Ranging from the emotional psyche of women to the grief endured after losing a son or daughter in war, the USF Theatre and Dance performance Of Anger and Grace lays the extremities of human emotion on the table.
“It’s not your sister’s ballet recital,” said producer Michael Powers.
Of Anger and Grace showcases the choreography, production and acting of instructors and students from the USF dance department over four pieces: “Child Comes Home,” “Persephone,” “Grief” and “Bitter Tongue.”
“Child Comes Home” is a depiction of West African culture that is based on the life on famed dancer Pearl Primus. Primus founded the Pearl Primus Dance League Institute, which has promoted the preservation of West African dance.
“Persephone” is loosely based on the Greek goddess who ruled the underworld.
Choreographer Michael Foley used her story to explore the inner depth of the female psyche.
“It really is a visual assault,” Foley said. “I collaborated with scenic designer and costume designer to create a very visual package. We have 14 fantastic female dancers, almost dancing to physical exhaustion. The lighting design is like nothing we’ve had here in the past.”
“Bitter Tongue” is a revival of famed choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, who as the director of Urban Bush Women. Carolina Garcia, who was a soloist for the UBW, is restaging the piece that is based on a “cry of defiance toward non-conformancy in oppressive situations”.
Preparation for the performance has spanned nearly three months. The USF theatre and dance department has taken the opportunity to experiment with Of Anger and Grace, combining three art forms in the process.
“We’ve been trying to combine dance and theatre in a bigger way,” said Phillip Gulley, a theatre major and performer. “One of the interesting issues that has come up has been the different number of views and vocabularies that the separate art forms we use. Combining dance, live music and theatre has been an interesting challenge.”
Having a broader scope of artistic freedom has allowed the choreographers and performers to delve into their roles even further.
“It’s nice watching students explore darker sides of their personality,” Foley said. “There is vengeance, anger and violence, but also tenderness.”
“Grief” explores the anguish faced by mothers who lose their children in war. Gretchen Warren, the choreographer for “Grief,” based her work on letters from soldiers fighting in Iraq. The piece opens with a barrage of images from the war accompanied by a live cello.
“I think that if you are concerned about the effects that war has, not just on the soldiers who have died but everyone in their families, it affects civilian population as well as the soldiers,” Warren said.
Warren said that one of the most interesting and difficult aspects of the process was the performers’ realization that they were portraying people within their own age group.
“For the actors in the piece it was particularly heart-wrenching because they realized they are exactly the same age as the letters they are reading,” Warren said. “I don’t look at my piece as a political piece, I look at it as a statement of the ravages of war.”
Powers hopes that first-timers to a dance-theatre performance take away a new respect for the craft.
“It can be a very moving experience for everyone whether they understand it or not,” Powers said. “It is comparable to listening to good music: Contemporary, pop or classical. I think the way music can move your emotions and psyche, dance can do the same.”
Of Anger and Grace opens Thursday in Theatre 1. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for seniors and students.