Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Original dance-drama to depict 1913 Strike and Italian Hall disaster Oct. 25, 27 at Calumet Theatre

By Michele Bourdieu 

Poster announcing For They Are Women's Children, an original dance-drama about the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike to be performed Oct. 25 and 27 at the Calumet Theatre. (Poster courtesy Donna Armistead)

CALUMET -- Keweenaw lovers of dance may remember Donna Armistead as the former director of the Superior School of Dance and as choreographer for several dance performances at Michigan Tech. Although she is "retired," Armistead decided to offer her talent as choreographer for an original dance-drama about the 1913 Copper Miners' Strike and the Italian Hall disaster -- For They Are Women's Children, a collaboration with Robin Oye, musician and composer, who created the original musical score for the production.

The Calumet Theatre will host For They Are Women's Children at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27.

Choreographer Donna Armistead has been a dance educator and choreographer for over thirty years. She was employed many times as an artist-in-residence by high schools, other dance companies and theatre groups as well as directing her own ballet school and company.

"This is my gift to the community," Armistead said. "I hope they enjoy it. I hope they come away inspired and entertained by both the tragedy and the triumph that's depicted in the work."

Rehearsing a scene from For They Are Women's Children in Lake Linden's Little Gem Theater last week are Anna Daavettila of Houghton as 1913 Strike heroine Big Annie Clemenc, center, and, acting as "goons" (strikebreakers) threatening Annie, from left, Erik Berryman of Calumet, Michigan Tech students Josh Stuempges and Anthony Nordman, and Joe Daavettila of Houghton. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The cast includes dancers and actors ranging in age from 6 to adult. Some are Armistead's former dance students and some are new recruits for the performance.

"I have a great cast. It's a wide cross section of the community," Armistead noted. "It's great to be working with some new faces."

Anna Daavettila of Houghton is proud to play the role of "Big Annie" Clemenc, who carried the American flag during parades of striking miners. Her Dad, Joe Daavettila, plays multiple roles, including a "goon" (strikebreaker or scab) in one scene and a miner in another.

"This is my second time ever on stage," Joe said, noting he is participating at his daughter's request.

"How could you refuse?" he adds.

In this video clip taken during a rehearsal of the show, a miner is killed by a falling rock as young dancers enact an abstract representation of the treatment of miners by the mining company:

Michigan Tech student Josh Stuempges, who plays multiple roles as actor and dancer in the production, explains this abstract dance from For They Are Women's Children: "It symbolizes how the workers were not human but merely cogs in the machine as far as the mine owners were concerned." (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

Another Dad in the show is Erik Berryman of Calumet, whose daughter, Abby, is a member of the children's chorus. Erik also plays both "goon" and miner roles.

Two Michigan Tech students, Josh Stuempges and Anthony Nordman, have experience as dancers and actors. Both have appeared in Michigan Tech productions. Stuempges is studying Scientific and Technical Communication, while Nordman is in computer science and acting.

This original contemporary dance-drama explores the events surrounding the Michigan Copper Strike of 1913, culminating in the Italian Hall tragedy and its aftermath. The presentation of this work is especially timely in this centennial year.

"The events of 1913 still strike a chord in the hearts of residents of the Copper Country, many of whom are descendants of miners," Armistead notes. "Memorialized by Woody Guthrie, presented in dramatic and operatic idioms, this subject has never been treated in a pure dance format."

For tickets call the Calumet Theatre at 906-337-2610 if you wish to reserve tickets with a credit card (no extra charge). Tickets are general admission: $14 for adults and $8 for children or students ages 3 through high school. Tickets will be available at the door before each performance.

Update: New fundraiser to help support For They Are Women's Children

Donna Armistead and her cast and crew need your support to help fund musician stipends, simple sets and costuming, and rental of rehearsal space for this project.

The present goal on Kickstarter is $1,000. This project will only be funded if at least $1,000 is pledged by 11:05 a.m. EST Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013.

Click here to see a video about the project and to learn how you can help by pledging even a small amount (Minimum pledge is $1) to help support this worthy community production.

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