Peace begins with communication. The exchange of ideas can take many forms, and compromise can be reached in ways other than verbalization. Through Visions of Peace, associate professor of dance Jeanne Travers incorporates a blend of music, text and dance to promote harmony by stimulating the ears and eyes.
Inspired by Chantal Bernard’s The International Book of Peace, which features messages of peace and unity written by presidents, former prime ministers, scholars, religious leaders and Nobel Peace Prize recipients from around the world, Travers began the project in 2003 during a yearlong research sabbatical in France.
“The richness of the text, the language, the words and the images started to evoke movement concepts that I would share with my dancers, and through improvisation we would explore different meanings,” Travers said. “The dancers had to integrate and explore the meaning of the text for themselves. A lot of the movement and imagery clearly evolved from the text.”
With four dancers in Tampa and seven to eight in France, Travers spent the year traveling back and forth and developing the choreography. In April 2005, it premiered at the Theatre Dejazet in France to a full audience of 500 that included the mayor of Paris. Though the creation of Visions of Peace occurred within the two countries, the performance includes musicians from Algeria, Iran and Tunisia, with Judeo-Spanish and Sufi chanting as well as Hebrew songs and Andalusian music. Excerpts from The International Book of Peace are read in French, English and Arabic.
“If we have messages from all of these different countries, then certainly it’s appropriate to have the text in many different languages,” Travers said.
By incorporating language and music common to a variety of countries, the message of the work appeals to a more global audience. Uniting these various forms of auditory stimulation through the choreography itself, which is uniformly performed in contemporary modern dance, this form of dance features fluid movements and displays the relationships between body and mind.
Visions of Peace is separated into seven sections, beginning with “Interfaith Dialogue,” which features three dancers representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths performing to an ancient Hebrew chant.
“I think that the Interfaith Dialogue basically explains that there are all these different beliefs, but we all want a common ground. We all want unity,” said alumna Diana Mighdoll, who performs in the production, including “Interfaith Dialogue.”
The performance moves to “Where There is Listening There is the Beginning of Peace,” which stresses listening to one another to achieve a deeper understanding of the other’s situation. The atmosphere and movements are smooth and tranquil, but the music performed involves Christian chanting and highlights the silent, more neglected facet of communication: receiving information.
Also underscoring the importance of achieving peace through communication is “Dialogue of Peace,” encompassing the sixth section. Through narration and movement, this section explains how people can talk to one another.
“If we can start with listening to each other, then we can develop a dialogue. Once we develop a dialogue, we can lead from conflict to resolution,” Travers said. “It also raises the question, ‘How do we listen and connect with one another using our bodies?'”
Though the focus of the production is peace, the pivotal fourth section features a male duet in a warring sequence. It addresses the element of war and how draining and consuming it can be through fierce, masculine movements. This section provides the climax of the performance, sandwiched between three sections on each side that promote peace and understanding.
“The sections after the warring piece bring up the energy and work toward celebrating our hope for peace,” Travers said.
Travers has sustained rehearsals as new dancers join the cast in order to teach them the choreography, so members such as Mighdoll have been continuously practicing the dances for the past year and a half. Research grants from USF and other fund-raising techniques pay for its prolonged operation and defray the costs of bringing dancers, musicians and narrators from France. A fund-raiser was held performing a preview for patrons in the driveway-turned-dance floor of Susan Steen and Dominick Graziano. The event raised $5,000.
Visions of Peace will premiere in the United States tonight at 8 in Theatre I. Tickets for students and seniors are $6 and $12 for adults.