On the second floor of the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), six dancers weave in and out of each other.
This is “Gather Up the Fragments,” a performance series created through a collaboration between Loyola University Chicago’s Dance Department and Film and Digital Media program in conjunction with the LUMA exhibit, “Gather Up the Fragments.”
Earlier last spring, LUMA commissioned Loyola dance professor Amy Wilkinson with coreographing a dance that commemorated the life, religion and culture of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing — also known as Shakers.
Similar to Quakers, Shakers practice a religion and lifestyle based on the belief that God is both male and female and the belief that it is possible to achieve heaven on Earth in every aspect of life. There are only three Shakers left in the world.
Wilkinson had contacted LUMA to see if they were interested in integraring dance into the exhibit. She then heard from Pam Ambrose, the director of Cultural Affairs at LUMA, that the “Gather Up the Fragments” exhibit would be enhanced by live dance.
What distinguishes Shakers from Quakers is their use of dance in worship. There is early documentation of Shakers rolling on the floor, jumping, hugging and flicking arms and legs — which later turned into set, linear movement involving marching.
Until March 28, visitors to the museum have a chance to learn the importance of dance in Shaker culture and worship through seeing Shaker-inspired dance and participating in a Q&A session with the dancers.
The dancers in the “Gather Up” project include 12 Loyola dance majors and minors who trade off performances.
Dance majors performed the “Gather Up” project for the first time at the mainstage dance concert, put on every year in February. At LUMA, Shaker artifacts surround the dancers as they perform an adaptaion of the piece.
Accompanying the exhibit is a documentary explaining the creative and choreographic process behind the piece. Aaron Greer, Loyola’s program director of Film and Digital Media, filmed and produced the documentary with a team of undergrad students.
Greer said the documentary allows those who were not a part of the “Gather Up” project to understand all of the work that went into creating the dance and digital media.
Wilkinson’s piece incorporates the freedom of Shaker movement into her contemporary-modern piece through rapid flicking and fast-paced movement, while using choreography to symbolize the linear structure in which Shaker dance later evolved.
She concentrates on three principles of Shaker culture in her choreography: strong community, integration of the material and spiritual world and the expression of “something spiritual through the body.” All of this can be seen in the deep breathing and hand-holding that recurs throughout the piece.
Separate from the documentary, Greer and the student film crew also headed created digital media component to go with the piece. A digital media grant from Loyola’s Center for Interdisciplinary Thinking went toward the technology necessary to create projections displayed either on sheets in Katherine Mullady Theatre or pillars in LUMA.
Using the projections, Wilkinson incorporates another prominent part of Shaker culture: the equality and separation of the sexes. Members from the all-female cast were filmed dressed as male Shakers and the footage was used to create male Shaker silhouettes that are projected into the performance space.
According to Wilkinson, the male projections remind the audience of how male and female Shakers came together for worship ceremonies, often dancing together. The silhouettes also add a separation between the live dancers and projections, symbolic of the complete separation of the sexes that the Shakers embrace.
Sarah Prinz, a senior film major and member of the “Gather Up” film crew, said the collaboration helped her learn how to use the strengths of all the departments participating in the project.
“We all wanted to be really collaborative in the way that we worked, but at some points, it was like, ‘OK, this is where my expertise ends and yours begins,’” said Prinz.
Mary O’Rourke, a senior dance major participating in “Gather Up the Fragments,” said she feels the LUMA space adds intimacy to the performance.
“The first time I was in the space, I felt surrounded by pure simplicity and the effort to be excellent, and that really made ends meet for me in my work and dancing in the piece,” said O’Rourke.
Wilkinson said it is important for students to see “Gather Up the Fragments,” both the exhibit and the dance-media work.
“Investigating artwork and creative work on campus” adds to the excellence and well-roundedness Loyola fosters in its students, according to Wilkinson.
“There’s something exciting about being a Catholic institution that also has a strong sense of welcoming other religions, not just people, but dialogue about spiritual things and about religion because obviously that’s a significant aspect of the human experience,” Wilkinson said.
On March 28 at 3 p.m., the dancers of “Gather Up” will perform for the final time as a part of the exhibit. The performance is free to anyone with a student ID. The exhibit at LUMA will continue until April 26, 2015.