Original dance performance at Radford to honors Vietnam vets


A new dance performance, "Elegy," served as a remembrance of Vietnam combat veterans by bringing their personal stories to the stage.

"Elegy," directed by Radford University Assistant Professor of Dance Amy VanKirk, premiered Nov. 2 in Bondurant Auditorium.

The new modern dance program was inspired by the novel "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien and stories from VanKirk's relatives and those of several performers.

"As a choreographer I find inspiration in many places, but I've always had a special interest in family history…I think it is important to keep the stories of those I have lost alive," VanKirk said.

The director first tackled war with dance in "Keep This For Me," a musical dance revue of life at home and on front in World War II. That work was based largely on her own grandparents' letters. "Elegy" takes inspiration from the life of Daniel S. O'Brien, VanKirk's uncle who served in Vietnam and passed away in 2014.

"I was never able to talk about war with my uncle or my grandfathers, but through letters and stories I am now able to imagine what their lives were like during these difficult times," VanKirk said.

The cast was comprised of students from the Department of Dance, who were encouraged to bring their own stories to the creative process. Following the show, VanKirk and the cast and crew answered questions from the audience about the piece in a special talkback session.


"Elegy" was a Big Read NRV event.

Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Big Read encourages community members to read a common book and attend events based on it.

The featured book is Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," after which the exhibit is named. The collection of linked short stories explores the combat experiences of Vietnam veterans, but continues to resonate today.

"Being a part of Big Read NRV has been incredibly inspiring," said VanKirk, who had students read the book and bring their own personal experiences with it to their creative work. "Any program that can bring together the community with such a broad range of events and spark conversation about an important topic is a success."

Radford University's McConnell Library is joined by several community partners in sponsoring The Big Read: New River Community College, Glencoe Museum, Montgomery County Public Schools, Radford Public Library and Virginia Tech's Center for the Study of Rhetoric in Society.

"We selected this title to provide opportunities to create dialogue around critical social and historical issues linked to our country being at war, both past and present," said Lisa Vassady, Big Read organizer and research help desk coordinator and instruction librarian at Radford University's McConnell Library.

The New River Valley is one of only 75 communities around the country selected to host this year's Big Read. The $15,000 grant secured for the project is one of the largest ones in the country.

For more information and a full calendar of events, please visit The Big Read website.

Nov 5, 2015