Telling her story through dance

Photo by Christopher Williams

The story of Helen Keller was told on the Casella Theater stage Feb. 3 through the medium of dance. The Thodos Dance Company of Chicago told her story to the audience as part of the school’s Soundings program.

Helen Keller was born blind, deaf and mute, but through the teachings of Anne Sullivan, she learned to communicate through sign language, and prove to the world that handicapped does not mean stupid.

Professor Rich Cowden, who coordinates the Soundings program, organized the event and said he hoped that the performance would have a lasting impact on the audience. When asked why he chose this performance in particular, Cowden said, “We try to offer at least one dance performance each semester – and, interestingly, we’re the only performing arts center in the area that does this, so we’re also trying to make the events more attractive to community members.”

The cast members’ costumes were modeled after Victorian dress, and there were very few set pieces, except for a table and a bed. The dance steps were based on interpretive dance, with the performers running, spinning and jumping gracefully around the stage, conveying their emotions and thoughts through movement instead of words.

The musical accompaniment was specifically designed for the production, and featured a number of classical instruments including flutes and cellos, which provided a peaceful atmosphere to even the most intense scenes. Speaking roles were minimal, with most of the speaking coming from Anne Sullivan as she spelled out words for Helen.

Cowden said this performance accurately and effectively told the story of Helen Keller’s life.

“In dance, narrative is handled differently than in theater as there is no dialogue. The story must be told through music and movement exclusively,” he said.

    When the performance had concluded, the audience’s response was mixed. Some viewers felt bored, saying they felt that it had gone on for too long, while another said “I didn’t really understand it.”

However, most of the audience was impressed.

“It was very interesting. I didn’t know you could dance like that,” one student said.   

Another audience member was very impressed with the energy of the performance, saying, “It was good… I just love the sensuality… It makes me wanna dance.”  


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