Arts and Minds: a cultre of encouter

Dominican's arts and lecture series kicks off with 'The Good Lovelies'

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

An all-female trio, called The Good Lovelies, will kick off the 2013-14 season at Dominican University's Performing Arts Center with a concert this Saturday.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called the trio "sharp, sassy and funny." They added, "The Good Lovelies are not your run-of-the-mill 'all girl' band. Described as folk-roots and western swing, the Toronto-based trio relies on unerring three-part vocal harmonies, clever songs and, onstage, convulsively funny repartee."

On Dec. 6, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will put on a holiday party that definitely takes place outside the box of traditional carols and hot apple cider. The nine piece band's website says the group helped "usher in the swing revival founded on a colorful fusion of classic American sounds, including jazz, swing, and dixieland, mixed with the energy and spirit of contemporary culture. … They reminded the world — in the middle of the grunge era, no less — that it was still cool to swing, big-band style."

On March 15, Pat Hazell stars in "The Wonder Bread Years," a salute to the Baby Boomer Generation, described as "a fast-paced, hilarious production that gracefully walks the line between stand-up and theater" and promises to "restore a much-needed sense of wonder."

Leslie Rodriguez, managing director of the Dominican University Performing Arts Center, said that when she was booking the performers for this year's season, the country was in the middle of a "rough political fight and people were feeling very heavy." She saw it as "an opportunity to plan a season that was fun and celebratory with some really diverse artists."

Or, as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation put it in describing the Good Lovelies: "At a time when too many of us are affected by gloom, doom and recovering from recession these three women are the perfect antidote."

Highlighting the series of antidotes to gloom and doom will be a concert by Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Feb. 8. The world famous group won't bring silliness or levity to the Lund Auditorium stage. What they will bring, said Rodriguez, is joy.

"Their history is amazing," she said, "and what they have grown to represent in the world at large, I think, speaks to what can be accomplished through the strength of the human spirit and a joyful celebration of that spirit."

In addition, jazz virtuoso Kurt Elling will perform on Oct. 19; Japanese storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto will bring traditional Japanese folktales to life on Jan. 25; Matthew Morrison of Glee fame will be featured in the 34th Annual Trustee Benefit Concert on March 8; and the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble brings their fusion of Cuban rhythms and modern jazz harmony on April 26. Three plays — The Drowsy Chaperone, Extremities, and Shakespeare's As You Like It — will be staged as well.

The humorous and the joyful, Rodriguez explained, both have roots in a Catholic world view.

"Our objective for the Performing Arts Center," she said, "is to speak to the part of Dominican University's mission which is to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world. We find that the arts are an excellent avenue for touching people viscerally, so when they leave the campus, they can incorporate that mission into their world in some way.

"What we do in the Performing Arts Center," she added, "is not driven by doctrine. It's driven by a broader sense of the mission which can be expressed to a broader audience."

Signs of God

Claire Noonan, director of the Siena Center, located on the Priory Campus of Dominican University, restated Rodriguez's comments in more theological terms. She quoted the late theologian Teilhard de Chardin who observed, "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God."

She noted that Christians in the Catholic tradition do not feel compelled to always speak the name of God or Jesus to feel like they are being faithful to their calling. She said the Catholic tradition is very open to the world on its own terms, that nature itself, human culture and even other religions are graced. She referred to the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate which, among other things, acknowledged that although the Catholic tradition may be the bearer of ultimate truth regarding salvation, all religions are vehicles of truth from which Christians can learn and which can be incorporated into their own view of the world.

"It's not that Leslie's programming is a tool of evangelization or that it's filled with explicitly Christian language," said Noonan, "but the ethical perspective, the call to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world is deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition and supported directly by Catholic doctrine."

The presentations which the Siena Center contributes to the university's Arts and Minds Series explore "the intersection of faith and culture."

"What we try to do," Noonan explained, "is present topics of pressing contemporary interest and look at them through the lens of theological scholarship and Christian belief." The best-known speaker in the lecture series this school year is Sister Joan Chittister, who, said Noonan, "crosses ecumenical and interfaith boundaries very well." According to the series brochure, Chittister's lecture on Oct. 20 will be a reflection on "the harsh realities of life for far too many women around the world today" as well as a sharing of "stories of women who are changing life for all women, through their work, their dedication and their commitment to make the world a better place."

Other lectures include Sister Ilia Delio on Nov. 14 discussing "The Coming of the Cosmic Person: God, Evolution and the Power of Love" and William Cavanaugh on Nov. 19 asking, "Do Catholics Make Good Americans? The Catholic Church and Political Homelessness in America."

Rodriguez cited their World Arts program to support the assertion that the Catholic tradition is open to the world. Working closely with Eboo Patel, who heads up the Interfaith Youth Core, Rodriguez brought in Tibetan monks who, in their week-long residence, constructed "a beautiful sand mandala of compassion in the library."

Referring to Pope Francis' now famous "Who am I to judge?" response, Noonan explained that the leader of her church was encouraging the creation of a "culture of encounter."

"He's talking about encounter as the vehicle for creating solidarity among people," Noonan said. "He means that the most important thing is that I meet you, and then we'll go from there. Once I know you, I can no longer pretend that you do not exist."

Noonan used a similar term, hermeneutic of appreciation, to talk about the work Dominican University has done with Patel.

"With regard to interfaith work," she said, "what this project is not all about is 'let's all be nice to each other and not talk about what's different.' Rather, let's do a common project together, talk about why we're doing it and listen to each other. What is it about your tradition that is so important to you and that I can appreciate?"

Bringing the discussion back to the upcoming season at the Performing Arts Center, Rodriguez said it's all about personalizing an issue, "taking it from being an abstraction to making it a person, an individual with whom you have had an encounter.

"Our season provides opportunities for encounter in many different ways," she said, "because people respond so differently to different media and different topics. You can see a comedy and come away with an enlightened viewpoint. You can hear a concert and come away with an experience you didn't anticipate. It's all about a culture of encounter."


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