Mercyhurst Liturgical Dance Ensemble to join Sacred Song Service

Carmina Burana is not the only inter-arts collaboration happening in the Amphitheater this weekend.

The Sacred Song Service at 8 p.m. Sunday will include the Chautauqua Choir and Massey Memorial Organ as usual, plus the visiting Rochester Oratorical Society, but those elements will join with the Liturgical Dance Ensemble from Mercyhurst University. C. Noelle Partusch leads the ensemble.

“I’ve long been wanting to do something with sacred movement here,” said Chautauqua Institution Organist Jared Jacobsen. “It’s a little terrifying, because some people have the wrong idea of dancing at the altar. They think it’s going to be Salome and the seven veils dancing around with John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter.”

According to Partusch, her dancers will not be performing anything so exotic. While sacred dance has no particular style, Partusch said liturgical dance is sacred movement that is meant to fit in with the liturgy of a particular service or denomination.

“Sacred dance is basically any sort of dance,” Partusch said. “It’s not a style. It’s an intent. It’s any style that people do, and whatever is sacred to them. It’s different in every culture, and it’s more broad than any religion.”

Partusch serves as co-vice president of the Sacred Dance Guild and Associate Professor of Dance at Mercyhurst. The members of the Liturgical Dance Ensemble who will perform at Chautauqua are her students, who were awarded scholarships to attend the Sacred Dance Guild Festival this weekend in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The students will perform during the traditional opening and closing numbers of the Sacred Song Service, “Day is Dying in the West,” “Now the Day is Over, Night is Drawing Nigh,” and Handel’s “Largo.”

“I had to really think hard and gulp when I said I would let them dance to Handel’s Largo,” Jacobsen said. “People are very personal about it, and there will be people who are going to want my head on a silver platter for doing this. But I trust these people who are coming to work with us, and I trust them to climb into the magic of that piece.”

The group will also improvise to “Alleluja” as a complement to the Trinity Dancers’ performance to the same song during the Morning Worship Service.

“[Jacobsen] said it would be cool to see what [we] could do to the same piece [as the Trinity group] and it’s very free and open and smooth and maybe [we] could just improvise to it,” Partusch said. “We’re just going to move as the spirit sees fit.”

The Liturgical Dance Ensemble has traveled throughout the United States and has performed in Jerusalem and Sydney. However, Partusch emphasized that sacred dance can be done by anyone of any religion or level of training.

“If you have the intent in your heart that you want to do something in a scared vein, you can do it,” Partusch said. “There are all different kinds of dance, but it’s the intent that makes it sacred.”