On Top of the World

Well behaved women rarely make history.

Dance Dance the Revolution

It’s Patriots Day! The holiday is celebrated in Concord and Lexington, and their surrounding towns, with reenactments of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” that set off the American Revolution. Throughout Massachusetts there are closed businesses and little parades. In Boston, there is the marathon. But across the rest of the country and the world, it is just another day.

Last summer my family went to Washington D.C. for Independence Day. As part of our festivities we went to the National Archive to see the Declaration of Independence as it appears in National Treasure. We have an undying love for that movie, silly as it may be. But then, maybe it isn’t so silly. We, as a family, have an undying love of both American history and art, especially performance art. When they collide it is doubly wonderful. Besides National Treasure, some of my favourites include:

+ the musical 1776
+ the cartoon Liberty’s Kids
+ the comic book The Dreamer
+ the miniseries John Adams and the book it is based on

These are not wholly historically accurate, but they capture something of the magic that is the American Revolution and tell a good story.

While I was at the National Archives last July I happened upon a display about the Civil War. It included a large map of the battlefield for the Battle of Gettysburg on the floor, under glass, with the path of the battle outlined. I spent a long while looking at the map, standing over it, walking the lines of battle. I have always been fascinated by the Civil War and lately, with the ongoing and loud discussion of the divisions in current American politics, my fascination has become newly relevant. But while I walked over the map a curious thought sprung up:

This is like a ballet.

And the idea has haunted me since. I want to make a ballet that follows the footsteps of the Civil War soldiers — on both sides — who fought and bled and died at the Battle of Gettysburg. I don’t want to make it out to be any less bloody and deadly and messy and ugly and heartbreaking and horrible than it was but I do want to set all that down to music and dance and present it with the honour it deserves. Because it does deserve that honour. It should be remembered, especially now, with the country so divided and divisive.

When I was 14 years old, I started my own theatre group alongside my best friends. We called it Extremely Off Broadway Productions and over the next five years we put on almost a dozen shows. With original books and music adapted from Broadway and popular music, I and some 20 other kids aged 5-18 put up shows in church basements across town. Now, 20 years later, I’m amazed we were able to do that, writing a blog post like this one can sometimes seems nearly impossible to me — organizing something on that level when I was a Freshman in high school seems crazy. But my brother John says it was simple as this: no one told 14-year-old me it was crazy, or difficult; no one said I shouldn’t. No one said I couldn’t, so I did.

It occurs to me often that the only person holding back 34-year-old me is me. So instead of thinking “I want to make a ballet about the Civil War” I’m going to do it. Except I am starting with The Shot Heard Round the World and building up. We hear a lot about the Tea Party Movement these days and it generally makes me near-violently angry. I oppose pretty much everything they say and I can’t stand that they make allusions to the founding fathers in their self-promotion. I want there to be an equally vocal and visible opposition to the Tea-baggers outside of the administration and whether it makes sense or not, I personally want to call it the Tea Party Avengers. But that aside, I want to make my own noise. With my dance. That can be my weapon. So here is my goal — April 19, 2011, I will debut an original ballet inspired by the first shot fired in the American Revolution. And maybe it will be the first in a string of historically inspired dance performances. I’ve submitted the idea to a few organizations for patronage, maybe nothing will come of it, maybe something will come of it. I don’t know what the end result will actually be, but for today, Patriots Day, the point is to begin.


1 Comment»

  Ping-back Alert « On Top of the World wrote @

[…] Most excitingly: My Dance the Revolution project will soon be up on Kickstarter to raise funding. We’ll be shooting a video […]

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