Dance tells the moving story of tragic times

The Baltimore Sun

Eileen Rivers created her professional modern dance troupe shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a date that is the focus of her latest work.

Rivers, 33, will use the universal language of dance to communicate the horrors of Sept. 11 and the Iraq war for the Mustard Seed Dance Company's staging of The Art of War on March 24 at the Chesapeake Arts Center.

The MSDC, as it is known, plans to use film footage as a backdrop for the seven-part performance and has been soliciting photos of service members who have died in Iraq.

"The main thing is to tie something very visual that most people can easily interpret with movement and use those two things in conjunction with each other," she said.

Rivers added that the film component "should prove more powerful than anything seen on television because it is live and the audience has the opportunity to interact with the dancers."

Lead dancer Melissa Hathway and Rivers are classically trained dancers who in this piece convey profound feelings that Rivers says, are metaphors for grief.

The work, which will include modern and pedestrian movement, war footage and presidential and political films, is principally a commentary on the Iraq war.

"As with all my work, the film and movement will work in conjunction with one another," Rivers said.

Rivers said her company was founded on hope and believes her creation has "come full circle through its initial hope to deal with major topics through dance."

The troupe's name is based on the parable of the smallest mustard seed growing into a large tree through faith.

The nonprofit, avant-garde modern dance company combines various dance techniques with film, visual art, music and the spoken word to showcase expression on political, cultural, racial and feminist issues. It reflects Rivers' belief that "dance is meant to explore new territory and to be thought-provoking."

Rivers is a former dancer-in-residence at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis and Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, where she and some troupe members have danced in three previous programs from 2001 to 2004.

Rivers created a memorable work in May 2005 at Anne Arundel Community College's Humanities Recital Hall, exploring the plight of Sarah Baartman. A London physician displayed Baartman, who was a slave, naked in a cage and toured with her throughout Europe until her death at age 25.

Rivers said her work affirmed Baartman's dignity while drawing a parallel with women in vintage television commercials where Barbie doll-like housewives in high heels went about doing their chores.

MSDC under Rivers has also offered performances in College Park, Ellicott City, Mount Rainier, Washington, and Augusta, Ga.

The March 24 performance will begin at 6 p.m. at CAC's Studio Theatre at 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. The show will be preceded and followed by a talk about the work and issues related to war. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and full-time students and can be purchased by calling 410-903-7695.

Photos of fallen troops can be e-mailed to or mailed to Rivers at 13031 Old Stage Coach Road, No. 2819, Laurel 20708 with a stamped self-addressed envelope for their return. Photos must reach Rivers by Wednesday.

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