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Dance group will tell story of Gee’s Bend

Tonight, you have the opportunity to witness what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Demopolis Middle School.

Thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alabama State Council on the Art and the Two Rivers Arts Council, the New York City-based Wideman/Davis Dance group will bring the story of Gee’s Bend to life.

When Thaddeus Davis and his wife Tanya were asked by the Department of Women’s Studies at Auburn University to create a dance piece for the Gee’s Bend exhibit opening almost a year ago, what began as a mini show, transformed into something more.

“Our initial show was about 24 minutes long. Now, it’s up to 50 minutes,” Thaddeus said. “We’ve been developing the project ever since the opening and we still have further developments to do.”

After “playing with movements and creating a script,” the Wideman/Davis production takes spectators from the founding of Gee’s Bend through the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement and looks at the complete history who created a national name for themselves by making quilts.

“In the play there’s a couple that takes us through these periods of time,” Thaddeus, who was named “One of 25 to Watch” in 2002 by Dance Magazine, said, “They are fictional characters that go through the facts.”

Through contemporary dance, the group will portray moments in history from the 1930s through the 1960s.

“It gives the audience the opportunity to look at history and it tells the story of a different experience,” Thaddeus said. “It demonstrates the struggle and overcoming the struggle of what happened as it celebrates the workers of Gee’s Bend.”

After spending time with students in Uniontown and Demopolis, the group will perform for the second time in this region, “The Bends of Life…Surviving, Sewing, Standing,” before continuing their southern tour.

During their moments with students at DMS, R.C. Hatch and Uniontown Elementary, the group performed a shorter version of their play as part of what Thaddeus calls a “lecture/ demonstration” period.

“We perform, then we stop and talk to them about the dance, quilting and the history of Gee’s Bend,” Thaddeus, who received the Choo San Goh Award for choreography in 2003, said, “but it’s hard to keep their attention during the lecture part because the students are still interested in what you were doing when you were dancing.”

To see what the students were so amazed with in person, go to tonight’s free performance of “The Bends of Life…Surviving, Sewing, Standing” at 6 p.m. at DMS.