Wednesday, April 22, 2009

70 hours

by Paul Gordon Emerson

We leave for Jordan in less than 70 hours.

The defining speech in American politics on the importance of the arts is on my mind in the days leading up to CityDance's departure for three weeks on tour in the Middle East. That speech, by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is one I quote often. I take it as inspiration, as motivation and as a sign and signal that the right President can redefine America at home as well as abroad by his words and by the deeds those words inspire in his countrymen. We have a man in the White House, which is three blocks from our office in downtown DC, and which I walk past several times a week, who seems to have a similar commitment to that of JFK. It's a propitious moment to be stepping onto an airplane as a cultural ambassador, particularly when the disembarkation point is in perhaps the most historic place on Earth -- the Middle East, and cities that echo down the ages -- Jerusalem, Nazareth and modern day capitals Amman, Ramallah and Abu Dhabi.

Mr. Kennedy's speech, a eulogy to Robert Frost delivered at Amherst College in 1963 less than a month before his assassination, provided a platform for the President to speak to the meaning of the arts, set out fundamental tennents that should, and must, guide us today.

He said this, "I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction."

(The full text of the President's speech can be found here.)

As we prepare to touch down in the Middle East, these words remind me that art can speak in ways that politics cannot, that citizens of a country can represent that country through their dance, their music, their language and transcend what is "official" with what is human. They remind me that the President's dream "of an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but or its civilization as well, is in our hands now to realize in a part of the world as deeply politicized as any.

Over these next weeks this blog, sometimes through text, sometimes through video and music, will recount the outcomes and imaginings of the CityDance tour. I hope it will prove to be of value.


Jacqueline said...

Dear City Dance members,

Congrats on Jungle Books!

All the best to you in the Middle East.


Anonymous said...

Bon Voyage CityDance Ensemble - I am so thrilled to see such a wonderful company have the opportunity and privilege to make the world a smaller place through the universal language of dance. I am sure you will enthrall many while on tour! Thank you in advance for sharing your experiences - looking forward to following this blog.