldwide who can be described as “forcibly displaced.”
“I had known about things, piecemeal, but not the worldwide picture, and I was appalled,” Green said. “I started to form the idea of a piece that addressed the situation of the refugee.”
That “idea” eventually became Humankind, a sacred dance which will be presented online December 3 at 7:30pm.
“What we wanted to do was affirm what’s really important about human society and it came down for me that everyone is connected, that you can’t do something to some of us without doing it to all of us,” Green said.
The central visual element of Humankind is a 30-foot-long red cloth. The cloth is cut with five holes for the heads of dancers; no dancer can move individually without affecting all the others. When the Parliament of World Religions met again this year, online because of the pandemic, Green and Trinity parishioner Karla Chee-a-tow received a request to offer Humankind to participants.
“We had no rehearsal space available because of the COVID restrictions,” Green said. “So, there was no way we were going to take this very complex dance that requires about three months of rehearsal and present it.”
Somewhat miraculously, 22 dancers were recruited from eastern Canada for in-person rehearsals in Ottawa that were directed by Wendy Morrell, president of the Sacred Dance Guild, while Green monitored the rehearsals via her laptop in the United States. She says the headlines of late summer reinforced for her the importance of Humankind.
“It got more relevant as we started doing it because Afghanistan, the withdrawal, happened smack in the middle of rehearsals.”
The performances in Canada were recorded on video, then edited to include the virtual Movement Choir, comprised of more than two dozen people, including several members of the Trinity community, dancing virtually (photo above) from around the world. Despite the short deadline, the video was completed in time to be presented online in October to the Parliament of the World's Religions. The December 3 online event will feature that same video.
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, Trinity’s Associate Director of Spiritual Practices, Retreats, and Pilgrimage, contributed her photographs to Humankind to demonstrate the sacredness of all people as they go about the ordinary daily actions of their lives. If public health conditions permit, Marilyn Green hopes Humankind can be staged for an in-person audience at Trinity Church Wall Street in December 2022.
Humankind has powerfully affected the dancers involved, according to Green, who recalls a teenager playing the role of a “gatekeeper” who either keeps people out or allows them to enter the cloth while dancing.
“He almost broke down in the middle of it and said, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ It was so poignant. One gatekeeper kept this one family out and finally let them in, and as they went in, the five-year-old child reached for the gatekeeper to bring him in too.
“We were all in tears at times during the process.”
The theme of the 2018 Parliament of World Religions, the gathering from which Humankind evolved, was “The Promise of Inclusion & the Power of Love.” However, Marilyn Green believes the sacred dance is animated by much older language.
“We use the Leviticus quote [19:34] about treating the stranger among you as you would treat your own. That was my bottom line on this.
“That’s the only propaganda if you like, I put into it, portraying the desirability and the inherent quality of a connected, diverse society.”
Trinity's Movement Choir joins with the International Sacred Dance Guild to perform "Humankind" on Friday, December 3 at 7:30pm. This online dance performance addresses the life of our neighbors who are global refugees, including issues of uprooting and trauma, insularity and acceptance, assimilation and diversity, and affirms the truth that all of humanity is essentially connected.