Certain dancers were dressed in all-white costumes running across a stage, while others in black shirts and camoflauge pants marched in unison before breaking out in synchronized moves. Singers told of a world that has lost its way while images of destruction and despair were projected on a screen.
Speakers addressed the audience in monologues, affirming the virtues of service to a higher power.These moments and many others were part of a "Songs from the Secret Place" theatrical concert at the Margaret Williams Theater at New Jersey City University on June 18. The featured performer was Jersey City resident Sam Cintron, a local artist and longtime gospel performer. Cintron is also the founder and vice-president of operations of the Hope Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, a Jersey City Heights-based center where young children can take painting and piano lessons and other artistic disciplines. The center is part of a ministry that utilizes the arts to present the teachings of the Gospel.
Cintron performed music from his recent CD, Songs from the Secret Place, backed by the Hope Center Tabernacle and a six-piece band. Other performers for the evening included religious rap artist Daniel Steele, artist Duda Penteado, and the Rev. Jeff Beacham.
'Truth is everywhere' Before the concert, Sam Cintron addressed guests at a reception held in his honor. In his remarks, Cintron offered this insight on his music and his life.
"There's truth everywhere....you have to dig truth like a treasure," he said.
Later, Cintron began his search for the truth via his performance. With an acoustic guitar, Cintron performed "Secret Place," a song that speaks of a person encountering God or a higher power by any name within one's self. "It's in my secret place/On my knees/That your very essence meets my soul/It's where I run to hide to get away from me/And the no good thing that dwells in me..."
Cintron would perform other numbers throughout the evening, all written by himself, that explored the issues of finding salvation in a world of temptation, resisting false idols, reaching for that haven in one's life that offers the opportunity to explore spiritual needs, and testifying to the power of God.
An added dimension to some of the numbers was the rapping of young Daniel Steele, especially on "Eye of the Storm," a song that describes pursuing the presence of God like one chasing after a hurricane: "I wanna ride the hurricane/I don't do it to impress you man/I do it to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord/'Cause to be in the eye of the storm is the best kind of thrill."
Interspersed amidst the vocal performances were spoken word monologues with speakers quoting Scripture or offering words of wisdom based on their lives. Pastor Mario Gonzalez, the CEO of the Hope Center, looked back on his upbringing as a poor child growing up in the South Bronx, and how easy it would have been to give in to a life drugs and running with gangs.
"I wanted something more out of life, so I learned guitar," he said. "I also learned during this time in my life that nobody can love me like Jesus can." Gonzalez and his wife, Leigh Piatt-Gonzalez, were part of the band that was backing Cintron throughout the concert.
"We need to look all around us. God is crying out for a rain upon this spirit. Sometimes the people of God are looking around in the wrong places," said Piatt-Gonzalez.
Also complimenting the performances were "praise dancers" and the Hope Center Tabernacle, and skits such as a priest and his wife grappling with the situation of him trying to find a core of honesty in practicing his faith without compromise, while she tries to convince him to be pragmatic.
They melded this skit with expressive dancing - whether it be soldiers marching across the stage during "Eye of the Storm" or young ladies clothed in white opening the concert. Joined with the backing choir, this produced a concert that was a hybrid of folk music jam, avant-garde dance recital, and old-style religious revival.
The audience, which packed the seats in the theater and got out of them several times to give a standing ovation or to praise God and Sam Cintron, were treated to a live revival led by the Rev. Jeff Beacham.
Beacham, the director of Firepower Ministries International based in New Jersey, addressed the crowd with stirring words that alluded to the presence of God with weather-related metaphors.
"Because the earth has been so dry, it has not been prepared....send the rain, we need the rain!" exclaimed Beacham.
Then many in the audience listened with rapt attention to Beacham, as he exhorted them to come to the front of the stage and declare their love and undivided devotion to God: "HE'S ALIVE! He's on his way back soon. Revive him to give the salvation of your love!"
Many of those who came to the front were also encouraged to fill out blue-colored questionnaire cards for the Hope Center to assess the reaction to the concert.
After the concert Tanya Thornton, who came with some colleagues from the Amethyst House, a drug treatment center in Montclair, said that this was the second time she has seen these performers and was as impressed as the first time.
"It moved me," she said. "The music was spectacular and the praise dancing was so inspirational."
Nelly Soto, known to her friends as "Cookie," was one of the dancers who performed in the concert.
She has been involved with the Hope Center.
"It's an honor to be able to dance for the Lord. It's the biggest thing we've ever done," said Soto.
She also had high praise for the featured artist - Sam Cintron.
"Performing with Sam gives you such freedom to do what you want for the Lord," said Soto. "When he opens his mouth, it's like the gods are singing."