Carla De Sola, Founder & Director (1974 – 1989)
Carla De Sola, sacred dance pioneer and founder of Omega Liturgical Dance Company, served as Director from 1974 to 1989.
Carla trained in modern dance and ballet at The Juilliard School of Music, receiving her Diploma in 1960. Among her teachers at the School was distinguished modern dancer and choreographer José Limón. She cites one particular experience with the esteemed artist—watching him create his “soul-stirring dance” Missa Brevis—as an impetus for her later exploration of embodied spirituality.
Upon graduating from Juilliard, Carla remained in New York and continued her studies with Valerie Bettis. She again witnessed the embodiment of Christianity, this time in the lives of the individuals at the Catholic Worker. Those experiences served as further inspiration for her expression of prayer and worship through dance. In 1974, after exploring the spirituality of French mystic, philosopher, and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with Father Robert McGuire, a Jesuit teacher, Carla brought highly trained, like-minded dancers together and formed Omega Liturgical Dance Company.
In 1976, The Very Reverend James P. Morton, who was at the time the Dean of Manhattan’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, invited Omega to make its home at the famed cathedral. Together with her husband Arthur Eaton, Carla built a sacred dance studio in the cathedral’s crypt and began what would become a 30-year residency at St. John the Divine.
Under Carla’s tenure, Omega offered dance for liturgies and special events at the Cathedral and in the greater New York community. Omega also held workshops for dancers and non-dancers alike, and presented full-length concerts in the great space of the Cathedral. Highlights from her 15 years with the company include creating Omega’s most beloved and well-known repertoire for the Cathedral’s Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, otherwise known as the Missa Gaia or “Earth Mass.” This annual celebration features an expanded cast of more than 20 dancers, performing for and ministering to a congregation of thousands of worshipers (both human and animal!). Another highlight was Omega’s participation in a 1988 event at the Cathedral, “February Fling!”, in which more than 1,000 adults and children took part in a vigil of solidarity, peace, and friendship honoring Soviet scientists and citizens.
In 1990, Carla received an invitation to join the faculty of the Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California and decided to make the move out west. With Omega in the capable hands of longtime company members Allan Tung and Sandra Rivera, she left New York for Berkeley to begin her many years as an adjunct faculty member. Soon after, she founded the Omega West Dance Company, which has developed its own repertoire with a company of professional dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Carla received a Master of Arts degree in Theology and the Arts from the Pacific School of Religion in 1993, and continues her work as a faculty member there and with the Center for Arts, Religion and Education.
In her 40+ years as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and leader in sacred dance, Carla’s work has taken her across the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as to Ireland, Israel, France, Guam, Sweden, Canada, Australia, and Belize. Carla has been featured in and contributed numerous articles to various dance and liturgical arts publications, including Dance Magazine. In addition to authoring the introduction to Introducing Dance in Christian Worship (Pastoral Press, 1984), Carla has published two books of her own, PeaceRites: Dance and the Art of Making Peace (Oregon Catholic Press, reprinted 1993) and The Spirit Moves: A Handbook of Dance and Prayer (Washington DC: Liturgical Press, 1977). The latter is considered a seminal text in the fields of liturgical and sacred dance. Carla’s teachings may also be found on her DVD, Movement Meditations to the Songs from Taizé, produced in collaboration with Thomas Kane, CSP.
In 2010, the Pacific School of Religion awarded Carla the Distinguished Alumni Award. She continues to serve as Director of Omega West Dance Company, offering workshops in the Bay Area and across the U.S. Carla travels east as often as she can to set repertoire on Omega Dance Company in NYC, and continues to serve as advisor to current company leadership.
Mignon Gillen, Co-director (2003 – 2012)
Mignon Gillen, originally from South Louisiana, received her BFA in dance from Stephens College in Columbia, MO and studied at the historic Perry-Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, CO. She moved to New York City in 1986 and soon found herself dancing with The Metropolitan Opera Ballet at Lincoln Center. The following year, she found her home in the dance world with Jennifer Muller/The Works where she became a principal dancer with the company. Ms. Muller’s work grounded her in a beautiful humanistic approach to dance, strongly rooted in intention---both physically and spiritually. She performed New York City seasons with the company at The Joyce Theatre; toured throughout the US, Europe, and South America; and conducted several residencies teaching Muller technique and repertory at The Dance Loft in St. Gallen, Switzerland. She was also the assistant to Ms. Muller on several commissions including the reconstruction of Beach, a full evening ballet, for Tanz-Forum in Köln, Germany.
In 1996, Mignon was introduced to Omega Dance Company by Co-director at the time, Kara Miller. It was during this time that she was beginning a family with singer/songwriter husband, Roger Gillen; a new chapter in her dance journey and life had begun. Carla De Sola's inspiration and spiritual honesty spoke to Mignon, inspiring her to work with the company and eventually become Co-director alongside Sandra Rivera in 2003. Mignon’s foundation with Jennifer Muller could now be brought into full fruition with Omega.
As Co-director, Mignon staged choreography for the annual Feast of St. Francis (Earth Maa/Missa Gaia) at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. She also established Omega's dance ministry at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, enhancing the worship and spirituality of liturgies, prayer services, and concerts. This included embodying the music of the annual Christmas Concert at St. Ignatius---part of the church’s renowned Sacred Music in a Sacred Space concert series---from 2003 to 2006. In collaboration with Roger, who was Associate Musician and Parish Cantor at St. Ignatius, she choreographed his Mass for the World as well as several other pieces he wrote specifically for the St. Ignatius community. In 2007, Omega, under Mignon’s direction, collaborated with Paul Halley, again at St. Ignatius, for a concert of his brilliantly unique recording, Tryptich (a concert for piano, organ and harpsichord). Also under her direction, Omega danced Off-Broadway at the historic Lamb’s Theatre (2003, 2004) and El Museo del Barrio (2005) in Roger Gillen’s original world music holiday concert, Love’s Pure Light. She danced, choreographed, and directed the company in the National Womankind Convention at St. James’ Church in Richmond, Virginia and at the Washington National Cathedral for Pentecost: Brought Forth by the Spirit in 2008. From 2008 to 2012, Omega found a new home at Middle Collegiate Church where Mignon was inspired to collaborate with Senior Minister, Rev. Jacqui Lewis.
During her time with Omega, Mignon choreographed over 50 dance offerings for the company. She always felt blessed to be surrounded by dancers who knew why they were dancing. She continues her connection with the company through advisement and refining of choreography. Mignon’s ministry today is her family; being there for her sons, Daniel and Gabriel, as they transition into college. She is an advocate and consultant on educational accommodations for the blind and visually impaired. And, alongside the extraordinary people at Lighthouse Guild in NYC, she works for equal access to the arts, education, and health as a fundamental human right.
Sandra Rivera, Co-director (1990 – 2012)
Sandra Rivera has been creating and performing work in concert settings and places of worship for more than 20 years. She began her career as a founding member of Ballet Hispanico where she performed as a principal dancer, originating a number of roles in the company’s repertory.
As a dancer with Omega under the mentorship of Carla De Sola, Sandra began to choreograph and perform works based on Latino culture and history. She became Director of the company in 1990 when Carla moved to the west coast, and continued Omega's residency at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Among the works she created there was a series of dance concerts for the Cathedral's Holy Week season, including “En Espiritu: St. Teresa de Avila” and “Flamenco Dance Meditation.” Sandra also choreographed and directed pieces for the annual St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals (Earth Mass), and created a commissioned adaptation of “Los Seises,” a 13th century Spanish liturgical dance, for their Epiphany feast day celebration. At present, she works at Union Theological Seminary, where she has had a long association, creating numerous pieces, including “Dia de los Muertos” and “A Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Ponce Massacre.”
Bios on Kara Miller and Allan Tung coming soon.