May 20, 2019

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‘Seraphic Track Stars’ Dancing About Freedom at the Met

‘Seraphic Track Stars’ Dancing About Freedom at the Met
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Even for a ballet dancer, Mr. Farley, nearly 6 feet 6 inches tall, is statuesque. He has legs for days, hands that dance elegantly in the air and a beaming smile. His impressive presence has to do with more than his physicality; it has a spiritual side too. As he sees it, his faith is intertwined with ballet. “I was first introduced to dance in the context of worship,” he said. “The first time I saw a ballet was when a company from Mississippi came to perform at our church. I was 6.”

The original seed of “Songs From the Spirit” was planted at Redeemer Presbyterian Church West Side in Manhattan, where Mr. Farley performed a liturgical dance during the offertory portion of a Sunday service. This work “was always worship before it was a performance,” Mr. Farley said. “It was about, ‘I’ve been entrusted with this gift, and I’m offering it.’”

On a recent morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mr. Farley stood in the gallery of the Assyrian Court of Ashurnasirpal II and gestured at the reliefs taken from one of his palaces. “Some of these stances you see are in the choreography,” he said. “These very substantial male figures that are very delicately holding these little bowls. It’s such a contrast between the sensitivity and the strength. And that’s so much like the male ballet dancer. It’s power and poetry.”

The gallery has a heaviness to it; it’s dark and enclosed, almost like a prison cell. “That’s really the spirit that the ballet begins in,” Mr. Farley said. “We’re literally covering the history of the world in its geography, in its art — we’re traveling from the court of Ashurnasirpal all the way to 19th-century American sculpture to music that’s been written in the past few months by these guys. It is both ancient and imminent.”

The dancers, Mr. Farley said, will wear white clothing and sneakers to look “like seraphic track stars — a bit artist and a bit athlete and a bit angel.”

As they lead the way to the Asian art wing, they will perform a procession set to a percussive, soulful song, “Blinded by the Light,” by Calvin Johnson, who has since been released from San Quentin. The dancers glide forward in crisp footwork and sleek swirling turns before dashing away. At a recent rehearsal, one of the dancers, Claire Kretzschmar — a City Ballet soloist — aimed her arms as if she were about to shoot a bow and arrow. “Oh,” Mr. Farley said happily. “Do a little Diana!”

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