HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- In a Hofstra University dance studio, a mixed group of professional and student dancers — all too young to have lived through the events they were symbolically recreating — recently rehearsed a work inspired by the turmoil and tragedy of the Vietnam War era.
As a laptop emitted music punctuated by soft, crackling sounds suggesting distant rifle fire, or perhaps jungle brush snapping underfoot, some dancers lay as flat as corpses; others sat upright, like tombstones. Still others ran, as on a battlefield. Finally, they came together as a living frieze, their bodies touching at tortured angles.
“I call it a wall of carnage,” said Robin Becker, the choreographer who created the hourlong work, titled “Into Sunlight.” Ms. Becker, an associate professor of dance at Hofstra, said that although she had wanted to depict horror, “I didn’t want to do something literal, like ‘fight choreography.’ ”
“Into Sunlight,” with nine student dancers and the seven members of the Robin Becker Dance company (and an original score by Chris Lastovicka), will be performed April 14 to 17 as part of the Hofstra Spring Dance Concert at the university’s John Cranford Adams Playhouse.
It is also a keystone of an interdisciplinary conference, “Into Sunlight: The Impact of War on the Social Body From the Vietnam Era to the Present,” to be held April 14 to 16. The dance performance will be free on April 15 at 3 p.m., also at the playhouse, as part of the conference.
Presented by the Hofstra Cultural Center and the department of drama and dance, the three-day colloquium features lectures, panels, performances (including an original play), an art exhibition and documentary screenings. “The overarching idea of this whole conference is to bring about more understanding of war, and also of our veterans,” said Ms. Becker, a co-director of the conference.
Topics like post-traumatic stress disorder will be explored through different disciplines, like psychology and drama. Programs encouraging veterans — including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan — to speak of their experiences are also scheduled.
The conference evolved slowly from Ms. Becker’s dance piece, as did a separately developed symposium held last month at the University of Wisconsin.
At Hofstra, which hosts numerous interdisciplinary events, using a dance as a point of departure “might have been a unique path to a conference,” said Bernard J. Firestone, dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
That path started some years ago with Ms. Becker’s concern over the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. “I felt heartbroken that we still need to choose war in this day and age,” she said. “And I felt called to do something as an artist.”
Ms. Becker found her source material not in Iraq but in “They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967,” a 2003 book by David Maraniss. The book, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, juxtaposes the ambush of an American battalion in Vietnam with a contemporaneous antiwar protest at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.
A friend of the choreographer’s, Mr. Maraniss (who won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting at The Washington Post in 1993) welcomed her idea to translate his words into movement. “I thought that was a fascinating and wonderful idea,” Mr. Maraniss, an associate editor at The Post, said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Maraniss, who is from Madison, was instrumental in getting “Into Sunlight” performed at the University of Wisconsin. He also helped support the idea of a conference at Hofstra, and will give its keynote address on April 14. Members of Robin Becker Dance will perform excerpts from “Into Sunlight” as part of the keynote.
Another new work to be performed is “Undeclared History,” a play by Isaac Rathbone commissioned by Hofstra’s drama and dance department and directed by Cindy Rosenthal, a professor in the department.
Based on interviews, oral testimonies gathered for a university history project and archival material about the Vietnam era, “Undeclared History” is the fictionalized story of a disabled veteran enrolled at Hofstra during the tumultuous days of the school’s antiwar protests.
The production, with live music, incorporates elements of street theater and is confrontational at times. “Some of the imagery is disturbing,” said Ms. Rosenthal, a co-director of the conference with Ms. Becker and Robert Westley, an assistant professor of drama and dance.
Ms. Becker also used disturbing imagery to serve the creative process, she said. Working with her dancers on “Into Sunlight,” she showed them harrowing photographs of the Vietnam War.
It was all part of their training, she said, “so that they can really embody something that happened before their time.”
Saturday, April 9, 2011
The NY Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 10:01 PM