An award-winning performance of an original human video, presented at the New England District Fine Arts Festival in March, has earned the Ablaze Youth Group of Saco an invitation to advance to the National Fine Arts Festival in Detroit this August for an encore performance.

Ablaze members Morgan Valliere, 17, a Biddeford High School senior, and Josie Mariello, 15, an Old Orchard Beach High School freshman, came up with the original concept for their human video: that is, a dramatic presentation that uses music and movement to convey a story.

No words, no props and no costuming are allowed to help explain or enhance the action. Performers are part gymnast and part dancer, interpreting their sketch via exaggerated gestures and motion.

The choreography is fast-paced and fluid, with players often portraying a character one moment and an auxiliary prop the next to augment the action.

A CHALLENGING TASK

The group previously explored the medium, performing the works of other artists before small audiences at a coffee house and congregants at their church, the Seacoast Chapel of Saco.

Valliere said those presentations sparked a desire to make their own videos to share about their Christian faith.

The teens took several risks in creating their award-winning sketch. They chose some heavy-handed subject matter (a tribute to Christian martyrs) and a seemingly dated, oft-used Christian anthem (the band D.C. Talk’s 1995 hit “Jesus Freak”) as their medium of expression.

They used excerpts from the book “Jesus Freaks” (coproduced by D.C. Talk and the Christian missionary support organization Voice of the Martyrs) to portray individuals who have died for their faith through the centuries.

“We’d read the book and thought it would be a fantastic idea to use it with the song and make a video,” said Valliere. “It was a hard subject to portray and physically demanding work to do but (was a topic) we felt needed to be covered.”

The performance begins with the conversion of the Apostle Paul, a one-time persecutor of the early church and an eventual martyr for the faith.

The teens used many creative lifts, drops and stunts in the sketch to depict scenes of the Apostle Peter being crucified upside-down on a cross, John the Baptist being beheaded in a jail cell and Polycarp, a second-century bishop, being burned at the stake.

GOSPEL SEEN THROUGH YOUNG EYES

According to Josie Mariello’s father, Richard Mariello, the performance has elicited much feedback from audiences, including regional arts festival officials, who wanted to know where the teens got their ideas.

Valliere’s matter-of-fact response was, “From God.”

“There is no other way to explain how we could think up things like that,” said Valliere, noting the group marveled at how quickly the inspiration for the portrayals came to them.

The inverted flip and handstand of one player over the back of another, whose arms are outstretched, depicts the Apostle Peter being crucified upside-down on a cross. Rapidly waving finger movements at the feet of another character interpret the flames at Polycarp’s execution.

Eric Gagnon, Seacoast youth pastor, admits he was skeptical of the group’s original proposal of the topic and song selection, believing such pairings have been overused as an art form in the Christian culture over the past 15 years.

“I’d always felt that human videos were kind of dorky,” said Gagnon. “And I thought, ‘I hope this isn’t going to be lame.’ “

But the teens returned with something new and compelling — fresh faith seen through fresh eyes.

“It actually made me cry and humbled me,” said Gagnon. “And it showed me that they got (the Gospel message). It’s always great to see teens take a lead because it is their own faith, (not the faith of) their leaders or parents. They did this without our help. They made me really proud.”

PREPARING FOR CROWD OF 70,000

Josie Mariello said the group is using the feedback of festival judges to fine-tune its human video before representing it to a crowd of about 70,000 this August. They are doing fundraisers and odd jobs to raise the needed $7,000 to make the journey.

The event is sponsored by the National Assemblies of God with top performers earning scholarship awards for college.

Valliere said the thought of performing before that many people makes her nervous, but she’s keeping it all in perspective.

“I can’t fathom it,” said Valliere. “But we’re not doing this for ourselves. We’re doing this to glorify God. That is what this is about.” 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

[email protected]