'Shadow Waltz' portrays coal miners' stories

'Shadow Waltz' poster

The story of coal mining in Appalachia and the devastation of black lung disease will come to life when the Radford University Department of Dance presents "The Shadow Waltz," a dance and theatre piece inspired by oral histories of miners.

Free public performances will be at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, and Friday, April 26, in Albig Studio Theatre in RU's Peters Hall.

The interdisciplinary piece, which includes performances by RU dance students, weaves miners’ stories with dance, music and text to reflect the history and mystique of Appalachian coal mining. With funding from a Radford University faculty research grant, Associate Professor Deborah McLaughlin, a choreographer and director of dance education at RU, collaborated with Theresa Burriss, director of the Appalachian Studies Program, to use oral histories as well as her own research as seed material.

"The stories that really surprised me were about the coal miners' love for the mountains and for underground mining in spite of the hardships and often subsequent illness," McLaughlin said. "I found the miners’ daily confrontation with the possibility of death from explosions or mine collapses heroic."

The miners' tales speak to struggles humanity has dealt with through history. While developing the piece, McLaughlin said, she was reminded of the Sirens in Greek mythology. She decided to layer mythology with reality to tell the story of Appalachian coal country.

The collaboration is the third between McLaughlin and Burriss in a trilogy of Appalachian dance and theatre pieces, beginning in 2009 with "Eating Appalachia: Selling Out to the Hungry Ghost," a piece about mountaintop removal. Their work continued in 2011 with "Sounds of Stories Dancing," a work inspired by Appalachian women's oral histories.

Those two pieces toured to the Paramount Theatre in Bristol after performances at Radford University and have been presented in part at conferences at RU, North Georgia State University and University of the Arts in Philadelphia. McLaughlin and Burriss will present at a conference at Miami University of Ohio in June. They plan to integrate the three works into a larger piece that tours the region.

Learn more about Radford University at www.radford.edu.

Apr 23, 2013
Dan Waidelich
(540) 831-7749