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Repertory Dance Theatre to Present SIX SONGS FROM ELLIS

Reflections on freedom from refugees told through dance.

Repertory Dance Theatre will close its 56th season with an evening-length, multi-genre performance exploring the stories of refugees from Ellis Island.

Conceived and choreographed by University of Wyoming professor Marsha Fay Knight, SIX SONGS FROM ELLIS dives into the reasons why people make drastic changes in order to improve their lives using oral histories from immigrants. The performance will take place at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in four live performances, April 21-23. For those who are unable to attend in person, the concert will be available in a virtual, on-demand format afterward.

Immigration and refugee crisis are just as critical topics now as they were 100 years ago. Unsubstantiated fear and misinformation prompt current policies and actions of bias, beckoning reflection and awareness of who we are and the true diversity of our constitution. Attitudes toward access and response to need and crisis can benefit from stories - inspiring, cautionary and human - of those who helped build this country.

Millions of stories came through Ellis Island during the years of comparatively open immigration (1892-1922). SIX SONGS FROM ELLIS is a multi-genre work based on these oral histories, demonstrating commonalities past and present encountered by those taking drastic steps to improve their lives. Making the immigrant experience human and individual is at the heart of this work.

The script is based entirely on the oral histories of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. Many excerpts are thematically grouped having to do with reasons for leaving - forced removal from home, reflections on this and their journey, arrival in the NY Harbour, statements on their lives as Americans, and contributions made to our society. In short-why people make drastic moves to change their lives.

The concept and choreography come from Marsha Fay Knight, a professor, and researcher from the University of Wyoming. Knight presented SIX SONGS FROM ELLIS originally in 2018 after spending a sabbatical in 2016-2017 fully immersed in research at Ellis Island's Oral History Library.

When asked what inspired the project, Knight says, "Hundred-year-old themes of nationalism, xenophobia, American identity protection and suspicion resulting in anti-immigration legislation bare uncanny similarities to current attitudes and policies regarding refugees and immigration."

She continues, "The importance of hearing voices of the past, the reminder of timeliness, the parallel of past with the present, and making the immigrant experience human and individual are the heart of this work and motivate further investigation."

SIX SONGS FROM ELLIS features nine RDT dancers as well as six additional actors/dancers from the community including Aria Sage, Hannah Staudinger, Olivia Buck, Benjamin Raymant, Jonah Kirkhart, and Tyler Fox. RDT dancer, Dan Higgins will be assisting Knight with the choreographic realization of the project. The format of the multi-genre performance includes audio from oral histories woven into both actor text and dance/movement entwined with significant projection elements, and music true to the individual's country of origin.
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