This weekend: The USF School of Theater and Dance presents What the Heart Remembers: The Women and Children of Darfur

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This is difficult subject matter, but Jeanne Travers, choreographer, and Fanni Green, writer and director (both USF professors) make the material come alive.  Green’s lyrics are simple but hit with cyclone force.  They completely nail the horrors these people are enduring.  Travers’ modern dance movements convey the pain, tumult, chaos--and at times joy--of the refugees.


[image-1]The two dozen student actors and dancers put an amazing amount of intensity and raw emotion into the performance.  One forgets at times that they are students portraying parts and not the actual refugees having their lives torn apart.  It’s as though you can feel the gut-wrenching emotion through them.


What the Heart Remembers isn’t all discouraging, though.  Granted, some scenes are painful to watch because of their brutality, but others are hopeful and speak to the eternal power of the human spirit.


In “Village Portraits,” the cast assembles in a series of freeze frame images that convey the horror of what the residents of the refugee camps have to endure.  These snapshots resonate to the point that I found them popping into my mind after I left the theater.  The male dancers in “Faces of a Man,” have a realistic-looking fight scene that demonstrates their skills in carrying out this intricate and forceful choreography.


The most haunting and effective piece is “The Road to Water.”  A refugee woman chants, “It is my turn to get the water.  I know that when I return, I will not be me.”  This shows the plight of the women in trying to provide water for their families.  The water source is far away and the women risk being beaten, humiliated, raped or killed in pursuit of water.  Travers’ stylized choreography powerfully conveys the atrocities and depicts the women being torn apart by this experience.  The fact that they have to live through this on a regular basis is unthinkable.


Two parallel pas de deux are performed in “Love Duets.”  This is a refreshing respite from the seriousness of the other vignettes, but as the man is leaving, the woman says, “Now I remember you.”  To me this indicates a lingering sadness that the man must leave and the woman ends up alone.  Times of happiness are fleeting in this world.


In “Death, Burial and Sorrow,” a woman says, “Come.  A child has died.  A mother cries.”  The body of a child is brought out, held awkwardly with one leg dangling, and placed onto a litter.  After the mother and others mourn, the child is carried out by the women.  We see the heartbreak of this life in which women must lose what is most precious to them.


The closing piece, “Resilience and Hope:  This is Not the Time,” gives us an upbeat ending.  A man says, “Now is not the time for silence.  We must move this mountain.  You have eyes.  You have voices.  Carry my heart with you.  Now is not the time for silence.”  This is an entreaty to the audience not to forget what they have witnessed this evening, to go out and let others know about these atrocities.


Catherine Costa on flute and vocals, and Barry Skeete on drums provide the majority of the music.  This rhythmic music brings the audience right into the frame of mind of being in an African village.  I liked the use of the rain stick during scenes having to do with water.


Scenic design by G.B. Stephens is effective and spare, depicting a simple African village.  Photos and films showing scenes from Darfur are projected onto a backdrop that simulates bamboo material, which makes it look natural and doesn't distract from the performances.


I was genuinely moved by this performance and would highly recommend it.  What we may have to endure in our daily lives seems paltry in comparison to what the residents of refugee camps must face on a daily basis.


What the Heart Remembers: The Women and Children of Darfur will be performed Nov. 16-20 at 8pm, and Nov. 20 and 21 at 3pm, in Theatre 2. Following each of the performances will be a symposium, each featuring a different speaker and followed by a reception. For information, call the College of The Arts box office at 813-974-2323, or visit online at http://www.arts.usf.edu/.

“If you are facing the mountain, you can move the mountain.”  This is the opening entreaty from What the Heart Remembers: The Women and Children of Darfur, a multi media piece that shows the atrocities inflicted upon the residents of the Darfur refugee camps.  The USF School of Theater and Dance has taken on an ambitious project in depicting the Darfur refugees’ lives through images, poetry, music, and dance.

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