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State Theatre welcomes the macabre for upcoming shows

by on June 14, 2018 11:04 AM

STATE COLLEGE — Fans of all things macabre, shadowy and gothic will find much to love at The State Theatre on Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, with performances of "Deep Into That Darkness."

Renowned Centre County choreographer Ann Van Kuren, in collaboration with Cynthia Mazzant, will present two new works based on Edgar Allan Poe's writing. Van Kuren directs Van Dance, a modern dance reprtory company, while Mazzant directs Bellefonte-based Tempest Productions. Both women have more than a passing fascination with Poe and his writing, and this production will explore the themes most repeated in the poet's work.

The first piece, "Valley of Unrest," "removes the veil that exists between this life and the next," Van Kuren said, "and death is where we do that."

Two Tempest actresses, Elizabeth Bagley and Elaine Meder-Wilgus, will declaim lines of text from the poem.

"Some of the verses and stanzas are rewritten," said Van Kuren, "but the structure Poe created is maintained.” The text, she explained, informs the dancers and acts as a factor motivating their movement.

"The dancers become images of women Poe loved and lost," she said. "Very feminine imagery.

For 'Valley of Unrest,' Cathy Herrera is playing a flute composition based on the ancient Scottish folk song ‘Long Ago and Far Away’ that we think Poe refers to in his poem."  

Van Kuren finds her inspiration in stories or visuals and take her reactions to the studio where she can work to discover physical movement relating to the feelings. Then, when she begins to work with her dancers, she starts crafting set choreography. But she retains a fluid, organic approach and no piece ever settles into complacency. She manages to bring a dynamic freshness to every piece.
Dancers Abbie Wilson, Sarah Rich and Amyko Ishizaki, along with Van Kuren, will appear in "Valley."

The second Van Dance piece, "Masque of the Red Death," has a more linear structure. In the short story, Poe tells the tale of how a vicious epidemic, the red death or plague, follows and destroys even the most wealthy and well-connected of society. The aristocratic class, portrayed by Tempest performers, seeks to shut itself off in hopes of evading the disease.

"It applies to our time," Van Kuren said. "We can keep out what we fear, but it can still get to us."

She, Wilson and Ishizaki will perform the dances segments of the piece, wtih Meder-Wilgus and Bagley supplying oral interpretation of the original text. As accompaniment, she selected a compilation of short pieces by Matti Paalanen.

In 1991, Van Kuren, serving as artistic director of Pennsylvania Dance Theatre, created "The Raven and Other Tales" out of her fascination with Poe's work. Her history with the 19th-century master's work has spanned more than two decades and continues to evolve.

She will likely never run out of material, given Poe's prolific nature. "Annabel Lee," "The Bells," "Ulalume," "The Raven," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Man in the Crowd" have all undergone a dancer's perspective, thanks to Van Kuren.

"This show is very special to me because of the history," she said.

Van Kuren encourages people to come to the show in costume. "It's a fun process done in a festival atmosphere."


Ann is an Arts and Entertainment correspondent for the Gazette.
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