The Tulsa dance community has lost one of its own. Amy McIntosh — Professor of Dance at ORU, director of the innovative Living Water Dance Community, mother and mentor and artist and friend — was diagnosed with cancer last fall and passed away April 3, 2015, at age 37, leaving two young sons, a beloved husband, and countless people who loved her. We are all in shock, feeling at once the weight of her presence and the impossibility of her absence.
Amy’s influence on dance in Tulsa is deep and wide. Her students are now teachers and performers themselves. Her collaborators continue to meditate on questions that arose when they worked with her. (With Amy, a woman of profound faith who had no fear of doubt or complexity, there was a lot of room for questions.) Audiences remember her ferocity onstage, and also her lightness — a grounded strength that could also sail and sigh.
In 2013 I had the privilege of being invited to be part of a quartet that choreographer Melody Ruffin-Ward was creating in Tulsa. For a whole weekend, I got to work in the company of Rachel Bruce Johnson, Jessica Vokoun, and Amy. I had never worked with Amy so closely before, though I’d often watched her perform and rehearse with other dancers. I was in awe of the thoroughness and seriousness of her process — and at the same time delighted by her playful abandon. The piece was about a marriage, a subject she devoted careful thought and attention to, and our discussions about it will stay with me forever. She was deeply interested in integrating the various areas of life so that one song was sung in all of them. She did that so well.
I always knew, with Amy, that whatever response she gave to a question or a suggestion or a criticism it would be thoughtful and subtle and generous and wise. In 2012 I wrote a cover story on dance in Tulsa for Urban Tulsa Weekly. I emailed her some questions and excerpted her responses for the article. Here is our interview in full. This is Amy McIntosh, and she will live in this community forever.
Services for Amy will be held tomorrow at 1pm at the Howard Auditorium at ORU.
What do you wish Tulsa had more of, arts-wise or culture-wise?
I feel pretty grateful for the Tulsa and surrounding communities in terms of our growth in the arts. Having grown up here we didn’t have much opportunity to see contemporary/modern dance companies perform, but even back then there were folks paving the way. When I was a young dancer, Becky Eagleton through LocalMotion Dance Foundation was the first person to introduce me to modern dance through annual workshops and performances with some amazing guest artists. She took me in and encouraged me and through her passion for dance and people, she opened up new doors of possibility for me.
I am so thankful for those who have left a legacy and this is what I see continuing today. Ken Tracy of Choregus Productions carries on this legacy today by bringing in modern dance companies like Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (to come this spring) and also by providing master classes for dancers in the community. My friend and Company member, Rachel Johnson has a vision to create opportunity for dance artists to come together for dialogue through her organization, Bell House Arts. The Exchange Festival will be August 10-12 this year at Tulsa Ballet’s Studio K and we will have opportunity to share dance, take class, have conversations about process, which is difficult to make happen on your own as an artist. The beauty behind her vision is to create space and opportunity for dancers local and out of state to intersect. Rachel has a passion and a gift for getting people together and generating opportunity for something new to be imagined.
When Marcello Angelini of Tulsa Ballet incorporated several local modern dance companies into the performances of Creations in Studio K this past spring, it was such an encouragement to us as local dancers and director of companies that Marcello would be willing to take the risk to put modern dance on the same stage with the ballet company. He even took the time after we had finished performing our work, Let Justice Roll Down (Living Water Dance Company) to talk about how it moved him and some of the imagery he found in the work. It is so priceless to engage as a choreographer/dancer/director with audience and hear their response; this is what it is all about for me, living and engaging together in community through our art and human relationships. I would say that I long for more of these interactions, crossing over boundaries, breaking the rules, and exploring life together-I believe this is how culture is created and transformed.
What have you found here that enriches you as an artist?
The people. I’m not so much interested in just making dance or having a company with my name in big headings, I’m interested in community and the kind of transformational living that occurs when you invest in the practice of life together. For me that practice of sharing life together largely centers on exploring faith communally, and the ways in which the outpourings of our souls find their home in a dance.
Company member, Robbee Stafford recently shared an insight she had about my work, she said that she felt like each dance I created was a sort of marker, a remembrance of something God was doing and revealing in my life. She has become a true companion to me as she dares to taste of that which is unknown, immersing into the depths of faith. I would say that many a Sunday morning, sitting in the pew of our West United Methodist Church, in the beauty of the liturgy intermixed with the present moment, listening to our pastor, Bill Welch, Jr. so gently, yet so boldly remind us again of the grace and peace that is here now, I feel an urge to grab a tiny pew pencil and jot down on my bulletin random scraps of a dance to come. This is the beginning of most of my dance making, maybe those dances are three years away, but looking back they begin with those scratches on a Sunday morning. People enrich me, people who are committed to believing that heaven and earth can collide, that art and life when integrated have the potential to expose, reveal, lay open, inspire, invigorate, and ultimately cause us to reflect on the life we are living today.
As a dancer and a dancemaker, are you finding ways to integrate your art with your life?
I feel like my work at ORU as the Director of the dance program creates a space for doing just that, integrating art and life alongside the University’s vision to educate the whole person in body, mind, and spirit integration. I’ve been entrusted with the task of mentoring and educating students in dance, but not only dance, in life and in the discovery of faith. The amazing thing that I have found in my time at ORU and previously at Belhaven University of Jackson, MS is that it’s not so much about leading and being the expert in the classroom or the studio or even on the stage, it is about engaging together, teacher and student, dancer and audience, in a conversation that doesn’t always seek to find what is right and wrong, or what is black and white. Instead it is a journey together, an often vulnerable place of speaking up of what you may not fully understand yet, what emotions you may not be able to place yet, and what could become yet in this present time and the future…art and life together, transforming, breathing fresh vitality, and generating community.
What obstacles do you see here for creating and presenting dance?
Obstacles are always present, especially in funding and the desire to pay dancers for their priceless contributions, but I find that sometimes money comes and we are dancing on a full proscenium stage and I pay the dancers, and other times we are dancing in a worship space with no funds exchanged and it isn’t about money at all. I try to look at how we can share dance through Living Water and ORU creatively, in terms of whether it is a fully produced concert or a free gathering out in a field somewhere, and how we can interact with the broadest audience of people, as well as partner up with folks carrying out a vision that we can come alongside and serve in.
How do you see ORU’s dance department contributing to and/or benefiting from the Tulsa community?
The ORU Dance program is a place where people interface with their passion for dance and their passion for faith, what comes out of this is the next generation of voices. My hope is that these voices are ones of honesty and authenticity, telling of the stories of their lives. My hope is that these voices are ones who feel safe to be able to be raw and vulnerable to share of the depths of life without fear of fitting into the world’s standards and categories, but superseding any obstacles for the sake of living openly. My hope is that these voices seek to serve their community through their art/life integration. My hope is that these voices continue to find others to connect in with, learn from, and continue to grow so that they can be lifelong learners and never settle to have arrived.
More generally, what can dance/dancers bring to the community?
Dance is a lived, full body expression of art. When we dance as people or even when we watch others dance, it is powerful…powerful to heal in all the ways we daily are in need of, over and over again. I know this because this is what happens when I walk into the dance room, the church, the stage, bringing all of my baggage from the day, the week with me…when the music comes on and we begin those first gestures of Eucharistia, when we bow down and slide our hands out across the table of communion, everything begins to fade as I am present in that moment, I feel as though heaven and earth collide, and I feel at home.