Randall Flinn is the founder and Artistic Director of Ad Deum Dance Company, the magnificent dance company based in Houston Texas. Ad Deum performs across the nation and far-flung global stages, bringing the best of the dance world’s discipline and artistry to storytelling choreography. As company director and choreographer, Randall serves as anchor and lead for the troupe. He also represents something precious in any art – the mature believer functioning as mentor, guide, visionary and spiritual father.
Few other artistic mediums require the demand for “buffeting the body” as dance does. Those who dance for God’s good pleasure, like all dedicated athletes, offer thousands of hours of their lives over many years to train their bodies for this work of artistry in athleticism. Dance as a discipline is the most integrated of the visual arts and the most ephemeral. It uses all of one’s mind, spirit and body to give expression to the creative act. It is storytelling and poetry for only the moment in which it offered. Unlike the written forms of storytelling and poetry that have a permanent home on paper, or the painted and sculpted forms of visual arts housed in canvas and stone, dance creates its mark in the moment it is made and leaves no record except in the memory that it forms.
The Rabbit Room recently posted Lanier Ivester‘s beautiful piece about dance titled Creative Worship. Readers Amber and Miranda offer an exchange of comments concluding with “There is Love that dances… His Name is Jesus. Who would’ve ever come up with that? Only God Himself.” Randall Flinn’s life work has been faithfully offered to create a well-spring to be shared for the Love that dances – ad Deum.
LES: Ad Deum means ‘unto God” in Latin. How did you come to name this company that? How does that direct you in the course of running the dance company?
RF: Just prior to starting Ad Deum I was working throughout Europe doing artistic ministry touring with groups like Youth with a Mission and Creative Arts Europe. With CAE, we performed in Catholic cathedrals in a production called Canticum Ad Deum ‘Song unto the Lord’. The leadership team explained to us that the significance of ‘ad Deum’ is the fact that what is unto the Lord is given in surrender, yielded for His purposes.
This understanding of ‘ad Deum’ struck a deep cord in my soul and remained with me as I returned to the USA. When I was seeking the Lord for a name for the birthing of this dance company, I sensed the Spirit of God saying to me ‘Ad Deum’. Our slogan from the very beginning was Unto God – To Man – Through Dance.
LES: For many of my readers, the life of a dancer or a choreographer is a complete mystery, probably most framed around films about dance. How would you describe the role of a resident choreographer in a dance company, especially for someone who has never been part of that?
RF: A choreographer can be likened to a painter, receiving inspirations and imaging something in his mind’s eye that is waiting to be created. However the painter must have paints and a canvas. My dancers are my paints, glorious, bright and beautiful colors that I can use individually or delicately mix. The stage is my canvas and it calls for me to adorn it, decorate it, draw and paint within its lines and bring life to it.
As a choreographer, I am also keenly aware of being a voice to the DNA of the dance company. In a sense my artistic voice/movement becomes the DNA and my artists put song to that voice. Putting movements, thoughts, concepts, stories to my dancers is like adorning them. I need to make sure that the clothing I place upon them fits well and makes them as striking and beautiful as they deserve to be.
Being a choreographer for me is also like being a father setting forth good things for his children. The father brings his blessings and himself to the table so to speak, and lays down his offerings for his family. I do find personal pleasure in producing my creations and my own creative work, but there is a greater joy to share those gifts and see the life that it brings when given to others.
LES: Becoming a dancer professionally is a long commitment – much longer than many people commonly believe. You began more than 25 years ago. Dance in many ways is one of the most collaborative of the arts because with the exception of the solo performance strong disciplined contact is inherent in the art itself. With such physical discipline and contact among dancers how does a dancer develop and maintain boundaries within themselves and retain a sense of their own individual identity?
RF: I believe that unity in a group, true collaboration with others can only flourish with a healthy sense of self for the individuals involved. The demands of dance, the self-discipline that it requires helps to nurture a sense of who the ‘self’ is and what it is capable of. A huge part of the self-discovery is the reality that especially in this art form “a man who isolates himself seeks his own ruin.” Indeed, dance is a collaborative art form. In the professional world of dance there is rank, almost military like rank. You are a company and in that company you must honor your rank and respect the positions of others. As it has been well said, “The hand cannot say to the foot, I do not need you.” Also, “if one member suffers, the other members suffer with it.” Healthy boundaries begin with R E S P E C T. Respect for oneself, respect for others and as a Believer-artist a great respect and honor for the Master Choreographer.
LES: With the strength and successful foundation of Ad Deum, how does Ad Deum II fit with and differ from Ad Deum?
RF: AD 2 is an organic and fitting part of the multiplication and mission of Ad Deum: To create an environment for young artists to pursue both artistic and spiritual excellence in a community conducive to the integration of their Christian faith and passion for dance and artistry.
There are so many Believer dance artists all over the world now (this phenomenon is new and has flourished within the past 10 years). When these dancers graduate from college they are looking for somewhere to go and mature in their gifting. They need a place where their raw skills can be honed. Therefore AD2 has become a great place for these young artists to grow wings and soar.
LES: Looking at the dancers and their range of time with Ad Deum, it is impossible to miss the role that you must play as a mentor in their lives. What is your most important impact on developing dancers as an inherent element to your outreach? What is the lingering significance to you of being a mentor?
RF: I believe that by grace, God had given me a mantle in the arts. By this I mean, He has given me a place and position and creative voice and tools to build others up in the faith as dance artists. I believe my role as leader and mentor is to father these young artists and affirm, protect and help give guidance to their callings.
LES: How do you reconcile the tension that some Christians feel with the sensuality of dance with the clear reality of God’s creating the human body with the capacity to dance as an act of praise and expression? Do you find conflict within the body as an obstacle to bringing your work to public view or have you been met with support and acceptance? Where would you place the acceptance level of the “Christian” audience with the works that Ad Deum is performing now?
RF: When I began this work over thirty years ago, I know there were more ‘cultural taboos’ inherent in the church. Dualism was a great issue that led to much legalism and fear. Preferences were upheld as truth and unless art was clearly worship or evangelistic (utilitarian), justifying its place by church cultural labeling, then it seemed to be either useless or perhaps even suspect by churchy folks. The Psalms declare, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows forth His handiwork.” God also created beauty to be just that, beauty.
Beauty is a good and perfect gift from God. There is beauty in human form, for God has designed the body as well. Romans 12 call us to present our bodies before Him as living sacrifices, set apart for His purposes.
Overall, I would have to say that the church body has grown more comfortable with a Biblical worldview of art where the work of an artist can be informed by their Christian faith but they are not required to be artistic evangelists or worship leaders. They are artists who praise God by simply being good stewards and working to their best in their craft. They are serving God and mankind by bringing works of beauty, grace and truth into this world that wash over the human soul.
Click here for Part 2!
Click here for Ad Deum Dance Company.
The images of Randall Flinn and the Ad Deum Dance Company in this interview series are copyright of Lancia E. Smith.
If you wish to use the images please contact me directly regarding their usage. Thank you so much for your courtesy!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about disciple making. Reflecting an irresistible calling to the intersection of faith and the arts, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. An inveterate book collector and giver, Lancia loves website and garden design, beautiful typography, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips and being read aloud to by Peter. She cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.