Alexandra Lowery puts poetry and the Psalms to dance, a physical expression of a spiritual connection.
ALEXANDRA Caverly Lowery has danced for God for over 50 years. A student and teacher at the National Ballet School, a tenured professor of dance at York University, she has long been a liturgical dancer and choreographer.
When she was five, her dance lessons and her Sunday school class were both held in the basement of St. Barnabas Anglican church in St. Lambert, Que. So God and dance were “home” to her. Later, in the 1970’s, Graham Tucker, then director of the Aurora Conference Centre, told her, “You have to bring together your love for God and your love for dance.”
“I didn’t quite know what he was talking about,” she said. “He gave me a poem he had written, the first line of which was, ‘Lord of my life, come dance with me,’ and I created movement for the images. This became my first danced prayer.”
As a classical dancer she knew all the steps and techniques but only when she began to move to the images of poetry and Psalms did she discover the language of her soul and her true life as a dancer.
Her liturgical dance work awakened an enormous thirst in her for theology “in order to ‘speak’ to the deep issues of our time.” This thirst resulted in master’s degrees in divinity and theology.
“Dance is movement,” she says. “Everyone can experiment with the simple everyday movements we all do. We can create shapes of images in the Sanctus, the Kyrie, the deep biblical themes and in story and prayer for fresh interpretations. Sometimes the trained dancer is so focused on technique that it may be harder for her/him to tap into the spirit. However, to have trained and experienced artists involved in the church is valuable and necessary to keep the art alive.”
An all day arts event was recently held at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto in which Alexandra was significantly involved. This event was in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Sacred Arts Trust of the Anglican Foundation of Canada. There was a full day of multiple arts offerings, which culminated in a remarkable art-filled liturgy. There were mimes, verbal storytellers, singers, musicians, dancers and a feast of visual art. Alexandra, with Graham Cotter (patron of the trust) and nine-year-old Adam Nychka, moved out the story of Abraham, Sara and Isaac – a combined performance of professional and amateur dancers that proved to be the highlight of a glorious evening.
Dance expression transcends generations. “I have such a commitment to the movement of all the generations,” she said. “My mum is now in a long term nursing facility and, as an artist, I observe and think about the movement of the elders. The dance never stops. There is such wisdom in the shapes of our experience.”
“I actually have begun my own dance as an elder. I’ve just had a hip replacement, I have arthritis all over my body and I’m birthing new movements that I’ve never done before around the obstacles. There is such richness in the smaller movements. If I am on my death-bed and moving one single joint or one single finger, I will be giving thanks for that movement and saying I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful time.”
Sally Armour Wotton is adjunct professor at Trinity Divinity School, Toronto, teaching liturgical drama.