Radford University’s School of Dance & Theatre will present “Sounds of Stories Dancing,” a piece inspired by Appalachian oral histories, on Nov. 3 at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tenn. Performances are scheduled for 1 p.m. for local school groups and 7:30 p.m. for the general public.
Admission is free, but donations of nonperishable food for the local food bank are encouraged and will be accepted at the door.
With collage as the guiding metaphor, this multigenre dance and theatre performance layers Appalachian oral histories that have been transformed into original dance, music and painting to examine love of place, outmigration as a result of economic necessity and what progress truly means, said Associate Professor of Dance Deborah McLaughlin.
“The stories that most influenced the direction of the piece are about the outmigration from the region,” said McLaughin, who also serves as director of the RU dance education program.
In 2009, McLaughin choreographed a multimedia work in response to mountaintop removal, “Eating Appalachia: Selling Out to the Hungry Ghost,” also performed in Bristol. “The cutting of roots and subsequent search for place resonate deeply in me and are a continuing and global issue,” she said.
Featuring 10 student dancers from the School of Dance & Theatre, “Sounds of Stories Dancing” is a collaborative effort between McLaughlin and Theresa Burriss, director of the Appalachian Regional Studies Center at Radford and chair of the Appalachian Studies Program. The piece utilizes Burriss’ Appalachian oral histories as seed material.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the performance, not just playing the role of storyteller in the piece but also providing the Appalachian oral histories that inspired Deborah to choreograph it,” Burriss said.
The upcoming performance also holds special meaning for Burriss, a native of Bristol.
“Performing in my hometown is extra special for me because most Appalachians greatly value home and possess a deep love of place,” she said. “It is vital that Appalachian youth understand the history of the region, which is quite complex, because that knowledge more securely roots them in their culture and provides a greater sense of identity. Outmigration is a phenomenon that still occurs in Appalachian communities for various reasons.”
The two women are collaborating on a “Sounds of Stories Dancing” performance for the second year in a row. Burriss said she marvels at McLaughin’s creativity and ability to transform Appalachian political and social issues into art.
“I am an avid supporter of the arts in all their many forms. The performing arts have the power to reach audiences with a deep emotional resonance not found in textbooks but that can be equally educational,” Burriss said. “I love being a part of that process because I am a teacher at heart, and I see the classroom as existing well beyond four confining walls.”
Other contributing performers are Suzanne Stryk, a visual artist from Bristol, Va., and composers Don Hall and Bud Bennett.