By Corrie Glanville
Ken Burns’ The Shakers (2004)
Ken Burns, our preeminent documentarian of American history, crafts a detailed picture of the sect that referred to themselves as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but came to be labeled Shakers after their frenetic dancing. Living by their motto “hands to work, hearts to God,” the Shakers created a community based on social and economic equality for men and women as well as pacifism. Of course, they also believed in celibacy so they were few Shakers left when Burns made this film in 1989—and even fewer today. The Shakers includes Burns signature voice-overs, interviews with historians, original photographs and on-location footage to create this compelling series of one of America’s most influential Utopian movements.
As It Is In Heaven by Beth Lincks (2002)
Actor/director Beth Lincks writing under the name Arlene Hutton conceived the musical As It Is in Heaven after an inspirational visit to the Pleasant Hills Shaker Village in Kentucky. Set in the 1830s, a peaceful Shaker community is disquieted when a young woman claims to have had an angelic vision; the elders attempt to contain the joyful hysteria spreading among the young people that threatens to upend tradition. Praised by critics, it ran at the off-Broadway Arclight Theatre in 2002 when the Herald called it a “thought provoking piece, the message being that often we need not look as far as heaven to see angels here on earth.”
A collaboration of live music and dance created by the Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen and the Boston Camerata was named one of the best dance performances of the decade by the Village Voice when it played at Jacob’s Pillow in 2007. Based on Shaker hymns and dances, you can watch a clip online of what the Boston Globe called a “strikingly original evocation of communal devotion unlike anything this reviewer has experienced.”