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Review: River City Youth Ballet puts poets' words into motion

By Victoria McCabe
Courtesy photo
Kathleen Sweat and Grace Smiley are among the River City Youth Ballet Ensemble dancers presenting the original production "Poetry in Motion" at the Culture Center Theater on Friday. The show sets works by West Virginia poets to original dance routines.
WANT TO GO? "Poetry in Motion" Presented by the River City Youth Ballet EnsembleWHEN: 7 p.m. FridayWHERE: Culture Center TheaterCOST: Adults $12, seniors and children $10INFO: 304-925-3262 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fans of the arts are in for a treat Friday night as the worlds of poetry and dance collide in "Poetry in Motion" at the Culture Center Theater. In the program, the River City Youth Ballet Ensemble will perform 10 dances inspired by and incorporating poems from "Wild Sweet Notes," an anthology of West Virginian poetry spanning 1950-1999.The event begins with Kanawha County student contest winners reading their original poems. Readings of works by local poet Jean Anaporte will be interspersed through the evening.Recently, the ensemble allowed this writer to view a studio rehearsal. Even without the grandeur and ambience of a larger stage and audience, the dances were quite captivating and very effective in their depictions of the selected poems. Michelle Raider, the group's founder and artistic director, choreographed the cinematic opening piece, which is based on WVU professor Gail Galloway Adams' "Three Women on a Porch." Poetry Out Loud winner Anthony Braxton will read the poem, 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, reflecting 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 also is responsible for the outstandingly dramatic and somewhat frenetic performance of "Touching the Stars" by West Virginia's first female poet laureate, Vera Andrews Harvey. Fund for the Arts director Margaret Lieberman, a choreographer in her native South Africa, orchestrates many of the other dances.Lieberman's merry re-imagining of the square-dancing verse "Faldang," from former West Virginia poet laureate Louise McNeill's epic poem, "Gauley Mountain," is sure to be a crowd pleaser, thanks to the adorable, giddy young dancers. She 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 pastimeThe deep-throated bay of chasing hounds"Local choreographer Heather Looney took on the daunting task of portraying Dressler's eloquently homespun words in dance. She 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 Eighth Day," Phyllis Wilson Moore's playful homage to West Virginia's magnificent landscape, into a cute and energetic dance titled "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 thenHe seems to simply let it rise, the wayGrandmother 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 on Friday.The River City Youth Ballet dancers might 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 it 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.
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