The River City Youth Ballet “Poetry in Motion” By: V.C. McCabe
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Fans of the arts are in for a rare treat Friday night as the worlds of poetry and dance collide in “Poetry in Motion” at West Virginia Culture Center.
The River City Youth Ballet Ensemble will perform twelve dances inspired by and incorporating poems from “Wild Sweet Notes,” an anthology of West Virginian poetry spanning the fifty years between 1950 and 1999.
The event begins with Kanawha County student contest winners reading their original poems, and readings of Jean Anaporte poems will be interspersed throughout the evening.
The River City Youth Ballet Ensemble graciously allowed this writer to view a recent studio rehearsal. Even without the grandeur and ambience of a larger stage and audience, the dances are quite captivating and overall very effective in their depictions of the selected poems.
RCYB Founder and Artistic Director, Michelle Raider, choreographed the cinematic opening piece based on WVU professor Gail Galloway Adams’ “Three Women on a Porch.” The poem will be read by “Poetry Out Loud” winner, Anthony Braxton, and the dance will feature music by Tori Amos, Patsy Cline and Enya.
Raider’s poignant portrayal of the poem focuses on three old women in a nursing home as they reflect on different periods of their lives. We follow their memories, as represented by younger dancers, from little girls playing dress up through adolescence and motherhood. The series of recollections tenderly culminates in the elderly women dancing alongside their childhood counterparts.
Raider is also responsible for the outstandingly dramatic and somewhat frenetic performance of “Touching the Stars” written by West Virginia’s first female Poet Laureate, Vera Andrews Harvey.
Many of the dances were orchestrated by South African choreographer and “Fund for the Arts” Director, Margaret Lieberman. Lieberman’s merry reimagining of the square dancing verse “Faldang” — from former WV Poet Laureate Louise McNeill’s epic poem, “Gauley Mountain” — is to be sure a crowd pleaser thanks to her adorable, giddy young dancers.
Lieberman also provides an elegant, romantic rendering of Barbara Tedford’s natural nocturne “Incantation” accompanied by the gorgeous music of Chopin.
The centerpiece of the evening is a stunning interpretation of Muriel Miller Dressler’s signature poem, “Appalachia.” Dressler’s lovely testimonial for the Mountain State, as told to an outsider, gave the “Wild Sweet Notes” volume its title:
“You, who never danced to wild sweet notes,
Outpourings of nimble-fingered fiddlers;
Who never just “sat a spell” on a porch,
Chewing and whittling; or hearing in pastime
The deep-throated bay of chasing hounds”
Local choreographer, Heather Looney, took on the daunting task of portraying Dressler’s eloquently homespun words in dance. Looney did a masterful job of capturing the proud, pastoral essence of Dressler’s original poem and enhancing it with the creative license of choreography. The result is a moving tribute to both the late poet and her beloved home state.
Charleston Ballet’s Rob Royce cleverly transformed “On the Eight Day,” Phyllis Wilson Moore’s playful homage to West Virginia’s magnificent landscape, into a cute and energetic dance entitled “Paradise” set to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”
The finale of the show is based on a poem by local singer-poet, Colleen Anderson. “Bob Thompson at the Piano” is as much an ode to the evocative and nostalgic power of music as to its titular pianist:
“He offers you the melody, and then
He seems to simply let it rise, the way
Grandmother put the dough into a bowl,
Covered it with a towel, untied her apron,
And told me to go outside, now, and play”
RCYB Assistant Director Dorothea Hereford’s formal interpretation, replete with evening gowns and roses, fails to recreate the rustic warmth of Anderson’s poem. It does, however, suit Bob Thompson’s smooth jazz music and the Mountain Stage pianist himself will play live on stage for the dance.
The River City Youth Ballet dancers may not be technically perfect due to their age and inexperience, but they make up for it with exuberance and effort. The mark of great art is that which entertains and entrances the audience regardless of their knowledge of its respective medium. “Poetry in Motion” gracefully and beautifully marries language and dance with no prerequisite for enjoyment.
The performance will be held at the West Virginia Culture Center on Friday, November 18 at 7:00 p.m. General admission tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 304.925.3262. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors.