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Commissioned art celebrates fifty years of blessings

By Sally Jongsma

"The Space Between: Jubilee 2005" celebrates individual lives and contributions that over the years have made Dordt College something greater than the individual parts.

A wall of art, a celebrative new play, a festive choral and instrumental work, and a grand set of organ improvisations all relating to the theme of Jubilee are debuting on the Dordt College campus this year.

The first to go public and the most visible of the four art works commissioned for Dordt’s Jubilee celebration this year, is the piece titled “The Space Between: Jubilee 2005.” Created by Art Professor Susan Van Geest, it was hung in the library during the opening week of classes this fall.

Van Geest, who works primarily with constructions made out of natural materials, began with the idea of fifty pieces for the fifty years of Jubilee. The pieces were to be independent works, some large and some small, reflecting years of both leanness and abundance, she says. She also wanted to reflect the many different aspects of the college, from academic disciplines to residence life and the physical campus.

“I wanted the whole to be made up of many parts, representative of many lives invested in the college, of many contributions, all of which are visible, yet all a part of something greater,” she says.

In the work, the individually framed pieces show something about individual limitations but also how together the parts contribute to the whole, often in unexpected ways. The same is true of the Dordt community. How we connect to each other and to previous accomplishments and contributions is significant, says Van Geest.

“The spaces between are used by God who works through history and uses us for his larger purposes,” Van Geest adds. “While we work, we are often unaware of how we fit into the larger image, but we know we work with purpose and direction.”

The spaces between are important as resting spaces, says Van Geest. Jubilee is a time of resting and thanksgiving.

Van Geest collected many of the materials for the work from around the campus and in the Sioux Center area.

“There is history in the material itself,” Van Geest says. Included in her work are pieces of rusted metal that Brian Mellema, an electrician on the maintenance staff, found in the tunnels beneath campus. Old library books and piano parts have also found their way into the work. There’s even a piece from the wedding invitation of one of her art students.

Butterflies appear several times in the individual parts of the piece. “Butterflies are fragile, illustrating the brevity of life. Yet their intense color can be a symbol for what our lives can be. But they don’t last forever, and neither do we,” says Van Geest.

“I hope people enjoy spending time with the piece, pondering its ideas, enjoying the images. It is intended to be a meditative piece that I hope people will visit many times and see different possibilities the more they view the work,” Van Geest says. The premiere performance of “Lord, You Have Been Our Dwelling Place,” by Professor Emeritus Dale Grotenhuis, was performed at the fall music festival during Parents’ Weekend in October to a packed and appreciative house. The text is taken from the Psalms (89, 90 and 100), and speaks to God’s faithfulness through the ages. The work is written for mixed choir and orchestra and includes winds and brass. The choir included the Concert Choir, Chorale, and Women’s Chorus.

Also in October, Dutch organist Sietze de Vries traveled from the Netherlands to perform the third work commissioned in celebration of Dordt’s Jubilee year. The title of the piece is “Laudate Dominum” and is based on Psalm 150, the psalm that is inscribed on the front of Dordt’s Casavant organ. The piece not only celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Dordt College, but also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the organ. The concert choir sings twice between the six organ settings of the psalm. These settings are titled, “Bach,” “Buxtehude,” “Krebs,” “Duprê,” “Britten,” and “Neo-Buxtehude.”

Sietze de Vries is an active concert organist from the Netherlands, known for his improvisational work. He has won more than a dozen organ competitions, many in improvisation. He has also recorded many CDs and has written extensively about the psalms.

The final commission to be performed this academic year will be the spring production of Jubilee! A Comedy in Five Acts written by Steven Wiersum (‘86). Wiersum’s comedy, which was one of nine submissions, all from Dordt College alumni, won the $1500 first prize in a competition announced a year ago and awarded in September.

As director of the spring production, Theatre Arts Professor April Hubbard says she was very pleased with the quality of the plays submitted and is looking forward to bringing Wiersum’s work to the stage.

“The strength of the play is its strong sense of community,” she says. The play’s setting is a German community fighting to keep its church from being replaced by a strip mall.

“It has some wonderfully humorous lines,” says Hubbard. “The great thing about a comedy is that it allows us to celebrate our weaknesses as well as our strengths.”

Choosing the winning play was not easy, says Hubbard. “When I was told that I would direct a new, commissioned play this spring, I was a little worried. But after reading the plays that were submitted—even before we selected the first place play—I became excited about the opportunity.”

Directing a new work is challenging but exciting,” Hubbard says. It gives her the opportunity to come up with a completely fresh approach. However, she loses the benefit of drawing on what others have done. She is happy that the cast can be made as large as she wants it to be by adding singers to the two choirs written into the script, one of which will include community children in the children’s choir. And she’s confident that this commission, like the others, will be a good way to celebrate Dordt College’s Jubilee year.

Prizes awarded in Jubilee Play Competition

Nine Dordt College alumni submitted manuscripts to the Jubilee Play competition. “It was exciting to see how each dealt with the Jubilee theme so differently and yet so creatively,” says Theatre Arts Professor April Hubbard. Three prizes were given and two honorable mentions named:

First place: Jubilee! A Comedy in Five Acts by Steven Wiersum (‘86) Elmhurst, Illinois

Second place: Jubilee: A Play in Three Acts by Lynn Otto ('84) Newberg, Oregon

Third place: Superalive by Jason Vande Brake (’02) Irvine, California

Honorable Mention: Celebration by Clarence Deelstra ('84) Seattle, Washington

When I Wake Up Smiling: A Play in Five Acts by Jonathan Horlings (Dordt College senior) Bradford, Ontario  make it work.