Dance to pay tribute to Helen Keller: activist, visionary . . . lover?

Taylor Boydstun

Staff Writer

“Helen Unveiled” will bring a fresh perspective to Troy University’s 22nd annual Helen Keller lecture series as it tells the story of her tragic romance through word, dance and music.

The dedication to the life of Helen Keller will take place on Monday, Nov. 14, at 10 a.m. in Claudia Crosby Theater.

Helen Keller was a prominent figure from Tuscumbia widely known for overcoming obstacles associated with being deaf and blind. In addition to overcoming adversity, Keller is credited with being one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The collective creative minds behind this year’s lecture series wanted to branch out from the usual format that centered around conversation with an artist or professional who has overcome difficulty of hearing or visual impairment.

“Knowing that this dance would be the centerpiece for the lecture series, we began wondering if there were different ways to bring in the other arts, such as visual or music,” said Tori Lee Averett, chair of the department of theater and dance.

The show opens with an artistic theatrical performance featuring Averett and fellow Troy faculty member Quinton Cockrell, which will set the stage for the rest of the performance — giving a voice to Keller where she did not have one.

“I always enjoy the Helen Keller lecture series,” said Katie Gee, a senior interpreting major from Tuscaloosa. “It is so inspiring to see people who have not let anything hold them back from achieving their dreams.

“I love that is it different each year. I look forward to seeing her story being told through ballet.”

Using Troy faculty’s research of Keller’s writings combined with “The Myth of Water,” a book about Keller’s life in her 30s by Jeanie Thompson, they began to formulate a more personable view of Keller.

“She was this remarkable woman, activist and humanitarian, an advocate for the people’s rights. But sometimes that’s all people know about her,” Averett said. “Most people don’t really think of her as a woman who had a long life and fell in love and wanted to have children, but wasn’t ever granted that.”

The title of the event “Helen Unveiled” explains their goal of pulling away the assumptions people make in order to truly personify Keller.

World-renowned Italian dancer and choreographer Adria Ferrali began creating her contemporary ballet “With Tempest On Its Wings” back in 2009.

The dance is inspired by Keller’s quote regarding her romance with newspaperman Peter Fagan: “The love which had come unseen and unexpected departed with tempest on its wings.”

Ferrali found this quote about her unknown love story fascinating, which led her to create the dance.

“A performance is a dialogue,” Ferrali said.” It’s a dialogue between the performer and the audience.

“So what I expect is that the message contained within our creation will be delivered to the public, and that moment of communication will create some inspirational waves to the audience”

Ferrali stated that she was inspired by Thompson’s book giving a lesser-known perspective to Keller’s life.

“Not too many people know about this story,” Ferrali said. “The two of them fell in love and decided to elope together.

“And eventually they even had a marriage certificate made in another town. But they were stopped. We don’t know by whom, but the relationship was terminated. So she wrote that she met love, but it abandoned her with tempest on its wings.”

“Students from all walks of life will benefit from this show,” said Judy Robertson, director of the interpreter training program at Troy. “While the main focus of the Helen Keller lecture series is overcoming adversity, we hope to create a sense of relativity to people with disabilities.

“Through this performance, a woman who has always been seen as a strong figure in history because of her disability can be seen as human, a woman with feeling, which is something we can all relate to and understand.”

Two Troy dance students, London Brison and Brooke Whigham, will perform with Ferrali in the dedication.

“I am looking forward to the actual dance, choreographed by Adria Ferrali,” Robertson said. “(Keller’s) personal life is still mysterious, and even though this dance is considered to be biographical fiction, it still allows us further look into her life.”

To close the event, Keller’s great-great-niece will share her comments.

Author Jeanie Thompson will also be in attendance, signing copies of her book, “The Myth of Water” after the show.

Displayed in the lobby outside the Claudia Crosby Theater will be artwork from students at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind.

The event is free of charge, open to the public, and students are highly encouraged to attend, according to Robertson.

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