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Cultivating the C in CC experience | The Gustavian Weekly

By Monali Bhakta - Staff Writer | December 6, 2019 | Variety

When it comes to choosing the theme for Christmas in Christ Chapel, the Chaplain’s Office is responsible for planning this beautiful, heart-warming event.

A committee of about 11 members is led by the Artistic Director who brainstorms an idea and brings it to the entire group, receiving feedback from the committee on what the overall theme should be.

They convene a year in advance in December or January to start the planning process.

This year’s Artistic Director was Chaplain Siri Erickson, who is currently completing her doctorate, and will graduate in May.

One of the classes she is completing for her doctorate focuses on reading the Bible through the lens of immigration and migration.

“In the Bible, there are various stories where people are continuously moving, whether because of famine where they must move to find food for their family…or God is calling them to cross the border and move into a new land. People are migrating because of various reasons” Erickson said.

The Gospel of Matthew shows how Jesus’ birth is surrounded by stories of border crossings.

She highlights how God cannot be contained by any border through encouraging people to find love and peace with each other.

She wants people to be reminded of how this connects to our world today, as people are migrating in search of safety, opportunity and a better life for their families.

While Christmas in Christ Chapel does not convey a particular political statement, it is important to consider how the meaning of love and togetherness transcends constructed borders, providing a sense of compassion for the immigrants coming to our land.

We are all people that do not need to be divided. This universal concept of acceptance toward all individuals, regardless of where they come from, serves as the inspiration for the musical selections for this year.

There are traditional arrangements of hymns, along with modern works created by contemporary composers.

“Some of the pieces of music that were chosen deal with specific communities and cultures and people who have experienced border crossings in different ways, whether physical or otherwise,” Choir Director Brandon Dean said.

The choral arts are responsible for connecting the music to scriptural or poetic texts. It helps to put a reflective narrative for the audience during the service.

Making relevant musical selections is crucial because text is meant to inform the music, and vice versa, so they work symbiotically to make the whole show flow.

This theme of coexistence is reflected in how the different ensembles will have subsections singing together.

This includes having tenors and basses from Chapel Choir and Gustavus Choir singing a small feature within a larger work.

From there, the Lucia Choirs will join in, along with the sopranos and altos from Chapel Choir and Gustavus Choir filling in the rest.

There is an intentional effort to collaborate on pieces, which shows the musical dedication to the selected theme.

The music is so powerful, and the expression is breathtaking, whether being in attendance or viewing it from live stream.

Professor of Theatre and Dance, Michele Rusinko, was chosen as the lead choreographer.

The dance pieces are meant to follow the history of immigration, primarily refugees who are leaving the land they are most familiar with and assimilating into a place where they would be strangers.

She had an idea  that visually represented people from different times and places.

Instead of having the choirs enter through the Chapel in the beginning, a change that has been made this year is having the dancers enter first.

There will be traditional Hmong and African dances showcasing the vast number of places that people travel from.

Gradually throughout the program, there will be a mesh of people on stage depicting the interconnectedness of immigrants during multiple generations and showing how we are all united together.

Nothing should be able to separate us after all this time of being with one another.

Rusinko really wanted to capture the stories of the Southeast Asian immigrants who came during the Vietnam War era, wanting this portrayal to be in the truest, most authentic form.

In collaborating with Orchestra Conductor Dr. Ruth Lin, they found a piece that could flow with the dancing.

When consulting with her student co-creators, she wanted them to be her truth-tellers that could call out any appropriation of identities.

They were involved in selecting who would be other cast members.

“I appreciate that there is more movement created by them this year, and I am just working as a curator that is the overview who pulls it together,” Rusinko said.

One of the final components includes the set design, created by Visiting Professor in the Theatre and Dance Department Lydia Francis.

“When I thought about “Love Beyond Borders” I was immediately struck by the image of migrating birds. They fly great distances not knowing why but end up somewhere that has plenty of food, water, and places to sleep. Thinking about “Love Beyond Borders” I wish that humanity could do the same.  The birds and maps together give us a sort of collage feeling the birds don’t feel literal and we aren’t seeing only maps. We get the visual impact of the flying birds while also seeing images of maps pieced together from all around the world,” Francis said.

She describes how she is excited to see everything come together.

This includes the messages, choirs, dancing, handbells, and orchestra bringing the whole theme to life.

She loves how Jon Young comes in with his fantastic team from Heroic and finishes with the wondrous magic of Christmas in Christ Chapel.

Francis also loves how this year’s theme came together quite nicely.

While she would have liked to incorporate projections to show movement of people migrating, that idea could be saved for another year.

She is most proud of getting to highlight the beautiful architecture of the Chapel.

The space’s structure is magnificent for constructing bold designs.

It has really showcased a masterpiece as the Choirs, Orchestra, and Handbell ringers take center stage this weekend.

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