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Arts Converge at Marquette University’s Joan of Arc Chapel

Apr. 25, 2017
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The story of Joan of Arc is one of faith and trust in yourself and your beliefs to carry you through battles physical and social. Joan heard voices in her head that she believed were of divine origin. She was certain it was God’s will that she should lead the French army in battle against the invading English. She overcame outrageous obstacles to do just that and led the French to numerous victories. In the end, she was captured and burned at the stake as a heretic because of her strong faith that God, in fact, had chosen her for this heroic task. 

A team of faculty at Marquette University has been awarded the 2016-2017 Way Klingler Teaching Enhancement Award, a grant designed to support high-impact educational practices that engage students in interactive learning. The faculty team includes choreographer Catey Ott Thompson, costume designer Connie Petersen, English teacher Sarah Wadsworth, art historian Lynne Shumow, composer Mark Konewko and theologian Susan Mountin. The inter-curricular project involves four Marquette University classes: Ballet II, Composition and Choreography, Advanced Costume Technology and English Capstone. The teachers have devoted the entire spring semester to creating a multidisciplinary public performance with their students to be presented outdoors at stations surrounding the Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University Campus. The title is Hearken to my Voice: Iron. Fire. Breath. Performances are at 5:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 28-29 and 1 p.m., Sunday, April 30.

“The students walked into the semester thinking they signed up for Ballet II or Advanced Costume Technology and all of a sudden the ballet class is up in the conference room watching Joan of Arc videos or at the Haggerty Art Museum seeing paintings or attending lectures about medieval weaponry,” said Ott Thompson, producer of the project and instructor of Ballet II and Composition and Choreography.

To be truly inspired by something a person must learn as much as they can about the subject. The students involved in the project have been doing just that. The entire project follows an educational philosophy called the “4-R embodied learning process.” The “R’s” are “research, reflect, re-act and resonate.” In line with this approach, students have spent a large amount of time researching Joan of Arc’s life and times, and absorbing the visual art, plays and other writings it has inspired, and then using that information and the emotions it arouses to create their own poetry, theater, music and dance works. They’ve been writing journals every day to reflect on what they’re learning, as well as reacting (or re-enacting) what they’ve been exposed to in their research in daily rehearsals. As for resonation, many of the students even attended a session involving Ignatian contemplations and the creative visualization of St. Joan’s life, led by Sr. Anne Arabome of Marquette University’s Faber Center. 

Lack of enthusiasm is not an issue for the creative team. Their passion not only for learning the story of Joan of Arc, but for teaching and creating in general is obvious in the way they speak about the project from the point of view of their different disciplines. Whether it is dance, clothing design, visual art, music or writing, each has found a strong personal connection to Joan’s story.

Ott Thompson draws inspiration from the stories of the saint’s trials and tribulations. “I feel the concept of believing in your own metaphors—believing in both your own connection to the collective unconscious and your own creative tangential thinking—has been the basis of my choreography for almost 20 years. I think it’s just finding that inner artist voice and trying to understand and live with it in a way that is inspiring to you and others.” 

As part of the project, Marquette Music Director Mark Konewko composed a new time strike for Marquette’s carillon bells, called “Joan of Arc. The time strike is played to mark every 15 minutes in an hour. Each quarter hour has its own special melody. It is only the third time in Marquette University history that the tune of the bells has been changed.

The Joan of Arc Chapel was built in the early 15th century in France. It arrived at Marquette 51 years ago and it’s that anniversary that inspired the team to devise the semester-long project. The final performance will include several dance works, choral music, a theatrical monologue, spoken word performance, a bonfire and even horticultural art—symbolically colored tulips will be in bloom at the site if nature cooperates. The performances are free to the public.

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